Don’t fear the downhill, left-to-right putts

By: Matt Killen

You took care of what you thought was the hard part. You split the fairway with your best drive of the day and managed to hit the green in regulation—with a 4-iron no less! Your reward? Your ball is now above the hole, and there appears to be a pronounced left-to-right break for the ensuing putt. For many golfers, this turns a birdie opportunity into a tap-and-hope scenario. They either get scared and try to cozy the ball to the cup—but wind up short and now face another tricky downhiller—or they put too much pace on it but fail to play enough break. The ball races by the cup on the low side and sets up a likely three-putt.

If this sounds all-too familiar, let’s try something different. First, ask yourself at what speed do you see the ball going in. If you’re seeing it pouring into the back of the cup, you might want to think again—you’re making your target smaller. Test this out: On a practice green, find a downhill, left-to-right lie and practice hitting three putts at three speeds—the first so the ball dies at the cup; the second with enough speed to get it about a foot past the cup if you miss; and the third so it would roll two or three feet past. You’ll start to see how adding more speed to the putt changes the break and makes it much harder to avoid a lip-out, even when you get the read right.

Now comes the part where I give you one thought when you have this putt: maximum break, minimum speed. That’s how to handle these suckers. Oh, and one more thing: Stop paying attention to the cup. Instead, focus on that spot where you think the ball will begin to turn toward the cup—the aim point. It’s always great when one of these sliders drop, but they usually won’t if you peek too soon.

MATT KILLEN is a Golf Digest Best Young Teacher. He works with tour pros Justin Thomas, J.B. Holmes and Jessica Korda.

— with Ron Kaspriske