Congratulations to Kevin Na for his first PGA Tour win this past weekend at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Na showed great poise and discipline all week. Na could have easily been intimidated by battling proven winner Nick Watney down the stretch. But his ability to focus, stay in the present and execute the shots when needed proved pivotal in his win.
On the 17th hole, clinging to a one-shot lead, Na drained a long birdie putt. This birdie, from over 40 feet from the cup, pretty much clinced the win for Na. Seeing that both players made par on the final hole, it might be easy to say the birdie may not have mattered as much. But playing the final hole with a two-shot lead - rather than being one stroke up - makes a world of difference to both the leader and the player chasing. So that long putt did more than provide a important cushion going into the last hole. It essentially sealed the win.
It would be far fetched for me, or any instructor, to tell you that there was a tip to hit 40-foot putts regularly. But there is a way for you to become a better putter from long distances.
The first rule when you have a longer putt is to avoid the three putt. If you can become a better lag putter, you will certainly score better and yes, a few of those putts hit with the right speed on a good line, are going to drop.
I tell my students to go to the practice green and grab a few brightly colored tees, often orange or white. With them, I ask them to make a three-foot circle around the hole and then back up to 30, 40 or 50 feet and try to putt balls into that 3 foot ring. When you can do this regularly, you are going to accomplish two important things.
One, you're going to become much better at knowing what pace you need to hit putts with to lag closer to the hole. Secondly, when you go out on the course, you'll be able to visualize that same bright ring around the hole which will help your confidence as you attempt to lag a putt close.
The next time you are out on the practice green, try this bright circle of tees to help your long putts. I believe this will help you become a better lag putter, will certainly improve your scoring and yes, will help you drop a few more long putts as well.
Ben Alexander is a nationally recognized award winning instructor , having won the 2004 PGA Northern California Section Teacher of the Year and was a 2008 nominee for National PGA Teacher of the Year.