As you already know, the act of putting is a series of combined efforts. From getting the right stance to following through properly, putting is an entire series of techniques and flow, and they all have to come together in order to sink that ball. But there are two areas in putting that have almost nothing to do with the mechanics of putting, and, yet, they are crucial to keeping your putting strokes down. They are: judging speed and estimating the break.
Learning how to deal with these two issues is one of the toughest parts of the golf game to improve, and usually it takes a lot of practice and experience before you are able to make any significant change. However, there are some things you can do to help you improve your consistency on the greens and help you to sink more putts.
Here are a few tips that might help:
Examine the grain first: The term 'grain' is simply the direction is which the grass grows. This can be determined by looking for the 'shine' or 'sheen' of the putting surface. When the green reflects the sunlight and appears brighter, you are looking down grain. Putts down grain, or with the grain, will usually run faster.
Reading the Contour: When you are walking to the green, study the general slope of the land. A good rule of thumb to remember is that most greens are built higher at the back and lower toward the front. This will definitely impact how you play a shot on the green. It's also good to know when you're chipping up to the green in your approach.
When you are putting from the front of the green (assuming that it slopes downward from back to front), the putt will be uphill. When you are putting from the back, the putt will be downhill.
Now with this mind, any putt across this kind of green will usually break toward the front lower portion of the surface, which only makes sense. But knowing this ahead of time can shave a few strokes off your score.
For the beginning golfer, when you understand contour and grain, you can put the two together and think of putts this way:
Putts that are running with the grain will tend to "run" faster, so you will need to adjust your putting "force" accordingly. In other words, you won't have to hit the ball as hard to make it go the same distance.
When you are putting cross-slope and your putts are running with the grain they will break more and must take this into account when you are lining up your shot.
If you are putting cross-slope against the grain, your putt with break less, and, again, this must be taken into account before you even touch the ball with your putter.
If you have to putt against the grain, strike the ball a little harder than usual. These putts will tend to run slower and without that added force you'll be coming up short.
When you have to putt downhill and with the grain, your putts will not only run faster but they will break more. In this case, strike the ball with less force and let gravity take care of the rest.
The opposite, of course, is also true. If you are putting uphill and against the grain, expect your putts to run slower and break less. In this case, put a little extra on the ball to get it up the hill and to overcome the break.
When judging the break, think of a plumb bob.
The rule of thumb when judging a break, and the size of the break, is to use plumb bobbing. Golfers have been using this technique for years and the reason why is because it works!
First, you need to find your dominant eye.
Here's how you can do that. Make a circle with your thumb and forefinger, and with both eyes open, place an object in the middle--something like a tv, lamp, or book will do. Now alternately close your left eye, and then your right eye. Whichever eye keeps the object in the middle of circled fingers is your dominant eye.
Now that you know which is your dominant eye, line up your putter, with the putter hanging freely between your thumb and index finger, behind your ball so that it matches up with the flag stick. With your dominant eye open, you will notice that the ball is either to the left, right, or straight on. Straight on means there is no break.
If the ball is to the left, the putt will generally break right to left. And, of course, it will break left to right if the ball is to the right. This is not an exact science, but it will helps give you some idea of where the ball will go and you can plan your putt accordingly.
If you keep of all of this in mind the next time you putt, you should notice an improvement in your putting. But nothing, and I mean nothing, takes the place of good old practice.