Explaining the Lag Putt in Golf

Plus: Why It's Important to Practice Lag Putting and How to Do It

Golfer Sarah Jane Smith hits a long putt during an LPGA Tour tournament
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

A "lag putt" is a long putt which, because of its length, the golfer does not expect to make but hopes to get close to the cup. If it goes in the hole, great! But if it doesn't, you want to make sure you are left with a short, manageable second putt that you won't miss.

A good lag putt positions the golfer to have a short, simple and easily made follow-up putt, thereby avoiding a 3-putt.

Another way to think of lag putting: It refers to demonstrating excellent distance control on the putting greens when a long or tricky putt requires caution, so that you leave your golf ball in a safe position. A golfer who is a good lag putter is a golfer who rarely three-putts.

Note that the terms "lag putt" and "lag putting" are often shortened to just "lag" and "lagging," respectively.

Improved Lag Putting Leads to Better Scores

Improving one's lag putting is a great way for golfers to shoot lower scores. Why? Because if you can improve your lag putting, you'll be turning three putts into two.

In his book titled Chi Chi's Golf Games You Gotta Play, Chi Chi Rodriguez said this:

"The first thing a player should do on a putting green before a round is hit a half dozen or dozen lag putts to get a feel for the speed of the green. Making them is great, but concentrate more on the speed of the putt and getting the ball to stop hole high."

"An old and excellent guide for lag putts is to try to hit them into a washtub instead of the hole," Rodriguez says in his book. "Aiming at the bigger target will ensure no more than a two- or three-foot second putt." (By washtub Rodriguez means an area around the hole the size of a washtub.)

A few words about technique on longer putts from Rodriguez:

"On longer putts, I open up my stance a little bit, stand a little farther from the ball, and loosen my grip on the club a little bit. These little changes can make a big difference because on a lag putt what you want is to free the arms and shoulders up to swing back farther and come through harder and give the ball a good strong rap without pulling it off line. A good tip for reading long putts is to go halfway between your ball and the hole, and look both ways. You should be able to see the slope, if there is any, clearly from that spot."

Usages for 'Lag' and Drills for Lag Putting

"Lag" can be applied to any length putt (whereas "lag putt" usually implies a lengthy first putt) and is often used as a verb, or after the fact to describe the second, shorter putt that results after not making the first putt. Example of verb usage: "I need to lag this putt up close" or "Just try to lag this one up by the hole." Example of an after-the-fact usage: "Nice lag," or "way to lag it up close."

Lag putting is something that can be practiced by focusing on distance control (also called speed control) in your putting. Distance control putting drills help a golfer develop a feel for speed. (As Rodriguez noted above, hitting lag putts on the practice green before starting a round of golf is recommended to see how fast or slow the on-course greens are rolling.)

And practicing by hitting putts to different distance markers, rather than at a hole, is as easy as taking different lengths of string or chalk line to a practice green.

You can find many other examples of lag putting drills on YouTube.

The Other Type of 'Lag' in Golf

"Lag" is a term that doesn't just apply to putting. Golfers also talk about something called "clubhead lag," and you might hear snippets of conversation such as, "You have some great lag in your swing," or "you should work on improving your clubhead lag."

What's that about? "Clubhead lag" basically refers to a golfer's hands being behind the clubhead—trailing the clubhead—into impact.