Need New Putting Approach? Try Taking Your Eyes OFF the Ball

Where to Look When Putting? Sometimes, It's Better Not to Look at Ball

Jordan Spieth practicing putting prior to the Deutsche Bank Championship
Jordan Spieth strokes a practice putt while looking at the hole rather than the ball. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

There is a practice putting technique that many pro golfers use to work on feel and distance control on the greens. It's a practice technique that a few of them have even taken onto the golf course during tournament play.

The technique: Don't look at the golf ball when putting!

And "don't look at the ball" can mean one of two things:

  • Practice putting with your eyes closed. Peter O'Malley, Lexi Thompson and Suzann Pettersen, among others, have even closed their eyes on putts during tournaments.
  • Or practice putting by looking at the hole or at an intermediate target, rather than looking at the golf ball. Colin Montgomerie and Jordan Spieth, among others, have even done this during tournament play.

These techniques turn on their heads some of the most-common putting advice that golfers pass along to each other on the greens: keep your head down, keep your eyes focused on the ball.

Can recreational golfers learn anything from the don't-look-at-the-ball techniques? Yes, even those of use who don't play golf for a living can improve our speed control on putts by practicing putting without looking at the ball.

Here are two drills, one using the eyes-closed method and the other using the look-at-the-hole approach.

Eyes-Closed Putting Drill

Michael Lamanna is the Director of Instruction at The Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Ariz. He recommends the following drill as one way golfers can improve both their feel for the putting stroke and their distance control on the greens.

  • Step 1: On the practice green, place three balls 10 feet from the cup, three more 20 feet out, three more at 30 feet, 40 feet and 50 feet from the hole.
  • Step 2: From 10 feet, putt the first ball as normal, with your eyes open.
  • Step 3: Line up the second putt as normal with your eyes open, then close your eyes just before you make your stroke. Focus on the feel of the putter head during the stroke and try to guess where the ball will end up when it stops rolling.
  • Step 4: Putt the third ball from 10 feet just as you did in step three, closing your eyes just before making the stroke.

Repeat this procedure at each three-ball station out to 50 feet.

If you incorporate this putting drill into your practice routine, you should begin to develop a better feel on the greens.

Look-at-the-Hole Putting Drill

In an article for Golf Digest about Spieth's look-at-the-hole putting, contributing editor David Owen wrote that he himself switched to putting while looking at the target "after reading about a study in which a group of amateurs had surprised researchers by putting significantly better that way, despite having been given minimal opportunity to rehearse. Even more surprising, the improvement was greater on long putts than on short ones."

Spieth's instructor, Cameron McCormick, told Owen "that one of the benefits is 'to eliminate any tendency we have as players to be aware of the movement we are using in executing a task,' a tendency that usually leads to trouble."

Eric Alpenfels, director of Pinehurst Golf Academy, has a YouTube instructional clip in which he says that "most golfers find that if they look at the hole while they are practicing, it really has a great benefit to their distance control." 

This is the drill Alpenfels recommends:

  • Step 1: Drop a few balls about 10 feet from the hole. Putt the first one as you normally would. On the second one, do everything the same except that just before initiating your stroke, look at the hole. Don't keep your eyes locked on the golf ball — twist your head a little to the left (for right-handers) so that your eyes are now looking at the target. Then pull the trigger.
  • Step 2: Now do it again. And roll enough putts in this way that you become comfortable with the technique of looking at the target rather than the golf ball.
  • Step. 3: Now move around to different spots on the green, different lengths of putts. Drop two golf balls at each new spot. Use your normal putting technique for one ball, but use the look-at-the-hole technique for the other. Alternate between the two at each different spot on the practice green.

Compare the results. How are you doing? If distance control is your issue, you might discover that looking at the hole while putting — or even putting with your eyes closed — helps you develop a better feel for speed/distance on the greens.