Improving Confidence, Fundamentals With Circle Putting Drills

Do your putting fundamentals break down under pressure? Do confidence problems on short putts lead to a surplus of three-putts? What if we told you that there are putting drills you can do that will specifically target your under-pressure fundamentals and confidence on short putts? It starts by arranging your golf balls in a circle.

Circle putting drills — arranging your practice balls in a circle around the golf hole, all equidistant to the hole and close-in — are very popular among professional golfers. Many end their putting practice sessions with one of the drills listed below or included in one of the videos on this page.

Such putting drills all work in basically the same way: The golfer putts from short distances, typically no more than a few feet; the golfer tries to make a lot of putts in a row without missing; and if the golfer does miss, he or she starts over.

How do these circle putting drills help? Several ways. If you want to make a lot of putts in a row, you have to focus, and that focus helps hone your skills and sharpen your technique. These drills require you to work your way around the circle without missing a certain number of times, so they apply pressure: if you miss, you have to start over. And because they involve short putts, you get to see and hear the golf ball drop into the hole a lot. That builds confidence.

Just remember, when doing any of these drills, that you re-set yourself for each putt, apply your technique correctly, and maintain that focus on seeing and hearing the ball fall into the cup.

Also, with all of these drills, you can adjust the number of putts up or down as you see fit. We suggest starting by trying to make a small number of putts in a row, just to get a baseline. As you get better at the drill and gain confidence, increase the number of consecutive putts you have to make.

Mickelson's Circle Putting Drill

Phil Mickelson is closely associated with this circle putting drill, although he didn't originate it. Mickelson got it from Jack Burke Jr., who probably picked it up from someone in 1950 or so, who had picked it up from someone even earlier.
  1. Find a flat spot on the practice green around one cup.
  2. Arrange 10 golf balls in a circle around the hole, each one three feet from the cup. (Hint: Most conventional putters are just shy of 36 inches in shaft length, so your putter is probably a good guide for measuring that three feet.)
  3. Now start sinking those putts, working your way around the circle.
After you've made all 10, put down 10 more. Continue the process until you've made 100 3-foot putts in a row. If Mickelson misses, he starts over. We mere mortals are not Mickelsons, of course, so remember that you don't have to start out trying to make 100 putts in a row. Just make 10 in a row first. Once you have that down, make 20 in a row, and keep building.

Four-Points Putting Drill

  1. Find a cup in a sloping part of the practice green.
  2. Arrange four tees around the hole, each three feet from the cup, one at each of the four points of a compass (north, south, east, west — or, to put it another way, 12, 3, 6 and 9 on a clock face).
  3. Start at the west, or 3 o'clock, position and make three consecutive putts. Then advance to the next location and sink three consecutive, and so on, until you've made it around the circle.
The drill was featured in the book Golf Magazine Private Lessons (affiliate link), which points out that doing this on a sloping part of the green means each of the four locations will present a different break and speed.

Make 12 putts in a row (three from each location) with this drill. If you miss, then start over at the point on the compass from which the miss occurred. As you get better at making all 12, increase it to 24, and so on.

Around the World Putting Drill

  1. Place four balls around a hole on a flat area of the putting green, with the balls only one foot from the cup.
  2. Make all four 1-footers.
  3. Back up to two feet, placing four balls around the cup. Make all four 2-footers.
  4. Back to three feet, and so on.
The first time you try this one, keep moving out until you reach a distance where you aren't guaranteed of making the putt — a distance where you start to feel uncertain. For many, that will be three feet, maybe even two feet for some who struggle on the greens. Stick with that distance as your limit for the time being, and repeat: Make 'em all from one foot, then from two feet or three feet. If you miss, start over with the 1-foot circle.

Just keep repeating the process going from one to two to three feet, until you start feeling comfortable and confident — and you stop missing — from three feet. Only then move back to four feet. If you work with this drill enough, you'll eventually be moving out to five, six feet.

Remember: Always apply your technique, even on the 1-footers; and start over if you miss.

Putting practice can be hard a golfer's muscles — all that bending over. Don't forget to step back from time to time and do a little stretching to keep your back, legs and neck fresh. See our article Taking the Pain Out of Putting Practice for more about.

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