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How one Ryder Cupper turned himself into the best mid-range putter on tour

September 18, 2023
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Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire

You've no doubt heard players say it before at Ryder Cups. You'll hear it again this year, too. Before, during, and after the event. From both sides. The exact wording differs, but the sentiment is always the same:

That winning the Ryder Cup comes down to who makes the most putts.

Back when Justin Rose first started making Ryder Cup teams, in 2008, that seemed like a daunting task. Rose's ball striking was a clear strength in his game, and his putting a concerning weakness. Between 2011 and 2017, Rose ranked between 97th and 136th in strokes gained/putting. That he won a major and an Olympic gold medal during that time was a true testament to his play from tee-to-green.

Justin Rose (SG: Putting 2011-2017)

2011: 97th

2012: 126th

2013: 133th

2014: 108th

2015: 100th

2016: 136th

2017: 122th

But then, rather abruptly, Rose's performance on the green took a sharp turn for the better.

In the six years since that stretch, Rose ranked inside the top 30 on tour five different times. His only year outside the top 40 was in 2020, when the COVID-adjusted season may have led to some sample size weirdness.

His putting improvement seems to keep getting better, too. Rose ranked second in putting from inside 25 feet in 2022, and lead the tour in make rate from 20 to 25 feet from 2023 last season. Two crucial ranges when it comes to making birdies, especially in the kind of high-pressure match play situations we’ll see next week.

Justin Rose (SG: Putting 2018 to 2023)

2018: 21st

2019: 17th

2020: 110th

2021: 36th

2022: 20th

2023: 29th

So, as we quickly approach the Ryder Cup, I caught up with Rose to ask him point blank: How did he fix his putting? And what can the rest of us learn from him?

Here's what he said ...

1. Putting has a learning curve

Rose said that good putters fall into two different categories: Those who have a natural knack for it, based purely on feel, and those who need to learn their way to good putting.

Rose says he's the second. He spent years learning about the technical side of his putting stroke and green reading. If putting doesn't come naturally to you at first, embark on a learning curve about that side of the game, he says.

"Some people are super creative, know nothing about what they’re doing, and just literally feel putting as an artform. For those golfers, the more you learn can interrupt how good you are as a putter. The journey I went on, I didn’t putt well that way. There was a learning curve. I got to the point where you learn so much, you start to understand what works for you, what your tendencies are, my natural faults, and not go off track working on things that aren’t relevant to me."

2. Dial-in your lines

For Rose, his issue was that his lines were off. Everything from alignment, to his stroke direction, to elements of his posture. Rose uses a mirror to make sure his eyes are aligned over the ball and his shoulders are level; attaches a laser to the shaft to make sure his putter head is aimed and moving in his intended direction; and a stroke mat to dial-in his stroke. He also credits his Axis1 putter, which he helped design, that helped him craft a simple, minimalist putting action.

All methods the rest of us can and should copy, Rose says.

"A lot of what I do is based on good setup and alignments. I have a framework I want to stay within. So I want all my angles set up properly so that when I move the club, the club moves as I want it to. It's very technical practice, but lots of that is done indoors. A few minutes every day."

3. Drills and games

When he arrives on the golf course, Rose has confidence that his technical work is baked into his stroke. As he practices, Rose says he practices on "skill acquisition." Practices lots of different putts of different types, both in distance and direction.

"When I get out onto the golf course, I feel like I'm taking care of things on the technical side, so I can get into the flow of putting on the course. So that's when I can focus on being artistic, seeing the slopes, and trying to blend everything together. How well do you read the greens? How good is your speed? That's what makes putts."

The results, clearly, speak for themselves. And they'll be on full display on the Ryder Cup in Rome next week.