I know what you're thinking. They all matter. But I'm talking about a putt you'd really like to see go in. When it hurts a little to see it stay out; those six-to-12-footers. Knock one tight and then miss the birdie putt; that's almost as deflating as not saving a par. Then again, sometimes the difference between a double and a triple bogey feels like the world. Overall, I think I do a decent job of keeping my routine consistent no matter the length or importance of a putt, but here's what's going through my head when I look at one that really matters.
1.) Where is the exact spot of the cup I want the ball to enter? Yeah, I'd gladly take any piece, but thinking this precisely helps me read the break. I work backward from this spot to imagine the line all the way to my coin. At what speed must the ball run to follow exactly along this path? To keep the group's pace of play quick, I'm always reading the green from the moment I first walk on it. But I will look at the cup from multiple angles to find my spot.
2.) A feeling of general lightness. When my putting gets a little out of whack, often I realize my grip pressure has become tight or uneven. On a scale of one to 10, I want my grip pressure no more than two or three. The other lightness is hovering my putter just above the ground before I start my stroke. When the putter rests directly on the grass, it has a tendency to snag on the way back.
3.) Trying to avoid being anxious. Being impatient is the worst thing you can do. You want to make the putt so bad that you never let the ball leave your sight. You need a quiet mind—and neck—to hit good putts. Throughout my stroke, from the start until well after the ball is on its way, I stay fixated on the spot where my coin was. I don't need to see the ball rattle the cup. I'll hear it.