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Golf IQ

This ‘8-percent rule’ determines whether you've hit a good (or bad) lag putt

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Cliff Hawkins

May 14, 2024

Lag putting is perhaps the most underappreciated skill in golf—it’s also one of the most important to scoring. We hardly notice when our speed is great and we leave ourselves easy two-putts, but the second we hit a 50 footer five feet by, we’re beating ourselves up over the terrible speed.

The problem is that we’re bad at judging whether we’ve hit a nice lag putt. Why does it matter if we perceive a putt to be good or bad? Well, if we’re fuming over leaving ourselves a four-foot comebacker when it was a good putt in actuality, we’re going to lose focus on that second putt.

Luckily there is a simple 8-percent rule that pros use to judge whether their first putt was a good one—and we can use it, too. That’s what Senior Game Improvement Editor Luke Kerr-Dineen and I discussed during this episode of Golf IQ, which you can listen to right here (or below).

The 8-percent rule

Bill Smittle, a Best in State teacher in Westchester, N.Y. and putting specialist, recently told Luke about this easy rule that tells pros whether or not they have hit a good putt:

For a pro, a good lag putt is one that finishes within 8 percent of the total distance of the putt.

Here’s how that shakes out for first putts of various distances:

  • 30 feet: 2.4 feet
  • 40 feet: 3.2 feet
  • 50 feet: 4 feet
  • 60 feet: 4.8 feet

Keep in mind, these are benchmarks for the best players in the world. For the rest of us, however, this seems encouraging, considering many of these goals feel attainable. If a tour pro would consider lagging a 60-footer to five feet a good putt, then we should be happy with getting it inside five or six feet.

In fact, as Luke and I discussed, we can adapt a tour pro’s 8-percent rule for our own skill level by bumping it up to 10 percent. So, any lag putt that we hit that finishes within 10 percent of the total distance is a pretty good putt. It’s a quick benchmark that we can easily keep track of:

  • 30 feet: 3 feet
  • 40 feet: 4 feet
  • 50 feet: 5 feet
  • 60 feet: 6 feet

When we start to expect less of ourselves on lengthy putts, we’ll free ourselves up and actually start to hit better lag putts. When we inevitably leave ourselves four- and five-footers, we won’t be as frustrated if we understand the first putt was pretty good.

Once again, you can listen to our entire discussion on speed control, including our two favorite lag-putting drills, right here.