Heads Up Putting: How to Focus on the Target

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Sometimes, I feel like I overthink my putting technique. I can get too focused on the minor details of the stroke, and less on the outcome of actually holing the putt.

Recently, I’ve noticed how PGA Tour players like Jordan Spieth and Tony Finau have used a technique known as “heads up putting” — or the “far target” method.

In short, heads up putting is when you focus on the target instead of the ball.

Today, I’ll explain how heads up putting could revolutionize your short game.

Let’s get right into it!

Heads Up Putting: What Exactly Is It?

Heads up putting is a technique where the golfer focuses on a point on the target line during the stroke — rather than on the ball. Simply put, this puts focus on feel, rather than on technique. This enhances target visualization and eye alignment and forms a consistent putting routine.

The technique has been researched by one of golf’s foremost biomechanists, Sacho Mackenzie, who published a study into the benefits of a heads up putting style.

Essentially, Mackenzie’s study explored the mental side of golf and how it impacts our putting technique. He concluded that the “heads up putting style” improved confidence in golfers, which allows for a more fluid, consistent technique that improves focus and overall game performance.

“Experienced golfers, who normally putt using a near-target strategy, were found to putt significantly better — both in terms of make percentage and miss distance — while employing a far-target visual focus strategy”

Sasho J. MacKenzie and Neil R. MacInnis
what is heads up putting
Heads up putting is the act of focusing on the target during the putting stroke.

Heads Up Putting: Pros and Cons

Next, let’s dive into the pros and cons of the heads up putting technique when compared with the traditional approach of focusing on the ball.

Pros

  • Looking at the hole, rather than the ball, encourages you to focus more on the outcome, by visualizing the ball going in the hole you will have a more positive mindset standing over your putt.
  • This putting style stops you from overthinking your technique. Instead, you have to focus more on the feel of your stroke, rather than being fixated on the perfect takeaway, or the putter face being square at impact.
  • The heads-up style is perfect for golfers who have become too analytical or technically focused on their stroke. It encourages a feel-based approach.

Cons

  • The method can feel very strange at first! Since we’re so accustomed to staring at the ball, it can initially feel like putting with our eyes closed.
  • As it forces you to rely on your technique and feel when putting the ball, it might not be suitable for those new to golf and without an established putting style.
  • It can take some practice to get used to, dialing in your accuracy and feel over several rounds. Don’t test it out in a club competition before you’ve had the chance to hit some balls on the practice green!
  • I found it harder to judge distance on longer putts when using the heads-up putting technique, but I probably just need more time to get used to it.
pros and cons of heads up putting

Which Pros Use Heads Up Putting?

Several pros have tested the heads up putting method. Most notably, Tony Finau and Jordan Spieth have extensively used this technique in PGA Tour events.

In a piece for Golf.com, Luke Kerr-Dineen reported on how Finau switched to this style after struggling with his putting, saying: “The putter didn’t feel great in my hands… I didn’t have a game plan for it, but [heads up putting] seems to have freed me up.”

“It’s all very feel-based.”

Tony Finau via Golf.com

Personally, I believe this is one of the key benefits of using this style of putting. The ability to block out all of the noise and trust your technique is hugely beneficial.

For instance, you might remember back in 2020 when Sergio Garcia won the Sanderson Farms Championship putting with his eyes closed! While strange, this type of approach worked for him. The key question is, do you trust your technique enough?

which pros use heads up putting

How to Master Heads Up Putting

Most of us are used to focusing on the ball in our putting stroke. So, if you’re looking to give the heads up putting style a try, you might find the transition a bit odd at first.

That said, you can follow this step-by-step guide to master the technique:

1. Green Reading

Study the terrain of the green, factoring in all variables like the slopes, break, and grain direction to determine the ball’s pathway to the hole.

You can consider our guide to AimPoint Putting to help with this process.

2. Stance & Posture

Try to maintain a comfortable, neutral, and balanced stance with feet shoulder-width apart. Your eyes should be directly over the ball for accurate alignment.

3. Target Visualization

Focus on the spot where you want the ball to enter the hole, rather than focusing on the ball itself. Visualize this spot and keep your gaze there during the stroke.

Do not look at the ball — as reinforced in this heads-up instruction guide.

4. Executing the Putting Stroke

With the target in sight, make your putting stroke. Keep your focus on the target spot, not on the putter or the ball. The ball should be a blur in your peripheral vision.

This is the essence of the heads up putting technique.

5. Mental Reinforcement

Train your mind to stay concentrated on the target rather than the stroke itself. This practice will not only improve target visualization but will also build confidence.

how to master heads up putting

Heads Up Putting Drills

Recently, YouTube Golf Coach Peter Finch tested out the heads up putting method.

Essentially, he was looking to see whether it would improve his putting and confidence on the green. Overall, Finch was particularly impressed with how much it improved his putting accuracy and success rate.

One thing he did mention was that he had some difficulty judging longer putts using the heads-up style. To help with this he suggested golfers pick a point on the target line to aim for that is in between the ball and the hole.

Finch called this the “intermediate target” — if you focus on this spot using the heads-up style you will find it easier to judge distance on longer putts.

Check out his video below:

Final Thoughts

When I first heard about this putting style — I was skeptical, to say the least!

I’ve never had any serious issues with my putting, but do tend to get quite fixated on my takeaway. What I found from using the heads up putting technique is that it’s easier to concentrate on the actual motion and feel of the stroke than the mechanics.

As a result, my putting became more fluid and natural, and I certainly holed more putts when I was using this form of putting compared to the traditional method.

Therefore, I would strongly encourage you to try out the heads-up putting style.

Your golf partners might think you’ve lost the plot by not looking at your ball during your stroke. But once you begin holing more putts and beating them in competition, they’ll soon be copying your new technique!

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Craig, with over 30 years of golf experience, is an Amazon best-selling author renowned for his instructional golf books. A passionate writer featured in Golf & Travel Magazine, he's dedicated to helping golfers have more fun playing the game. His insights and tips are a testament to his love for golf and his desire to share it with others.