Should More Golfers Putt More Often From Just Off The Green?

Should amateurs use the flat stick more or find a reliable chip shot?

Should More Golfers Putt
(Image credit: Tom Miles)

GM regulars Jezz Ellwood and Fergus Bisset consider whether amateurs should learn how to chip or to reach more frequently for the flat stick.

Should More Golfers Putt More Often From Just Off The Green?


says Jeremy Ellwood

It may be a bit of a generalisation, but from my experience, the higher the handicap, the more likelihood there is of a player reaching for the lob wedge when their ball is lying on the fringe.

But why would any golfer seeking to put together the best possible score, let alone a less-skilled player, choose to make any shot more complicated than it need be?

Maybe they’re worried that putting from anywhere other than the green will be seen as a sign of weakness, telling others that they haven’t quite mastered the art of chipping yet.

Triple Major winner, and highly regarded short-game exponent, Padraig Harrington, would disagree.

He told me years ago that the first question he asks himself when he gets to the ball is, “Can I putt it?” If the answer is yes, he invariably will, even from beyond the fringe sometimes.

The reason it makes such good sense is that there is no clubhead/turf interaction to factor into the strike - the single reason that so many chips go wrong.

It’s pretty hard to fat a putt, while any slightly thin contact will be far less catastrophic with a putter.

All you have to judge is pace, line and how the putt will roll through the first few feet of fractionally longer grass.

There’s no landing spot to work out either – something often overlooked by the ‘chip from the fringe’ brigade. Add a tier or two into the equation, land it in the wrong place and there’s scope for things to go far more wrong than if you’re simply rolling the ball along the ground.

So, why not start saving yourself the odd shot or two here and there by whipping off the putter headcover just a little earlier?


says Fergus Bisset

There’s no doubt there are many circumstances from just off the green when using a putter is the obvious choice.

Most amateurs with even a modicum of skill in course management will utilise that shot whenever it’s sensible to do so.

The problem is that many amateurs use the shot when it’s not sensible to do so.

How often do you see an amateur attempt to putt from a tuft of long grass or through and across two different cuts of rough and a fringe?

The chances of judging the speed correctly are minute.

I wouldn’t advocate that amateurs reach automatically for a lofted wedge and attempt the aerial route from three yards off the green.

Often, more prudent is that most straightforward of little shots – the wrist-free chip-and-run.

By taking out a seven-iron and making a putting stroke, one can loft the ball (ever so slightly) over the fringe and, or, rough and onto the putting surface, thereby taking out the unpredictability of rolling through longer grass.

If a player reaches for the putter too often, they create a vicious cycle. They’re too nervous to use any loft, so they don’t.

Next time, they’re even more nervous to chip. By the time they face a situation where chipping is the only viable option, they’re a bundle of nerves and the results are ugly.

Yes, using the putter is the percentage play in many “just off” green situations. But to rely on it too heavily creates a chink in the golfing armour. To play to full potential, golfers of all abilities need a “go-to” shot that takes out the variables of rolling through different cuts of greenside grass.

By playing that shot regularly, be it chip-and-run or other, they will become comfortable and will get up-and-down far more frequently.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?