Explaining the Lag Putt in Golf

Plus: Why It's Important to Practice Lag Putting and How to Do It

Golfer Sarah Jane Smith hits a long putt during an LPGA Tour tournament
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

A "lag putt" is a long putt which, because of its length, the golfer does not expect to make but hopes to get close to the cup. If it goes in the hole, great! But if it doesn't, you want to make sure you are left with a short, manageable second putt that you won't miss.

A good lag putt positions the golfer to have a short, simple and easily made follow-up putt, thereby avoiding a 3-putt.

Another way to think of lag putting: It refers to demonstrating excellent distance control on the putting greens when a long or tricky putt requires caution, so that you leave your golf ball in a safe position. A golfer who is a good lag putter is a golfer who rarely three-putts.

Note that the terms "lag putt" and "lag putting" are often shortened to just "lag" and "lagging," respectively.

Improved Lag Putting Leads to Better Scores

Improving one's lag putting is a great way for golfers to shoot lower scores. Why? Because if you can improve your lag putting, you'll be turning three putts into two.

In his book titled Chi Chi's Golf Games You Gotta Play, Chi Chi Rodriguez said this:

"The first thing a player should do on a putting green before a round is hit a half dozen or dozen lag putts to get a feel for the speed of the green. Making them is great, but concentrate more on the speed of the putt and getting the ball to stop hole high."

"An old and excellent guide for lag putts is to try to hit them into a washtub instead of the hole," Rodriguez says in his book. "Aiming at the bigger target will ensure no more than a two- or three-foot second putt." (By washtub Rodriguez means an area around the hole the size of a washtub.)

A few words about technique on longer putts from Rodriguez:

"On longer putts, I open up my stance a little bit, stand a little farther from the ball, and loosen my grip on the club a little bit. These little changes can make a big difference because on a lag putt what you want is to free the arms and shoulders up to swing back farther and come through harder and give the ball a good strong rap without pulling it off line. A good tip for reading long putts is to go halfway between your ball and the hole, and look both ways. You should be able to see the slope, if there is any, clearly from that spot."

Usages for 'Lag' and Drills for Lag Putting

"Lag" can be applied to any length putt (whereas "lag putt" usually implies a lengthy first putt) and is often used as a verb, or after the fact to describe the second, shorter putt that results after not making the first putt. Example of verb usage: "I need to lag this putt up close" or "Just try to lag this one up by the hole." Example of an after-the-fact usage: "Nice lag," or "way to lag it up close."

Lag putting is something that can be practiced by focusing on distance control (also called speed control) in your putting. Distance control putting drills help a golfer develop a feel for speed. (As Rodriguez noted above, hitting lag putts on the practice green before starting a round of golf is recommended to see how fast or slow the on-course greens are rolling.)

And practicing by hitting putts to different distance markers, rather than at a hole, is as easy as taking different lengths of string or chalk line to a practice green.

You can find many other examples of lag putting drills on YouTube.

The Other Type of 'Lag' in Golf

"Lag" is a term that doesn't just apply to putting. Golfers also talk about something called "clubhead lag," and you might hear snippets of conversation such as, "You have some great lag in your swing," or "you should work on improving your clubhead lag."

What's that about? "Clubhead lag" basically refers to a golfer's hands being behind the clubhead—trailing the clubhead—into impact. See our article, "Clubhead lag: What it is and drills to help you feel it" for much more on this topic.

  • Golfer practicing his putting in silhouette

    You'll Lag Your Putts Closer After Practicing With This String Drill

  • Detail from a photo that appeared in a 1913 golf instruction book by Jerome Travers shows Travers preparing to chip his stymied ball over the stymie his opponent laid for him.

    Blimey Those Stymies! They're Now Gone From Golf, But Not Forgotten

  • Misuzu Narita of Japan shows her disappointment after missing her putt on the 14th green during the final round of the Nipponham Ladies Classics at the Ambix Hakodate Club on July 10, 2016 in Hokuto, Japan

    The 411 on 3-Putts: How Often the Pros Do It and Limiting Your Own

  • Warming up on the driving range before golf

    6 Steps to a Full, Great Golf Warm-Up Routine

  • PGA Tour golfer Justin Rose practices his putting

    Putting Drills to Help Golfers Learn to Control Distance on Greens

  • Yani Tseng of Taiwan (L) walks with her coach Gary Gilchrist during a practice round prior to the start of the 2012 U.S. Women's Open

    17 Quick and Simple Tips for Beginning Golfers and High-Handicappers

  • Jordan Spieth practicing putting prior to the Deutsche Bank Championship

    Work on Your Feel, Speed Control on Greens By Taking Eyes OFF the Ball

  • Tom Watson and the yips

    The Yips: You Don't Want 'Em, and Here's Why Golfers Fear Them

  • A golfer laying down for a rest due to slow play

    25 Tips for Fighting Slow Play on the Golf Course

  • Philip Cary celebrates holing out for an ace during the 2015 Golfplan Insurance PGA Pro-Captain Challenge

    Explaining the term hole out in golf with examples of a few famous ones

  • Thomas Bjorn swings during the final round of the 2007 World Golf Championships CA Championship

    The Secret of Clubhead Lag: Feel It to Improve Your Golf Shots

  • Team of golfers in a scramble tournament

    Unscrambling the Scramble Tournament: Rules, Handicaps, Strategies

  • Golf teaching professional giving putting tips to a student golfer

    25+ Tips to Help Golfers Make More Putts

  • Golfer hitting a high-MOI driver

    What You Need to Know About MOI (Moment of Inertia) in Golf Clubs

  • Close-up of golf ball on putting green.

    96 Fun and Odd Slang Terms Used By Golfers and What They Mean

  • A young golfer chips the ball for an up and down during competition at The Drive, Chip and Putt Regional Championships at Torrey Pines Golf Course

    How to Make and Up-and-Down in Golf