At the Wells Fargo event in Charlotte last year, I asked Mark Wilson why he only practiced putting with one ball.
He laughed and said, “The last time I checked, only one ball is played in competition.”
But across putting greens all over the world, golfers will practice by dropping three balls and putting away. While I see it all the time, I still ask myself, “Why three balls?”
Perhaps a new sleeve of balls just perpetuates the agreeableness of the number three - Three Blind Mice, the triple play, bad things happen in threes - and people feel the need to maintain social regularity. Or perhaps most people just fail to prepare properly and don’t think about what they are actually doing.
The purpose of all practice should be to transfer your skills onto the course, but the three-ball routine has to be one of the worst ways to practice.
Practicing with three balls actually provides a false sense of confidence. Let’s say all three balls stop close to the hole, but what does it actually improve? Because all three balls were putted in about the same spot, the line and speed are already known, thus eliminating two of the major factors in putting.
Most will rarely remember where the three balls ended up - short or long - and correct it during their round. If someone putts all three balls close to the hole, but short, then the player will most likely leave putts short on the course, too.
Everyone practices putting, but how many players approach putting practice with a purpose and a goal?
One way to transfer what's learned on the putting green onto the course is to become creative and competitive in practice. Recreate pressure situations by using only one ball, emphasizing putting competitions, having goals, and developing and reinforcing feel.
Using one ball on the putting green will lead to more one putts.
Dr. Rob Bell is the author of "Mental Toughness Training for Golf" and an AASP-certified sport psychology consultant. He consults with golfers, athletes, and coaches at all levels helping build and enhance their own mental toughness.