Although line is important, I think distance control will eventually help with the line where an improvement in line will not contribute as much as quickly. Why? Because every putt that requires you to determine the line, as opposed to a perfectly straight putt, still includes a distance calculation.
To make the point clearer, if you have a straight 10-foot putt and a 10-foot putt with two feet of break, the latter putt is longer, and both your distance calculation and stroke feel must take that into account. Hit the second putt way too short or way too long, and you’ll never have a real understanding of how well/poorly you may have calculated the break. The same principle applies to shorter and longer putts.
Until you know you can hit putts that go 10 feet, 20 feet, 5 feet, 35 feet, etc. on a flat surface when you need to, you’ll never get correct feedback about your green reading although you will hit some putts in the hole through happenstance. And when you get to really long putts, 40 feet and more, the ability to hit one at least roughly the needed distance will help reduce your three putts and maybe even improve other aspects of your game since you won’t feel the pressure to hit your approach or short game shots quite as close to make up for bad putting.
Once you can accomplish that level of speed control, you start to see how well/poorly you calculate line.
Doing the same thing on straight uphill and downhill inclines will then give you confidence that if you calculate a ten-foot putt with two feet of break as being roughly 14 feet (10 plus the two feet out and the two feet back in–an approximation since the exact mathematical calculation of the length of the parabola that a breaking putt represents shows that the actual length is slightly more than 14 feet), then you can hit, with a human margin for error, a putt the needed length.
Once you can judge distance control on flat and inclined surfaces, you can better assess the quality of your green reading skills, and make the necessary adjustments. By the way, you can also start to appreciate just how hard double breaking putts are since while you might be 20 feet from the hole, the ball will need to go much farther to get to the hole.
To give a plug for the website owner’s latest book, the kind of random practice that Jon talks about in that book is absolutely perfect for developing your distance control. I used that sequence of 10 feet, 20 feet, 5 feet, and 35 feet for exactly that reason. Hit four different putts in that kind of sequence or even from 2 feet, 7 feet, 1 foot, and 5 feet to adjust for space limitations, and see how distance control improves. Hitting 50 putts from 10 feet will not improve your control as well although it might be a good, initial way to test your mechanics. Hitting one putt from one distance and then moving to a random second, third, fourth, etc. distance with only one putt at each distance throughout your practice session will really test your ability to control the distance of your putting.
The short and cold days of winter are also a great time for doing a little research on your game. If you haven’t read Jon’s book yet, you should. Although there’s an awful lot that seems common sense, I’ve never read a golf book that brought all that common sense together in one place, and the concentration of what seems at first to be simplistic advice about your game really has had a benefit for me because it has made me realize that ignoring one piece of such advice might not mean much, but ignoring multiple pieces creates a cascading effect that can negatively affect your scoring by multiple strokes.
And, for a trifecta, check out two other books Jon mentions in his book: Mark Brodie’s Every Shot Counts and James Sieckmann’s Your Short Game Solution. The first will show you, by statistics, how putting can be overvalued as a part of the game. An eye opener for me was that by the time the pros get out to 15 feet, they’re making the putt only 23% of the time. That really brought home the point that while putting is important (obviously, any pro that does significantly better than 23% will have an edge on his fellow competitiors), we often judge our ability to putt by the TV highlights we see from pro tournaments where it seems everybody hits from 15 feet, ignoring the 77% of the time the pros miss. Brodie’s book made me realize a more attainable goal for my own putting–I should never miss a putt, including short and long, by more than a foot from 15 feet. Do that, and my fair share, although probably not 23%, will go in.
Sieckmann’s book is great for the short game, but I got the book because of Jon’s mention of the inspiration for a practice structure that he got from the book. I would agree with that assessment and add that Sieckmann’s insights into a high-performer’s outlook (his brother was a PGA Tour member who was great friends with Seve Ballesteros) finally gave me a more concrete idea of the kinds of things Bob Rotella has written about over the years.
All three books, through Amazon Kindle, will cost you less than a dozen Pro V1s and will give you a realistic approach to improving your game, no matter whether it’s putting, short game, driving, or iron play.