Obviously pace control is everything, determining not only the amount of break to be played on bending putts within close proximity, but much more importantly helping with 3-putt avoidance.
This is gonna sound crazy, and it typifies just how individualized putting really is, but while everyone else was going to the longer broomstick and belly putters several years ago - I actually went the opposite direction. Some would argue to an extreme.
I'd always been a reasonably good putter, my pace has never been an issue. But the short ones from 3-5 feet were a mixed bag. A huge part of the reason for that is because I've always preferred to have my hands closer to my body at setup for putting. Well, the problem with that and the traditional-length putters in the 36" range (for me and my particular putting posture) - it always found me putting with the toe up, ala Isao Aoki for those who remember him back in the day. I tried everything... I would even bend my putters 3-4º flat, but for whatever reason - I just would naturally manipulate my address position by default because I'd gotten so accustomed to putting with the toe of the putter elevated all those years.
Then one day it finally hit me... hmm... wonder what might happen if I putted with a shorter putter, which removed the need to have the lie-angle of the putter face adjusted? So I lopped a few inches off, added some weight to the putter, and the results were noticeably better with a more consistent path. But it still wasn't where I wanted it, it could be better.
So one day I bought a Ping iWi mallet putter with the interchangeable weights. Weight, to me, is very important. I want to feel like I'm stroking the putt versus having to hit the putt, and the heavier weight just made it feel much more natural versus some of the more lighter-weight traditional putters I used over the years. So I bought the Ping iWi Craz-E putter... inserted the heaviest weights in the kit, and then lopped another couple inches off the length. Wow! Now we're talking. Man, this thing felt great. Nice weight, nice feel, the putting stroke just seemed to flow. Another huge improvement. But....
I was still missing a few shorter ones that I really shouldn't be missing. Worked on my short stroke for about a year, and finally one day a friend says to me, "have you thought about the role that your wrists play in your putting stroke? I've noticed a few times that you have a tendency to get wristy in some of the shorter putts."
Okay. Makes sense. Might be time to consider getting the wrists out of the equation. I've got everything else going for me - the putter is short, which means my eyes are directly over the ball and my hands are relatively close to my body... the putter is lying perfectly, no toe-up action going on at setup. The weight feels great, distance control has never been better.
So I switched from a standard grip to a medium-thickness Tiger Shark putting grip.
That was roughly 5-6 years ago. To say that it has been a successful marriage would be an enormous understatement... I went from being above average to being one of maybe three guys at my club who enjoy the reputation of being the best on the greens.
So four things, for me:
A reasonably reliable putting stroke resulting from a comfortable setup that enables me to feel like I don't have to focus on anything other than the line and the pace, which the shorter-length putter encourages. Hands remain comfortably close to my body, the lie of the putter is perfect flat to the ground.
An ideal weight as far as stroke energy into the ball, which facilitates ideal putting pace on most normal putts I face each round. I feel like I make the same pace of stroke, the only thing that might change is the length of the backstroke/thru-stroke on the longer putts. The shorter putts are at the same pace, but with a more compact stroke, again back and through. Weight is hugely important as far as my personal feel and overall pace control.
Negating the manipulative nature of my wrists in the stroke, which the mid-size putting grip helped accomplish, taking the wrists out of play.
Learning to read putts more efficiently, and learning to aim properly. Above and beyond everything else, this last aspect was probably the most difficult for me personally. Although each course is different, requiring a different standard as far as what is needed in reading putts (which is largely impacted by the potential difference in the pace of different greens), I've learned that at my current club - a majority of my putt reading comes from looking at the contour from the midway point of the putting line, from both sides. Our greens have subtle breaks that occasionally intersect with other contours... so while you might look at the hole from behind the ball and assume that the putt is breaking a particular way, standing aside the line and taking in both directions might reveal something completely different. Some courses - I don't need to do this so much. At my current club - it's almost a requirement, especially since our greens are very large and seldom in the same locations much of the time.
Like I said - very personalized, very unique as far as my own process goes.
But here's the deal - I'm a huge believer in practice. I still 3-putt on occasion, but even the great Tom Brady throws an interception or two every now and then. I really feel confident in my approach to putting, and that confidence usually transfers on the golf course.
I just wish the rest of my game was as good. 🙁