Why Does a Putt Lip Out?

Frog Ball

Hello Frank, Can you please explain why a putt lips out of the hole? Is it because it is going too fast or because it is rolling with side-spin instead of end over end? And, of course, how do I keep it from happening?!

– Anne



If the ball is directed toward the center of the hole at the correct speed (approximately 1 1/2 mph), it will fall into the hole, touching the back of the hole-liner on its way to where it truly belongs — i.e., the bottom of the cup. This is our final objective when we tee it up on every hole.

Speed of Putt

If it is going too fast (above 3+ mph), it will bounce off the back edge of the cup and over the hole. So speed is important; when you practice putting, on your misses the ball should end up about 12 to 18 inches behind the hole on a flat putt, which would indicate that even though you didn’t have the right line at least you had the correct speed.

 The odds are that if you are short with your putts, they will not go in, so try to get enough speed on the putt to get it at least over the edge of the hole or a little beyond it. If it “dies” in the hole it is going slowly enough to be affected by “precession” (a hard right or left turn at the end of a breaking putt).

 Now when your line is slightly off and the ball rolls around the edge only for your putt to lip out, it is because, for that line (an off-center near miss), it was going too fast. If the ball is moving more slowly, it could fall in the ‘side door’ or even do a 180. It has nothing to do with side-spin, which you may have put onto the ball immediately after impact.

Spin on Putts

 Putts begin with a little bit of backspin or topspin (never pure rolling spin). The ball then skids until it gets pure rolling spin. At this point any side-spin initially applied at impact will be turned into pure rolling spin. So you can forget about the effect of side-spin when the ball gets to the hole.

I recommend that putters have a 4-degree loft, (which I designed into the Frankly Frog Putter) because this will lift the ball out of the depression in which it has inevitably come to rest on the green. A lower lofted putter may drive the ball into the rim of this slight depression and tend to make it jump, which may deflect it slightly off line. A 4-degree loft will control the very small amount of spin off the putter and avoid any inconsistent initial jumping.

For a little better understanding of what happens to the ball after it leaves the putter be sure to check out the “Understanding Your Putter” section of The Fundamentals of Putting

Anne, lip outs are purely a matter of direction and speed and have nothing to do with side-spin. Thank you for asking the question; now you can give your friends, who believe that it has something to do with side-spin, a little lip of your own.


Frank Thomas was Technical Director of the USGA and Chief Equipment Advisor to Golf Digest and Golf Channel.

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