From the Magazine
How to 'cheat' at putting
Colin Anderson Productions pty ltd
Ben Hogan was famously irritated by fellow players who survived on tour thanks to their putting. Why should such a specialized skill count so much toward the final outcome?
In a way, players who can really roll the ball are cheating—or at least hacking the system. A good putting stroke works like an eraser for sketchier parts of your game. Miss a green with a bad iron shot and leave your chip 12 feet short? A good putt turns a bogey into a par. It’s like the bad shots never happened.
But what if you don’t look like Ben Crenshaw or Inbee Park as you stand over your putts? What if you consider yourself a bad putter? It doesn’t have to be that way. There are some things I can show you to turn your putting around pretty fast—simple things, in fact. With these technical adjustments, visualization tricks and a possible equipment change, you can find the cheat code you need to change putting from a weakness to a strength.
The first task is to open your mind. You hear a lot of talk about fundamentals in golf, but the reality in putting is, there’s no one grip style or stroke style that is ideal. You can—and should—try some different things to find a style that matches your body and what you see.
Why does bad putting happen? At the fundamental level, it’s because the face is moving too unpredictably, and you can’t make the ball go where you intend it to go. If that’s happening to you, I bet it starts with using the wrong grip.
GRIP STYLES: SHOULD YOU CHANGE IT UP?
If your full-swing grip is weak, try the “saw” grip, with the shaft across the fingers of your dominant hand (top photo, left) for better clubface control. Is your grip strong? Eliminate erratic strokes with the “claw,” holding the putter more like a pencil (top photo, right), or cross-handed (bottom photo, left). The arm-lock method (bottom photo, right) is great for golfers with shaky hands.
There’s been an epidemic of players tucking their elbows into their sides as they putt—mostly to keep extra movement out of the stroke. But how your body is constructed might not jibe with that style. If you make your full swing with a weaker grip, your trail elbow works more off your body. Pinching your elbows tight to your sides works against the way your body wants to operate. For you, changing to a “saw” grip (see Grip Styles) with the trail hand turned and working along the target line would be my recommendation. One PGA Tour player I worked with this past year grudgingly switched to a saw grip in our first putting session. After the first ball, he stood up and said, “This is like cheating.” He had found a match between his body and a putting style.
If you’re a strong-grip player, and you haven’t been able to control the face, holding the putter with the “claw” style or cross-handed are great options. You’ll be able to keep your elbows closer to your body in a way that prevents your spine from tilting too much. When you’re more level, the club can swing more neutrally. That’s a trick players such as Bernhard Langer, Jim Furyk and Padraig Harrington have turned to.
IT’S LEGAL: WHY ARM-LOCKING IS LIKE STEALING
Anchoring a custom-made putter to the lead forearm—which is allowed by rules-makers— takes the hands completely out of the stroke. You use the shoulders and rib cage to move the putter (above), which greatly increases the ability to control the clubface through impact.
Of course, the dirty little secret in all of this is the yips. What happens if you have a shaky lower hand? That’s been the main reason players have switched to cross-handed—because it changes the emphasis to the other hand. Now you have another option. Matt Kuchar popularized the arm-lock style of putting, where you brace a longer shaft and handle against your forearm (above). The most famous arm-locker on tour is Bryson DeChambeau. Assuming you get fit to your putter properly, the technique is simple. You use your shoulders and rib cage to move the putter, not your hands. Watch DeChambeau do it, and you can see all the muscles in his forearms flexing because he’s so locked down. If you’re an artist who likes to have feel in your fingers, armlocking is probably not a good choice. But if you want a mechanical advantage and a stroke that reduces variables, there’s no question it works. It’s as close as you can get to anchoring the putter to a fixed point on any part of your body other than the hand or forearm—which really is cheating, according to the Rules of Golf.
Putters built for the arm-lock technique are longer and heavier, and they have more loft than standard putters. That means, in addition to a good clubfitting, you need a setup position that gets your hands and shaft leaning forward. For most players, that means a more forward ball position. When you make the stroke, you just preserve the structure you set with your arms and club at address.
Once you’ve found the right grip and made some progress improving your stroke, now it’s time to hack the aiming process. There has been a lot of well-meaning advice about lining everything—hips, feet, shoulders—square to the target line. But that doesn’t account for the way the vast majority of us see things. Try this test and you’ll get what I mean: Aim an alignment stick so it’s straight at the hole on a 15-footer (below). Now set up so your feet, knees, hips and shoulder are square to that alignment stick. From your golf posture, does that stick look like it’s going straight at the hole? If so, great. You’re in a good setup position. Unfortunately, two-thirds of the players I coach don’t see the stick pointing at the hole from there. If that’s the case for you, the answer isn’t to shove your stroke around to try to make it work. You need to adjust your stance open, closed, closer to or farther away from the ball until the line appears straight.
EYE TEST: PERCEPTION IS YOUR REALITY
Select a 15-foot putt, then put an alignment stick on the ground so it’s between you and the hole and pointing at the cup (right). Now address the putt so that your shoulders, hips, knees and feet are matching the alignment stick. There’s a good chance when you do this, the stick will no longer appear to be pointing at the hole. You need to adjust (see “Setup,” opposite page).
How you see the line affects the shape of your swing. When you see the line accurately, you’ll realize how you stand to it isn’t relevant. Your hack for success is one that stabilizes the face and lets you roll the ball where you want it to go.
The art of green-reading could be its own article, but I’ll leave you with a tip in thought process that should help you. If you struggle with reading greens, you probably constantly ask yourself, What’s the right line? That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on you. Instead, ask yourself, If I hit a straight putt from here, where will it miss? If the answer is left, ask yourself, By how much? Then adjust accordingly. You’re asking yourself questions that have simple, affirmative answers, and you’ll be in a more positive head space.
Now go take all your friends’ money.
SETUP: CUSTOMIZE HOW YOU STAND TO WHAT YOU SEE
Using the eye test from the previous page, I now have shifted my stance to a closed position (left) to make the alignment stick appear to be pointing at the hole. This is the stance I should putt from. For you, it could mean opening your stance or standing closer to or farther away from the ball than what is deemed an orthodox address posture. Point is, it doesn’t matter how you stand as long as what you see matches up with the alignment rod pointing at the hole. Customize your setup just like you customize your putter or your grip.
TERRY ROWLES, one of Golf Digest’s 50 Best Teachers in America, is located at Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell, N.J.