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Master these 3 set-up keys for fewer 3 putts

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It seems that everyone wonders why they do not make more putts. But if you consider the multitude of variables that affect putting, it is a wonder that golfers make any at all.

Identifying the most important factors within the set-up will help you to make more putts on a daily basis. But let’s not forget, putting is a tough task for anyone to master because it places golfers to the side of a golf ball that is sitting on sloped ground. That can alter visual acuity, causing you to see the “incorrect” line, or settle into a posture that makes it much harder to move the putter back and forth consistently.

Within my putting academy, I use many high-tech tools in order to examine putting strokes. This article will feature discussion of the Advanced Motion Measurement’s 3D Analysis System and the SAM PuttLab by Science and Motion Sports. These high-tech tools give instructors a personal MRI of a golfer’s putting stroke and provide the player with research and a treatment value.

The putting research I have done has been benefited greatly by the relationship I have developed with Lanny L. Johnson, M.D. and PGA Tour player Howard Twitty. They have tested more than 150 PGA Tour players’ putting strokes during the last several years on the SAM PuttLab. For this article, I have merged our putting data together and believe that this may be the most accurate analysis to date in regards to alignments, posture and aiming.

Photo 1

The three major categories that players must understand during the set-up position are the following:

1. The Proper Alignments of the Body (Frontal View)

  • Stance
  • Grip
  • Center of gravity (CG) control
  • Spinal tilt and the “low point” of the stroke
  • The proper ball position
  • The ball’s position and its influence on aiming
  • Illusion of the putter shaft

2. The Proper Posture (Down the Line View)

  • Putter fitting
  • The “flowlines” of the body
  • Rear forearm “on-plane”
  • The eyes
  • Head and chin positioning
  • The proper forward bending of the torso
  • Your center of gravity

3. Proper Aiming

  • Address aim and impact aim
  • Putter geometry
  • The “best” tested aiming routine

The Proper Alignments of the Body

Body: You must have the ability to understand where your body is in space and have the “feel” to place your body in the proper position consistently.

Grip: Different putting grips have certain positives and negatives based on the different handicap levels; however, once you pick the grip style that best suits your stroke it is important to remember one fundamental. The best putting grips are ones that have the palms facing one another and the thumbs down the center of the grip. With this being said, there are several grip styles that go against this concept (i.e. the claw), but they are used for specific flaws within a player’s game so they match up with what they are trying to do — this is OK. However, most players will find that a palms-facing style will be the easiest to reproduce on a consistent basis.

Stance Width: As with any type of stroke that needs accuracy, it is important that you have a firm base in order to balance your torso during the motion. With putting, it is no different. Studies have shown that narrower stances tend to allow the body to rotate too much on longer putts, while wider stances deliver the most stability and the required “tilting and rocking” of the shoulders. The actual width of the stance is not as important on putts from 15 feet and in, but it is very important on putts outside of this length because of the issues listed above. In fact, putts outside 30 feet (on non-PGA Tour greens) require a harder hit, which changes the mechanics from those in the typical putting stroke.

Photo 2

Testing shows that most players have a stance width between 11 and 14 inches.

Center of gravity (CG) control: Even with the proper stance width, it is important that you have the proper balance from side to side. The proper center of gravity (CG) at address is necessary in order to keep your body stable (not sliding from side to side during the stroke). Most players have their CG between 55 percent left to 55 percent right, depending on where they like to feel their weight. Remember that your CG will influence your stability, as well as the low point of your putting stroke.

Photo 3

The CG Monitor shows this player at just about 50/50 from side to side.

Spinal tilt and the low point of your stroke arc: The lateral (side-to-side) bending of the spine influences the low point of the stroke, and you must make sure your spinal tilt, CG and stance width all correlate. Your grip style also influences the tilting of the spine as well. If you move any of these factors out of position, you will have poor balance and very little control as to where the putter “bottoms-out” during the forward stroke.

Whenever the spine is tilted too much toward or away from the target at address, the “low point” will move and thus the ball’s position must be altered as well.

Photo 4

When the spine tilts toward the target at address (as shown above), the golfer’s CG tends to shift to the left (for a right-handed golfer). It also changes the low point of a golfer’s stroke arc.

Ball: Testing has shown that there is no ideal ball position for all golfers. The ball’s position should be just after the low point of the putting stroke arc, and it should match up with a golfer’s frontal posture. The best way to figure out this correlation is to set up in front of a mirror (shown below) and see if everything looks balanced and “centered.” Then, you will be able to adjust your ball position to match up with the low point of your stroke and its needs.

Photo 5

Ball position and its influence on impact aiming:

Photo 6

In order to understand your correct ball position, you must first have your torso alignments and postures correct. Then you must match your ball position with the size of your arc. The SAM can measure your arc size (as you can see from the above player), as the size of the arc increases the importance of ball position in your stance. If the player above placed the ball too far back in his stance, the ball would tend to hang out to the right unless compensations were made by the hands.

I would suggest finding an instructor with a SAM unit in order to help you determine the “exact” ball position for your arc size. The only other way to do this would be to experiment with a video camera looking down at the ball from outside the line.

Illusion of the puttershaft

Photo 7

In the picture above, you will notice that the putter shaft is perpendicular to the ground, however, as this player looks down the shaft will appear to be backward leaning (photo below).

Photo 8

Though the putter shaft appears to be leaning from the players’ view, it is basically perpendicular (the club shaft is only leaning 0.2 degrees forward). Make sure that you understand this visual “illusion” so you can set your putter perpendicular to the ground at address.

The Proper Posture

Putter Fitting: If you pick up just about any putter off the rack in your local golf shop, you will find that most are about the same length and lie (34 inches and 71 degrees). This is because manufactures build putters in bulk. The cost of customizing each putter before shipment would make putter sales way too slow and expensive for the average player, and this is what we have to contend with as golfers.

My suggestion is to pick a putter that you like the look of and have it custom fit by your local professional or club repair technician. If you do this, you will have a fighting chance to make more putts than you did without the proper putter fitting. In fact, the putter has the least margin for error of any club in your bag. However, less than five percent of the golfers today get fit correctly!

The “flowlines” of the body: 3D and SAM testing has shown that when your body’s “flowlines” are all aligned and pointing in the same direction, most players have a better chance of making a more consistent stroke.

Photo 9

Over time, instructors have seen great putters align themselves “open” or left of their target line with their body because they said they could “see the line” better. However, with the advent of 3D-motion analysis and the SAM Putt Lab, instructors now know that this is a very inefficient way to set up to the ball because it causes the shoulders to point too far left, which means the putter path will follow suit. Doing this almost necessitates a physical compensation within the putting stroke in order to not begin the ball too far left of the line you have chosen. Over time, the body will physically compensate for your faulty alignment, because instructors have come to learn that the body is smarter than the brain.

Photo 10

Setting up “open” will cause your flowlines and visual perception to be altered.

Photo 11

Your stroke path will compensate as well, producing an out-to-in path, UNLESS an intentional physical manipulation is made during the stroke!

Rear forearm on-plane: One of the most forgotten fundamentals of putting is to keep your rear forearm on plane with the club shaft at address. If you draw a line up from the club shaft, it should bisect the rear forearm. This ensures that the rear arm can power the stroke down the line that a golfer chooses. It is this very reason why “the claw” and the cross-handed grips work for so many golfers.

When the rear forearm rides “high” it can stem from several sources:

  1. Your rear-hand grip could be in an overly weak position (too much on top of the club shaft).
  2. Your shoulders could be open to your intended target line.
  3. Your spine could be leaning too much toward the target at address. A “cross-handed” grip can solve this problem, and has been the solution of choice for many players who fight a high rear forearm.

Photo 12

As you can see with the stick-figure above, this player’s rear forearm is above the plane of the shaft. This causes an out-to-in stroke path, which result in pushes and pulls.

The Eyes: The brain sees a target most accurately with the dominant eye. Eye dominance is not dissimilar to hand or foot dominance.The brain favors only one of the two eyes to define the body’s relation to the target in terms of direction, and habitually uses only that eye to target objects and locations in space in terms of direction. Over time, the vision yielded by the other eye is ignored by the brain, so effectively when we sight targets we use only our dominant eye. Trying to target only with the non-dominant eye is a little like trying to sign your name with the wrong hand: it can be done, but not gracefully.

To Determine Your Eye Dominance: Try holding both hands out at arm’s length, thumbs up side by side like a gun sight. Use the sight to target a distant object with both eyes open. Close the right eye. If the object jumps to the left, you are right-eye dominant. Confirm this by opening both eyes, re-sighting, and then closing the left eye. The object will remain in the sight. You are left-eye dominant if when you close the right eye the object remains sighted, and when you use only the right eye, the object jumps to the right of the sight.

Two-eyed vision is necessary for depth perception, one of many distance clues, but it has little to do with locating the proper direction sighting. Here, only the dominant eye matters. And you must place the dominant eye on the line that extends from the target back to the ball and extending to you, so if you face directly toward the target, looking at the ball and the line, your dominant eye will be on the line and your nose and center of your body will be just to the side of the line. You also need to stand square to the line: that is, parallel/horizontal lines across your eyes, ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles should all be perpendicular to the line of the putt, as stated on “The Putting Zone” in an article by Geoff Mangum.

Head position: In studies done by Howard Twitty and Dr. Lanny Johnson on the PGA Tour have found that in order to place your eyes in the most advantageous position for interpreting the truth in alignment, it is necessary for you to optimize the position of your head relative to the ground.

Moving the head down from the usual “chin-up” position so that your chin and eyes are in the same plan provides the best look down the line. The chin-up position that most players possess will erroneously look to the left (for a right-handed golfer). The “level-headed” position will allow the brain to better code the information given by your eyes. The easiest way to ensure your head is in the correct position is to make sure that the plane “drawn” through your chin and forehead are parallel to the ground.

Ninety-nine percent of the golfers will have their chin “up” slightly, causing the eyes to actually look downward in their sockets in order to see the ball’s line. This, along with the dominant eye information from above, helps you to understand how easy it would be to move your eyes and body your of the proper alignment. The unsuspected error of looking left with the head up is best illustrated with a training aid called “The Pro-Aim Glasses” that can be found on www.golftrainingstuff.com.

Photo 13

The incorrect head position causes the eyes to look “out and down” in order to see the ball’s target line. This will alter the flowlines of your body, which requires a mental and physical compensation.

The Proper Forward Bending of the Torso:

Photo 14

When the putter is correctly fit for the player in regards to its length and lie, you will find that the eyes will be over the ball, and the proper forward bending of the spine will happen naturally. The proper forward bending of the spine for most players is between 33 to 37 degrees at address. If you get much more or much less bending, you will find that you will have a hard time keeping your arms free from your body and your eyes over the ball. In order to have the proper forward bending at address, you MUST have your putter fit to your body. Do NOT try and accommodate the putter’s length and lie by setting up differently than you do naturally!

Center of Gravity: When the body has the proper alignment (flow lines to the fitting of your putter) the last step is to make sure you are in balance from back to front in regards to your feet. This balance is also important as stated above with your side-to-side balance. Thus, if you are out of balance in any way you will have trouble staying still!

Photo 15

As you can in the CG monitor analysis above, this player is balanced from side-to-side, but he is also balanced from back-to-front. This is shown by the percentage of weight on each portion of the foot on the lower left of the CG Screen. This dynamic balance helps golfers remain stable during the putting stroke and will ensure a solid centered impact of the putter with the ball.

Proper Aiming

Address Aim and Impact Aim: The “alignment aim” of the putter head relative to your chosen targetline is your address aim, while the direction your putter face is pointing at impact is called the impact aim. The impact aim is the more important concept of the two.

Alignment of the face at impact is the most important factor in determining what direction the ball leaves the blade, and it is the benchmark for your body to understand. In fact, impact aim accounts for 83 percent of ball error! If you are one degree off at impact, the ball will be 3 inches off your intended target line at 15 feet. This one degree of error is more than enough to miss your intended 15 footer!

Most consistent putters have the putter aligned at address between 0 and 0.5 degrees at address, and they return their putter at impact within the same range. However, there are some exceptions. One top putter on the PGA Tour aligns his blade 2.2 degrees to the right very consistently yet returns the blade to impact on the line he originally determined. While this is not the best way to putt, it can be said that if you consistently aim in the same manner (open or closed), the body can adjust to this to some degree. This is best illustrated by the golfer who unknowingly lines up to the right of a target with a 7 iron. While performing the shot, his body will respond by pulling the shot back on line. Although a golfer may perceive that they are aligned correctly intellectually, their body knows better and will often make the appropriate correction during the golf swing. This happens with the putter on a daily basis as well.

Photo 16

If you have no alignment consistency at address, then your body must make a different compensatory adjustment each time at impact. This will not allow you to have the same impact aim either, which is represented by the image above. This player cannot aim the putter at address the same way twice, giving him a consistency score of 13 percent and a face-at-impact score of 17 percent.

Putter geometry: Studies with SAM have also showed that a putter with a rectangle somewhere on the top and perpendicular aiming lines help most players line up more effectively at address. Using such rectangle-shaped putters and a ball with an aim line drawn on it has proven to be the most effective way to line up a putt at address for the average player. Putters with curved, circle or half-moon designs give players the most trouble with alignment.

Two points to consider:

  • “Square” geometry provides the best opportunity for the player to bring the putter face back to square at impact.
  • “Rounded” geometry is otherwise confusing to the brain, and gives no inherent hint of direction.

This does not mean that you must only use “blocky” types of putters, however, if you choose to use “rounded” putter head designs it is more challenging from a psychomotor standpoint. In this case, we recommend reading off the face of the putter itself. Thus, if you consistently have alignment issues, then you might need to adopt a more “blocky” putter design due to the facts above.

The “best” tested aiming routine: The best alignment routine I have seen to date and used personally comes from the Tour testing done by Dr. Lanny Johnson and Howard Twitty. This aiming technique uses the golfer’s innate ability to understand his own spatial relationship and his natural skills to place the putter in the correct position naturally.

  1. The player stands behind the ball and views the intended target line. Consider for a moment how you would aim a rifle. You put the rifle up and look down the barrel — you don’t stand to the side and aim it this way.The best way to aim a gun and a putt is looking from down the line only.
  2. Next, approach the ball from behind with the putter in the dominant hand, walking toward the ball. The instant that you turn and look down at the ball, rest the putter head on the ground immediately behind the ball.
  3. Without looking up, assume your stance and grip the putter with your other hand.
  4. From there, look once at the hole to identify the distance and go. Do NOT try and re-aim the putter again. You have already set the alignment you need from behind the ball.

Amazingly, SAM testing confirms that in two to three attempts the golfer who previously had alignment problems is almost perfectly on line using this method. This is an example of the “body being smarter than the brain.” One of the best putters on the PGA Tour, Aaron Baddeley, has been observed to use features of this method. Over the ball, he looks at the hole to confirm its position and quickly strikes the ball. We believe this is why he one of the Tour’s best putters consistently.

The Conclusion

Serious golfers must take the time to understand the three set-up issues that control their overall consistency on the greens: alignments, posture and aiming. Use the subsections of each category to analyze your current stroke and see if you are deficient in any of the area discussed above. If so, you will find that putting inconsistently is a byproduct of your set-up position, not your stroke itself.

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Tom Stickney

    Oct 21, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    Oops…hit button by accident. Not a chance…there are ALWAYS exceptions to the rules. I will say if you have that few putts you might need to work on hitting more greens???

  2. Raymond CHASTEL

    Oct 21, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    Fine article and study ,very well documented and fantastically illustrated.I’m a fairly good putter(28/32 puts per round ) sometimes 25(I even went down to 20),but now I have read this study I feel I do every thing wrong ,at least not scientifically your way!I have the posture and stance of old time golfers (HENRY PICARD ,ALEX MORRISON and alia ),elbows stuck into the chest (“anchored”),long shaft (35 inches ),left hand grip -handle in the life line ,butt of handle slightly protruding and “stuck”to left forearm ,and I put more or less the BOBBY LOCKE way ,ball off left big toe ,stance closed 3 inches,long flowing stroke .Unconventional ,but it works fine for me .Should I change to putt way more orthodoxely?

  3. Tom Stickney

    Oct 21, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Thx for the comments.

  4. John

    Oct 20, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    I always just get up and hit the thing… sometimes it works – sometimes it doesn’t!!

    Interesting article though…

  5. jeff

    Oct 20, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    Well done

  6. Chris b

    Oct 20, 2013 at 3:34 am

    what a wealth of information. Fantastic article, PDF’ing this one for future reference.

  7. Tom Stickney

    Oct 16, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    Sadly I have not. But I’m sure it works well for many people. Thx.

  8. nik

    Oct 15, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    wowwow. really great article. kudos. well done.

    have you ever tested people putting sidesaddle?

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Instruction

Stickney: Sit on it (for a better backswing)

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As we know golf, is a very tough sport and one that involves many moving pieces. Whenever something overreacts or moves too much on the way back, you end up playing catch-up on the way down. One of my favorite things to watch is how the head moves or doesn’t move on the backswing. Sure, you can have some movement, but you can’t have too much or you put yourself behind the eight ball.

I have charted the head position of a tour player at address and we can see that this is a very normal set up position. It is one that looks positioned to do great things.

However, en route to the top, you can see that this player has put himself into a position where his rear knee straightened too rapidly off the start of his backswing. When this occurs the pelvis “runs out from under” the upper body on the backswing the hips will react and begin to slant downward. (You can see a -10 degree tilt versus 3 degrees the opposite way at address for you number people.)

This causes the head to move out in front of where it was at address. This is not a bad position for the irons but for a driver we have a pending issue. If you don’t make a compensation from here then the player will have an angle of attack that is too much downward through impact with their driver.

As the player moves into his transition, the hips have leveled as the rear shoulder lowers the club into delivery but the head and pelvis are still too far out in front of the ball. The only thing you can do from here is fire the lead side upwards and hope that your head falls back into the correct position. If so, you will have the correct angle of attack, if not, you will chop down on the ball causing your launch conditions to be faulty.

And as we see here that this is precisely what this player did at the very last minute…not the easiest way to swing the club but it is functional IF you make the right correction. So, now that you understand how simple things like the action of the lower body can cause your head to move and your angle of attack to become faulty, what is the secret to controlling your lower body?


Just “sit” on the rear knee flex slightly longer during the backswing as you see here. This will slow down the tilting of the pelvis on backswing and thus your head will stay more in position en route to the top.

Personally, I teach both flexion and extension of the rear knee to the top, depending on what the player is wanting to do, so it really does not matter. However, what does matter is the rate at which it begins to straighten for those of you who do allow it to lengthen. I try to make most of my students hold the most of their address flex until the club moves between belt and chest high, any sooner and you risk the faulty pivot we saw above.

Therefore, take it from me and “sit on it” slightly longer for more quiet head motions as well as a more balanced backswing—your angle of attack will thank you!

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Davies: Training the trail elbow in the golf swing

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Alistair Davies shares with you how to get the correct trail arm and elbow action in the downswing. He shares some great drills that can be done at the range or at home to help lower your scores.Get the correct training for the trail arm here today!

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The important lessons you can learn from Peter Senior’s golf swing

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He may not be a household name in the United States, but Australia’s Peter Senior has a swing for the ages. At 60 years old, Senior has 34 worldwide professional wins including the 2015 Australian Masters beating a competitive field with several top-ranked players in the world. Turning professional in 1978, his career has spanned over 40 years.

Senior’s game and swing have stood the test of time, and the longevity of his career should be recognized. Senior formerly worked with Australian instructor Gary Edwin, and the structure to this swing taught to Senior paved the way for a future of consistent, high-quality professional golf.

Having a great golf swing isn’t the only key to becoming a great golfer, one must learn to play the game. However, you can learn a lot from Senior’s swing.

The origin to Senior’s swing lies in his set-up. Senior sets up in what I call his “hitting angles” or a position that mirrors impact.

From this position, Senior is able to simply keep these angles he established at address throughout the swing. This is why the set-up is so critical. The further he deviates from these “hitting angles”, the more he will have to find that impact position with his body in the backswing and downswing. In other words, more movement. The goal of his backswing will be to maintain these original starting angles.

From the picture, Senior has maintained his original body shape that he established at address. From this position, it will be much easier and repeatable to return the club to impact.

Note how his impact position now mirrors his original address position. All his original angles were maintained with a slight bump of the body towards the target. From impact, he can simply fold up his arms as his right side of his body rotates around his left side, keeping the clubface square to the body.

This standing tall finish position with the head following the torso is much easier on the back. His body has come forward and around beautifully, covering the ball for a proper strike.

The beauty of Senior’s swing lies in its simplicity. The changes Senior made to his swing can apply to anyone. Let’s look at two simple drills to make your swing more efficient and powerful.

“To a large extent, my backswing is a product of my set-up position” – Tiger Woods, Golf Digest 2020

To get into these impact angles simply practice pushing into an impact bag with the head and shaft of the club. Make sure your trail arm is tucked, lowering the trail shoulder as you pressure the bag.

To get the feeling of the proper coil from this set-up position, grab an impact bag and hold the bag in front of you.

From here, swing the bag around you with your arms keeping the top of the bag level. You will feel the trail side of your body move back and the lead side move out, coiling around your spine angle.

The trail glute will also move back and around with this drill, a key move the great Ben Hogan used to pivot his body. To develop an efficient swing and a long, injury-free career, take note of Peter Senior’s key moves.

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