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Face the facts in putting: Controlling face angle

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Controlling face angle in putting is a tenacious task. The top players in the world even struggle with this on a daily basis. What about conventional golfers? Can controlling face angle really improve one’s ability to put the ball in the hole?

The short answer is yes, but there are many influencing factors: the style of the putter (face-balanced, plumber-neck, heel-shafted, center-shafted), head weight, posture, alignment, lie and loft, etc. All are factors that can aid a player in controlling face angle, for better or worse!

The purpose of this article is to inform golfers why this is crucial, what to look for when rolling putts and looking for a new putter, and how they can get better.

Note: Through this entire article, we are assuming centered contact with ball and putter head (center mass to center mass). Heel and toe strikes have minimal effect on the direction the ball rolls.

The main purpose of having a square face at impact is to start the ball on your intended start line, but that’s much easier said than done. As the loft on the club gets lower, the more influence face angle has on the direction a ball starts to move or roll. For example, with a 6 iron with a loft of approximately 28 degrees, face angle at impact has a 75 percent effect on the direction the ball launches. The other 25 percent is path. As the loft on the club decreases (i.e. a driver), gear effect aside, face angle has an 85 percent effect. With a putter with a loft of 2 degrees, the influence is greater than 90 percent. This is massive!

A putter face that is open 2 degrees at impact will miss the hole from 5 feet! For a putt to go in at 8 feet, the angle of the face needs to less than 1 degree open or closed to the target. Increase the distance to 15 feet and the putter face needs to less than 0.5 degrees open or closed to the target for the putt to go in. Can you tell the difference between a face angle that is 1-degree closed or open to your target line?

Article #3 Push Putt image

Consider the above statistics. Now consider the PGA Tour average of putts made from inside 5 feet, from 10 feet, and from greater than 10 feet. From the beginning of the 2014/2015 season until now (3.20.2015), here are the best putters from those distances according to PGATour.com.

  • Inside 5 feet: Vaughn Taylor — 99.25 percent
  • From 10 feet: Jerry Kelly — 71.43 percent
  • From greater than 10 feet: John Daly — 22.94 percent

Notice the drop from 10 feet to greater than 10 feet — it’s 48 percent! Remember, a face that is open by 1 degree will miss the hole from 8 feet. This is evidence that face angle outside of 10 feet is unyielding. Outside of 10 feet, most amateur players should focus on getting the proper speed for the putt, but inside 10 feet is where the magic happens. Controlling face angle is what the best players in the world do best.

When selecting a new putter, the style of the putter needs to compliment the style of stroke a player has. That’s why identifying what type of stroke you have is critical.

There are three generalized styles of putting stroke. 

  1. Straight back, straight through: The putter moves in a straight line away from the ball and straight through the ball.
  2. Minimum Arc: There’s a slight arc to the path of the putter head with minimal face rotation.
  3. Lots of arc and face rotation: The putter head moves with a noticeable arc and plenty of face rotation.

Golfers who have an arc to their stroke with more face rotation usually prefer or fit into toe-weighted or heel-shafted putters. This gives them more control over face angle at impact.

Golfers with less arc and face rotation generally fit into a plumber’s neck model putter. These putters generally suit strokes with minimal arc and face rotation.

Golfers who like the feel of a “straight-back, straight-through” stroke tend to favor a face-balanced putter. This is a generalized comment, because sometimes different putters feel and perform better to these golfers. Ultimately, the putter should feel comfortable and very natural throughout the stroke. It should also feel very easy to line up to the target.

Checking alignment can be tough to do without a laser or other types of calibrating tools. Typically, most golfers think they are lined up properly, but are not. Using a laser that can sit flush with the putter face is the most accurate way to test this.

Below is an example of how a laser can help identify face angle at address. If your face angle is not square to your target or start line, something would have to change somewhere through the stroke to get the face to square up.

I know some of you are thinking, “What about Billy Mayfair?” Mayfair cut every single putt he made and missed! His face angle was very open at impact during his prime. What he did very well was match his putter’s path to his face angle, so his path, which only has a 10 percent influence, complimented what direction his face was aligned. At Modern Golf, we would never encourage a player to emulate this style of putting. It is too difficult to repeat and adds a ton of cut spin to the roll of the ball. But if a golfer comes to us with this tendency and putts well, there is often no reason for him to change.

One way to work solely of the face angle of your putter at impact is to eliminate path as a variable. Using a putting arc, or a 2×4 piece of wood to run the heel of the putter along to eliminate any path deviation will isolate face angle, but this is only really applicable to short putts. At some point, there should be some arc in a golfer’s stroke.

If you are looking for a quick way to lower your putts on the course, isolate face angle. Work on putts inside 10 feet. These are the ones that have the highest percentage of going in regardless of outside variables. It takes commitment and some extra tools, but it’s one of the quickest way to lower your handicap.

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Modern Golf was founded in 2011 and has established a reputation as Canada’s Premier golf club-fitting experience. With a brand agnostic approach to club-fitting, a 13,000 square foot state-of-the-art headquarters including a PGA Tour caliber workshop, Modern Golf can provide a demonstrable improvement to your golf game. Regardless of our customers’ age, gender, or skill level, our highly trained club-fitters and experienced club builders can custom tailor our customers’ golf equipment to produce improved on-course results. The Modern Golf team is excited to share their expertise with the GolfWRX Community. www.moderngolf.ca

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Samual Puttington

    Apr 1, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    HEY MODERN GOLF, what are the stats for people returning the face at impact to what they had at address? Pretty low, right? So then why so concerned with adjusting the address position to have a face pointed directly at the target when very few will return the putter face to that angle? Fir for stroke. Edel has it wrong.

    • Modern Golf Staff

      Apr 2, 2015 at 7:08 pm

      It’s all about creating consistency. It’s important to see where the alignment issue is (aligned left or right of target) and getting the player to feel and see the difference. If we can create a more consistent face angle at impact the player will develop more feel for distance and line.

  2. AJ Jensen

    Apr 1, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    Good article for sure. The main takeaway for me though is the idea that my driver is more sensitive to face angle than are the weaker clubs. This explains all the times I’ve KNOWN my driver’s swing path was correct at-and-after ball impact, yet my shot quickly took off on a lateral arc to the left or right

  3. lef

    Apr 1, 2015 at 11:27 am

    Lie angle is critical in the discussion and not brought up here. The amount of arc in the putting stroke is strong dictated by lie angle. When you set a putter down flat it tells you its natural arc. This is why It’s virtually impossible to truly putt straight back and straight through because putters don’t have a zero degree lie angle. I’ve been playing a face balanced centershafted putter for a decade with a moderately arcing stroke due to its lie. When I use a heal shafted toe heavy putter with the same lie angle and shaft length and weight I feel almost no difference. But if I use any style of putter with a different lie angle I immediately adopt the natural arc of that putter. If you want to feel the face closing find a putter with a longish shaft and a shallow lie. Its a much stronger effect than toe weight in my opinion.

  4. Brutus

    Apr 1, 2015 at 11:25 am

    It has been shown that without a doubt a putter path cannot move straight back and thru without the handle moving back linearly and maintaining it’s exact relative location to the head (i.e. hovering right over it as it slides back, speed of movement, etc…) Any variance between the 2 immediately introduces 2 arcs on 2 planes. Arc 1 as it lifts up the lowest point to the ground at address while swinging back. Even if it comes up a 1/2″, that’s an arc. And arc 2 as it swings inside (or outside) a straight path back. This is created as the putter head moves farther and faster than the handle and has to arc in the process. An analysis of Nicklaus’ stroke as he used to hunch way over and piston like pump his putt was close to straight back and through but still produced those 2 arcs inevitably.

    I bought that yellow swing path trainer your set of pictures show. It’s from Butch Harmon who developed Tiger into a putting force using this method in the early 2000’s. (See putting tips from Jim Flick and Butch in Golf Digest articles from 9/09 and 5/13 issues as they describe the Inside and Down the Line technique Butch teaches and this aid develops). I rarely think a new training device will give me 10% more driving distance or whatever, but I know practicing with this increased me putting from inside 10 feet to the tune of 3 to 4 less putts a round. I saw it in my scores and handicap improvement.

  5. Phil

    Mar 31, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    I am a heavily left eye dominant, right handed golfer. I constantly fight aiming too far right of target as my eyes are telling me I am aiming too far left. This results in me A trusting it and putting a good stroke on or B pushing the putt cos after the back swing my brain forces me to push the ball where my eyes think it should be going. I have been trying to use a ping ketsch with slight arc but am continually missing right. A return to my yes Morgan (Napa) type blade fixes this but I really want the ketsch to work as so much more forgiving…

    • Mike

      Apr 1, 2015 at 12:37 pm

      Try a putter with less offset (center shafted to 1/2). If you are like me (left eye dominate playing right handed golf), I aim better with a center shafted or at most a 1/2 offset putter. When I grab a 3/4 to full offset putter I aim too far to the left of target.

    • talljohn777

      Apr 1, 2015 at 1:38 pm

      I have had the same issue. Put a line on your ball, get behind your intended line and using both your eyes binocularly place the ball on your intended line with the line on the ball matching up with your intended line of putt, then step into your putt with the putter lining up with the line on your ball, now your putter is correctly aimed on your intended line, stroke the ball, make the putt.

  6. Rick Wright

    Mar 31, 2015 at 4:40 pm

    LASER OPTICS is actually the original putter alignment laser. My patented technology (US only) has been around for over 15 years. In 2013, I upgraded to a high power green laser, which can be seen prominently outdoors. I further changed the design allowing for the instructor/user to trace the aim line on the putting surface. This change allows assessment of alignment on straight or breaking putts from any length. Hurrion approached me at the 2014 PGA Show with the desire to have me develop an alignment laser specifically for the Quintic Ball Roll System. After prototypes were provided I never heard from him again. Although, I see he didn’t bother to change the shape of the laser base. Oh well, that’s the golf industry for you.

  7. M

    Mar 31, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    Modern Golf – What if you have natural aiming tendencies due to eye dominance, etc? Wouldn’t changing a person to aim directly at the hole (if they are slightly off) cause their eyes and proprioception to send conflicting messages? How many professional golfers actual aim within the hole at 10 feet or more?

    • Modern Golf Staff

      Apr 2, 2015 at 6:52 pm

      This is not a what if, everyone has a dominant eye and tendencies due to this. The key is to find a putter that is easier to line up. Right eye dominant players have an easier time lining up putters with left offset. Also, they tend to have an open stance to their target to see the line better. using a laser will help identify what direction the alignment is off.
      Golf professionals struggle with this as well. They are human! The difference is they know their tendencies and have a good feel for alignment. outside of 10 feet the best putters in the world are making just over 20% of their putts.

  8. Paul

    Mar 31, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    I use a plumbers neck ping anser style putter. I have a slight arc.

    I often feel like I have to grip the putter firmly to stop the face closing over, which produces pulls if I leave it to go. Should I be using a face balanced putter?

    • M

      Mar 31, 2015 at 2:59 pm

      No you should be using a putter with more arc to allow the face to open more on the backswing. Then you won’t feel like you have to stop the putter from releasing.

      Try a Shea H or a Zing and see if it feels like you can release the putter more freely.

      • Rick Wright

        Mar 31, 2015 at 5:43 pm

        A putter does not create arc, the golfer does. With a couple of friends/colleagues I have developed the math which will plot an individual’s signature path based upon set up, posture, and relationship to ball position. If the golfer’s path does not match the projected path (usually due to preconceived notions), there is manipulation. The brain can typically manage small degrees of manipulation, but greater degrees can result in accuracy, impact, and ultimately, distance control issues.

        • talljohn777

          Apr 1, 2015 at 1:43 pm

          And why are you not sharing the information with the rest of the golf world???

        • Tiger Hoods

          Apr 1, 2015 at 6:37 pm

          Every putter has a rotational value that is engineered into the design. If that value doesn’t fit the rotational requirement of the golfer the golfer will feel off. I learned that from a great instructor at puttertalk.com

        • Modern Golf Staff

          Apr 2, 2015 at 6:25 pm

          Interesting Rick! We would love to chat more regarding the applied math. Maybe this is something we can implement here at Modern Golf.

        • Stretch

          Apr 4, 2015 at 11:17 am

          Nicely stated Rick. The manipulation is what leads to yippy strokes. The root cause of the manipulation is having the eyes aligned differently to the intended line the ball needs to roll on.

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Mondays Off

Mondays Off: Steve’s worst shot of his life and Knudson’s handicap is heading up!

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Steve played in a tournament and hit one of the worst shots of his life. Knudson’s game is on the decline but his handicap is heading north. Steve talks about member-guest tournaments and the one-day event they have coming up.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for golf?

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Golf, like many hobbies, can drive people to do some crazy things—whether it be to play a course on your bucket list, purchase a club you’ve been looking for, or drop everything just to play with your buddies.

As a purely self-diagnosed golf junkie, I have gone out of my way to do all of these things on many occasions, and I have a feeling a lot of others here have some stories to tell similar to these.

The Long Trip

Let me start by saying that I’m not a “Bag Tag Barry” or really a bucket list course kinda guy. Yes, I have courses I want to play, but at the moment the highest on the list starts and ends with the Old Course at St. Andrews – because, simple – it’s St. Andrews. Beyond that, my “hoping to play” list pretty much the standard classics.

But it doesn’t mean that I haven’t gone WAY out of my way to play, especially when you think about the recent 1600-plus mile journey I just took to Sweetens Cove to play in the First Annual “Oil Hardened Classic” run by Eternal Summer Golf Society.

Sweetens has been on my radar since I first heard about it, and if you are at all interested in course architecture I’m sure it has been on your radar for a while too – great piece on it here from WRX Featured Writer Peter Schmitt (You’ve Never played Anything like Sweetens Cove).

Sweetens Cove

When I first heard of this event, I knew it was something I HAD to do. I’ve been playing persimmon clubs (not to be confused will full hickory) for a couple of years now and in case I haven’t made it clear in the past—I love blade irons. To be able to play with a bunch of other “golf sickos” made this something I really wanted to do, and to let you in on a little secret I’ve been hiding for a while, before this I had never done a real “golf trip” before.

Problem: Being in the Great White North puts me a long ways away from South Pittsburg, TN and a golf trip like this with air travel and a rental car was out of the question. So what’s the next best thing? load the car up with a bunch of old wooden clubs, some blades, three golf bags, lots of balls, gloves, enough clothes for a few days, a cooler, and a passport: BOOM my first golf trip.

I-75 was my route for an entire day. 14 hours total with stops: It was an easy drive to Chattanooga, where I filled up on BBQ and stayed the night. From there, it was a simple 40-minute drive over in the morning and with Sweetens Cove in Central Time (just across the line, I should add), I even got a much appreciated extra hour of sleep. The golf course was ours for the whole day and beyond the for fun scheduled matches it was a playground. Groups of 12 people playing the same hole, three-club mini loops, trying out impossible putts on the rolling greens—we did it all.

A few years ago, if you had told me I would drive 28 hours round trip to endlessly loop a 9-hole golf course with persimmon clubs and a bunch of “strangers,” I would have probably called you a total idiot. Now, I can’t imagine not doing it again.

Speaking of long golf trips, how does a 2,700-plus mile round trip to play Cabot Links and Cliffs Sound?

It started with an already planned two-week road trip, Toronto, Boston (to see Fenway), Portland, Halifax then finally to Inverness, Nova Scotia home of Cabot Links—and at the time, only open for “lottery bookers” and resort guests Cabot Cliffs. We had times booked for the links course but Cliffs was another story. Since I’m not one to take no for an answer, and although staying at the resort was well beyond our road-tripping budget, I had a little tip that if you call very early the day you are hoping to play they could potentially find spots for players when resorts guests cancel. Cliffs was still under preview play and tee times were 20 minutes apart so the chances we’re slim but a 5 a.m. alarm and some not-so-subtle begging and bartering got my wife and I an afternoon tee time on the best new course in the world!

It was an amazing experience made even better by the beautiful weather and fun we had that day. I have, still to this day, never had an experience like that on a golf course.

The Must-Have Wedges

I’m an obsessive club collector and builder. There I said it. Not only do I love clubs, but I love the idea of making things, or taking things that are considered less desirable and making them better than ever before.

This all stems from a piece I wrote this spring about a HUGE used club sale about an hour from where I live, Check it out here: Hunting Used Clubs at Fore Golfers Only

Although I did get some fantastic deals at “The Sale,” as the locals call it, there were a few wedges I could not get out of my head after visiting the accompanying retail store after the sale. As I was driving home, in a bit of a snow storm, I couldn’t help but think about the potential of the raw Nike Engage wedges I left behind. I wanted them for a number of reason including the fact that I hadn’t had the chance to work and grind on raw wedges in a while and these were the last Mike Taylor-designed Nike wedges before Nike decided to shut the doors and Artisan Golf was born.

By the time I realized I had to have them, it was already too late to drive back and they were closed, so first thing the next day, I called and asked if they 1) Still had the two exact wedges I remembered seeing  2) if they would hold them for me until the Monday morning after the sale—the only chance I would have to get back there in the next month. Why did I need them when snow was still on the ground? Because I’m a nut!

Monday rolled around, I got out of bed bright and early during another not-so-fun snowfall to shovel the driveway, gas up the car, and drive three hours round trip to pick up two rusty used, Nike Engage wedges for the grand total of $120. But when I finally got the chance to work my magic, it’s hard not to say the effort was worth it.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: You and your wedges (survey results part 2)

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As I promised last week when I presented the first layer overview of the GolfWRX/Wedge Guy survey, today I’m going to dive into the section of the survey where you shared your thoughts and feelings about wedges and your wedge play. I’ve made a study of golfers and their wedges for nearly 30 years now, and have always found it fascinating. It also has helped me immensely in breaking from traditional wedge design to address what golfers have told me about where they need help most.

I’m proud that this insight gained from golfers over those years led me to develop “the Koehler sole,” which I patented back in 1990, and have brought to market as both the “Dual Bounce Sole®” and the “V-SOLE®”. That insight also guided me to begin to introduce higher and higher CG in wedges since the mid-90s (which almost all wedge companies have finally begun to do to one degree or another), and to create the first progressively weighted wedges with the SCOR™ line in 2011.

But this is about you and your wedges, so let’s dive right into what you all shared in the surveys.

First of all, you GolfWRX readers are way ahead of rank-and-file recreational golfers in the respect you show for your wedges, with 70 percent or more of you carrying at least four wedges, counting the set match “pitching wedge” that came with your set of irons. I’ve long been an advocate of having more wedges in your bag to give you more options in prime scoring range. As manufacturers have continually strengthened the lofts of the set-match pitching wedge, down to as low as 43-44 degrees in some models, it just makes sense.

Partly as a result of this attention, you GolfWRXers rated your wedge play much higher than golfers at large, based on my prior research. What I found interesting is that fewer of you rated your wedges play outside 75-90 yards as a strength of your game (26 percent) than you did on your wedge play inside 75-90 yards (30 percent). Almost 30 percent of you said your wedge play outside of 75-90 yards was “not as good as it should be,” but just 21 percent said the same about your wedge play outside 75-90 yards. It is generally accepted that full swings are harder to master than the partial swings those short-range shots require.

I have an intern student at University of Houston-Victoria diving into these surveys to cross-tabulate all the answers to reveal more interesting insight for all of us to share, but that is going to take a few weeks, I’m sure, as there is a lot of data here. But what my takeaway from this question is that the vast majority of revealed you have lots of opportunity to improve this segment of your game, as 70-75 percent of you rated your wedge play in both categories as average or below-average. One way to do that is to re-allocate your practice time to hit more wedge shots of different distances, really focusing on distance control. Which brings me to the next couple of questions.

Two questions are very closely linked, as proven by the answers you shared. Nearly an identical number of you responded that your full-swing trajectories were “about right,” and your distance control was “pretty good.” But the majority of you said your trajectories trended too high and your misses come up short almost all the time. You are not alone—my experience with wedge design and golfer feedback is that this majority of you GolfWRX readers is actually much better than the majority of all golfers.

The harsh reality is that this is not all your fault. While mastering wedge play is probably the hardest part of the game, the design of wedges aggravates these two problems. Robotic testing of wedges indicates that essentially all models on the market are very unforgiving of impact moving around the face. We all know that low-face impact, nearly bladed wedge shot is going to fly low and have lots of spin (i.e. “thin to win”). And that likewise, that shot you catch high in the face is going to fly high, come up short and have much less spin.

Tour professionals spend countless hours working to perfect their wedge impact point to be low on the face, a goal helped by the very tight-cut fairways they play. But for the rest of us playing higher-cut fairways, the ball is sitting up more and we are much more likely to catch the ball higher in the face, which—by design—causes the ball to fly higher and have less spin. Conventional wedges have as much as a 20 percent lower smash factor when impacted just half an inch above the “sweet spot.”

The fact is that consistent wedge distance control requires a consistent impact point, lower on the face. One way to try to improve in that regard is to focus your eyes on the forward edge of the ball when you are hitting any wedge shot, but particularly on full swing wedges. From a technique standpoint, your left (or lead) side must be more influential on these shots. In other words, try to make impact with your hands ahead of the clubhead. I’ll dive into that whole subject in a dedicated article soon.

I believe that this challenge of wedge play is aggravated by when and where the majority of you purchase your wedges—let me explain that reasoning.

The vast majority of you are playing relatively new wedges, with 36 percent having purchased them in the last year, and another 43 percent playing wedges that are 1-3 years old. That’s the good news—your wedges are relatively fresh. But now for the bad news.

Almost 45 percent of you said you purchased your wedges at a large off-course retailer, which means you most likely purchased wedges with a heavy, stiff steel shaft—but how does that compare to the shafts in your irons? Is it a match or even close? If not, I’ve learned that the wrong shaft is a huge factor in wedge play, as it creates a feel disconnect in prime scoring range. My experience is that, for most golfers, a thoughtful re-shafting of your wedges to produce the same weight and flex as in your irons will make a huge difference in your wedge-range performance.

This is getting a bit long so let me share another interesting takeaway from this survey, then leave you with another question to sound off about.

Less than 18 percent of you said your last purchase was of a different brand with the goal of improving your performance. I find that puzzling, as I’ll bet nearly 100 percent of you chose your last driver, putter or irons specifically with that goal in mind.

I can only take that to mean that you have relatively low expectations of improvement when you buy wedges—can you all share some thought with me to help me understand why that is?

Thanks, and I look forward to some lively dialog this week. I don’t chime in often to your comments, but I will this week if you want to have a discussion. Should be fun!

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