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The illusion of the putter shaft, and why you should forward press

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If you watch the vast majority of Tour players putt, you’ll notice that their hands start in front of the putter head at address, and this condition doesn’t vary throughout their stroke.

Most golfers don’t putt this way, though. Their hands start behind the putter head at address and tend to break down even more. They “slap” at the ball through impact and beyond, which is detrimental for both speed and direction control.

Golf instructors can agree that in order to be effective on the greens, golfers must have the putter shaft returning to neutral or even leaning forward at impact, allowing the hands to lead the blade throughout the stroke. Fundamentally, we know that the left hand controls the putter face and its direction, while the right hand controls the putter head and its effective loft (for right-handed golfers). These two factors together allow golfers to roll their putts more consistently.

The bottom line: if you do not lead the putter head with your hands on today’s fast green, you’ll struggle to be an effective putter.

The Illusion

GOLF-US-MASTERS-ROUND3

Jordan Spieth keeps the back of his left hand stable and ahead of the putter head throughout his stroke.

So isn’t the solution as simple as forward pressing your hands during address. Why is that so hard? Well, when most amateurs forward press it’s almost never enough. That’s because they’re fighting an illusion. 

That’s right, there’s an optical illusion that occurs when golfers look down from address at their hands and their putter shaft angle. It influences the breakdown of their impact alignments, and promotes a “slapping” action of the wrists and hands. It also encourages the putter head to swing past the hands, leaning the shaft away from the target at impact adding loft to the putter — not something we want.

Try It Yourself

To understand how putters are designed, place your putter flat on the ground, and up against the wall as pictured below. You will notice that the shaft leans away from the target.

ForwardPressDrill

If you still don’t buy it, take your setup in front of a full-length mirror and look down at the shaft of the putter. From your address position, you will swear that your putter shaft is even or slightly ahead of the golf ball. But when you look in the mirror you will see an entirely different picture. The putter shaft will actually be behind the putter head.

The Illusion Explained

Putter manufactures have built-in this backward leaning of the shaft and loft into the putter face to promote good mechanics (as well as other things) by forcing players to forward press their hands at address.

This was and still is a great idea, but the problem is that it causes an illusion, leading golfers to believe that their hands are pressed forward more than they actually are. This means that when the shaft is set in a forward-leaning position, the hands are really just over the top of the putter head, not in front of the blade as it looks visually from above.

How to Overcome the Illusion

Most golfers would be better off if they forward pressed their hands too much, rather than too little at address with their putter. This way, there is more room for error if something does breakdown.

A good rule of thumb is to always point the butt end of the putter shaft at the first belt loop on the target side of your belt buckle. As you look down, you may think you have the putter shaft pointed too far toward the hole, but when you look into your mirror you will find that it is only slightly forward leaning. This is the most desirable position for you to roll a putt.

Use a mirror to help you understand of the illusion of the putter shaft. I promise it will give you better control over your line and speed, and knowing you’re set up correctly will give you more confidence on the greens, too.

Don’t be fooled by the illusion.

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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

35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. Myths as Facts?

    Aug 6, 2019 at 5:12 am

    A lot of myths being repeated here. A forward press is a triggering device, nothing more. It takes maybe .8 degrees of loft away, so a 4 degree club is more than fine. I’m amazed at the poor quality of this article and the comments supporting it. It seems because someone works with Trackman people assume they have studied this, but certainly this is one of the most ill informed articles I’ve seen on this topic. Ask Frank Thomas. As Geoff Mangum. Ask Ralph Maltby. They will all set it straight.

  2. EgdewRich

    Feb 27, 2017 at 7:26 am

    Combine Tom’s comments and analysis with Dave Stockton videos and written work and you may find a formula for improved rolling of the ball! I find attaching two longer tees to the heel and toe helps in practice since “seeing loft” helps me see the impact moment that produces a tight roll. Try gluing two quarters together for a practice ball
    marker and resting the putter head on them before starting the stroke helps align the “vertical” sweet spot with the impact point on the ball. Try with a Nike Ping or Odyssey textured surface putter face! Putt to a 5 inch wide block of wood and work on the tight roll and just hitting the woodblock!

  3. jc

    Jan 16, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    this works very well..I have the new golf pride overside piston grip on my ping rustler and b54….I just set it down and it naturally fall into the postion in the article…I then step in so my body mathes the end of the club….then back and into the hole….works with either putter, a no arc and a slight arc…

  4. REAL REASON...

    Jan 5, 2017 at 8:44 am

    The real reason is because putters are ill designed.
    1. Loft causes the ball to be hit below the equater
    2. This causes the ball to get airborne, have backspin, bounce and results in bad distance control

    Good putters forward press to reduce loft (3* quickly becomes 0* or less).

    The ball is then hit at the equator or higher.
    “Topped” balls roll better
    Putting is the only shot in golf you really don’t want to get airborne….
    better hit at the equator or above… better forward press or have negative loft to start with.

    • mark c

      Jan 19, 2017 at 7:05 am

      not true – unless youre playing on marble greens you need the ball to initially get airborne to lift it above the slight sunken lie it will be in on the grass and get it rolling on the top

  5. tom stickney

    Jan 3, 2017 at 4:55 pm

    23 years of full-time teaching…if you doubt this, go to your local putting green any busy saturday am

  6. Steven

    Jan 3, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    Great Advice. I think many of us would benefit from looking in the mirror during parts of the swing to see what is really happening. Like they always say, feel is not real.

  7. Alfredo Smith

    Jan 2, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    Awesome read! I use a forward press to avoid a static swing. That illusion check blew me away because it has always appeared that my hands are ahead at address before I started the press. After reading this article my forward press is giving me that much more confidence. Thanks Tom Stickney!

  8. david

    Jan 2, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    I put a line on the ball and, if I see the line after I putt, I feel I have hit a good putt because it rolled end over end. Seems to me that’s all that matters. Am I wrong on that? If I could read greens worth a damn and hit the short ones hard enough, I might be a decent putter.

  9. Deadeye

    Jan 1, 2017 at 11:14 am

    Going back to legal anchoring days, why were the long and belly putters so effective? It’s my impression there was no forward press in those strokes. At least not in mine.

  10. Tcope

    Dec 31, 2016 at 9:10 am

    The best thing I ever did was actually get fitted for a putter. Specifcally an Edel. That putting fit session was eye opening. Instead of really changine stance, press etc. Just have a putter built to your EYES and how you see the ball and address it. Had my first sub 2 putts per round the other day.

  11. PineStreetGolf

    Dec 30, 2016 at 10:50 am

    My coment didn’t get posted for some reason, so sorry if this is a double.

    Where did you get the data that “most” golfers don’t forward press? Study? Could you link it?

    Having your hands ahead of the putter is nice, I guess, but its all relative. If your putter has three degrees of loft and 2* of shaft lean and you press it’ll be awful. Its all relative. The full swing is relatively similar and governed by motion physics, so you can make generalizations, but the putting stroke is much smaller – “get your hands forward” might be absolutely awful advice for some people.

    Where did you get the source for your comment that “most” need it? Is this just you making it up? Poll? Shotlink? The entire article is based on this sentence and there isn’t a whiff of authority to support it. I’m not saying its wrong, but if your going to solve a problem with an enitre article it would be nice if you first proved there was actually a problem to be solved – where did the data that “most” golfers do this come from?

    • Myths as Facts?

      Aug 6, 2019 at 5:14 am

      No one presses two degrees at impact, forward press typically results in a maximum of .8 degrees reduction in loft which is fine for a typical 4 degree putter. That’s not the issue here. However the issues here are indeed many, agreed.

  12. PineStreetGolf

    Dec 30, 2016 at 10:18 am

    “Most golfers don’t putt this way, though. ”

    This is from your article. How do you know this? Study, survey? Or did this come from your head? Curious.

    Blanket golf advice “always forward press…” is generally bad, unless you actually have tendency numbers to back it up. Where did your “most” come from? are we talking 70%? 90% Its a whole lot different if your making up that 65% do it versus an actual study that shows 95% do it.

    In fact, Pelz concluded in his book the exact opposite – “most” golfers *do* have a forward press at impact. Its just offset by too much body lean away from the target.

    i’d really like to see some evidence for the “most don’t forward press” basis of this article. A forward press is relative. If you forward press and then your spine titlts backwards, you actually arn’t forward pressing at all. Its alot more interconnected than this article makes it seem.

    Putting your hands forward is not the same thing as proper loft at impact.

  13. JH

    Dec 29, 2016 at 10:58 pm

    garbage

  14. Lowell

    Dec 29, 2016 at 7:05 pm

    I had this experience today working with a new putter. I felt to me that if I just set the putter down the putter has a tendency to have a lean away from the target. I almost have to promote pressing my hands forward which looked better but will take some time to buy into. I felt like the feel of the putt felt more solid as compared to when I would step in and set the putter with its natural position as I saw it. Pretty significant to say the least. Knowing this now, I will stick with pressing my hands forward and get that solid consistent roll that I want.

  15. Mr B

    Dec 29, 2016 at 6:41 pm

    Great read Tom. Quick questions: I feel like I seriously close the face when I try to fwd press. Looks so awkward at address.

    Is this common and just an illusion? If not an illusion and problematic, any tips not to close down the face when using a fwd press?

    • Prime21

      Dec 29, 2016 at 11:45 pm

      Tape a tee to the face of the putter. If you press the putter properly, it will lean towards the hole. If you are truly closing it will turn inwards towards you. A proper press may very well look “closed” to you, but if you have a system to check it, you will be able to determine if what your eyes are telling you is true or simply different. You may also want to put a line on the front of the tee (facing the target) with a sharpie. If done properly you will never see it, if you’re closing it, it will come into vision.

  16. Job

    Dec 29, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    What about using this technique with a Seemore? When I do this, it exposes the red button on the riflescope and takes away the advantage of ensuring proper alignment, which was one of the big draws of that putter. I now see that I almost assuredly am behind the ball but maybe there is a compromise?

    • Dill Pickleson

      Dec 29, 2016 at 8:30 pm

      I use a seemore and arc stroke and don’t think forward press is necessary if you square the face. A device like SkyPro will tell you that. Seemore gives you the setup and feedback you need

  17. Double Mocha Man

    Dec 29, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    What if I’m wearing Sansabelt trousers left over from the ’70’s? There are no belt loops.

  18. mlb

    Dec 29, 2016 at 3:35 pm

    Thanks Tom this helps me a lo i have this problem.

  19. Darrin

    Dec 29, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    Face square at impact is all that matters. I just focus on the putter face being perpendicular to my starting line, what the shaft is doing at that point is irrelevant.

  20. Jason

    Dec 29, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    Typical putter lofts are 3.5 to 4 degrees, which is typically measured when the shaft is vertical, correct? If the first belt loop is two inches ahead of the vertical line the putter shaft is leaning forward by 3 degrees which reduces static loft by the same amount. So, wouldn’t I want a putter with five or six degrees of loft if the goal is to return to impact on a level path with three degrees of shaft lean?

    If some accommodation is not made in the putter’s loft it seems like a lot of people would begin experiencing bouncing putts.

    I would love to know your two cents..

    • tom stickney

      Dec 29, 2016 at 1:50 pm

      It all depends on how you deliver the puttershaft into impact…for this article I wanted people to understand only the basics of the “illusion.” Find someone with a SAM Puttlab or a Quintic in your area for the best static/dynamic loft fitting.

  21. Dave R

    Dec 29, 2016 at 1:21 pm

    Very good and yes it works ,I’ve done it for years tought to me over 40 years ago by a very old and good friend.

  22. Jay

    Dec 29, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    Good read!!

  23. Philip

    Dec 29, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    Tom, indeed when you place the putter flat on the ground you will get backward shaft lean, but the face of the putter will also be leaning back and adding loft. I’ve never putted like that and don’t know anyone that does either. I putt with the club face square and flat to the ball which results in some natural forward shaft lean. When I placed the putter faces up against a square steel block I see just a bit of forward shaft lean and when I set up at address I see even a bit more forward shaft lean that matches the full-length mirror when I look up. If one allows the putter to naturally hang from their arms and then lines up the club face to the ball, they will have no choice but to have some forward shaft lean unless their setup is messed up. I do not see this is an optical illusion, but more of an issue of improper setup or not understanding how to use a tool “putter” properly.

  24. Tom

    Dec 29, 2016 at 11:48 am

    Great article. And this technique works.

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Instruction

What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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Instruction

How to stop 3-putting and start making putts

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When we are 3-putting we are ‘stuck in the box’. This means that when we are standing over the putt the second before we make our stroke everything happens to ‘go downhill.’ When this happens, depending on your playing level, things can become a bit erratic on the putting surface.

When a 3 putt happens, it is typically because you failed to do something before you made your stroke. The large majority of my 3 putts happen when I am not completely SOLD on the line of my putt, aka not committed. Questioning anything over the ball will lead to 3 putts.

Here is a breakdown/checklist on how to approach the green and get your ball in the cup without hesitation.

1. It starts with the approach shot into the green and the decision of direction you make to enter the hole. Scan the entire green with your eyes on the walk-up. Left to right and right to left. Look for a few seconds before you step onto the putting surface. This helps determine the high side and the low side, or if the green is relatively flat. Don’t be picky, just look and make a decision.

2. Once you get to the ball, mark it. Take 3 steps behind your ball mark. Now you must pick a line… Left, Center, or Right of the cup. (Skip step 3 if you know the line) It should take seconds but for those that are not sure it will take longer. Understand that every putt has a statistical level of difficulty. So to increase the odds, players must avoid putting in the unsure mind, and take the time to figure out a line. I also find that people who are 3 putting are overly confident and just not committed aka too quick to putt.

3. To commit, you must find the angle of entry into the cup. Walk up to the hole and look at the cup. How is it cut? Determine if it is cut flat or on a slope angle. This will help you see the break if you are having a hard time. Then determine how much break to play. Cut the hole into 4 quarters with your eyes standing right next to it. Ask yourself, which quarter of the cup does the ball need to enter to make the putt go in the hole?

I encourage using the phrases ‘in the hole’ or ‘to the hole’ as great reinforcement and end thoughts before stroking the ball. I personally visualize a dial on the cup. When my eyes scan the edges, I see tick marks of a clock or a masterlock – I see the dial pop open right when I pick the entry quadrant/tick mark because I cracked the code.

Remember, the most important parts of the putt are: 1.) Where it starts and 2. ) Where it ends.

4. To secure the line, pick something out as the apex of the putt on the walk back to the mark. Stand square behind the ball mark and the line you have chosen.

5. To further secure the line, place your ball down and step behind it to view the line from behind the ball. Don’t pick up the ball mark until you have looked from behind. When you look, you need to scan the line from the ball to the cup with your eyes. While you are scanning, you can make adjustments to the line – left, right or center. Now, on the walk into the box, pickup the mark. This seals the deal on the line. Square your putter head to the ball, with feet together, on the intended line.

6. To make the putt, look at the apex and then the cup while taking your stance and making practice strokes to calibrate and gauge how far back and through the stroke needs to be.

7. To prove the level of commitment, step up to the ball and look down the intended line to the apex back to the cup and then back to the apex down to your ball. As soon as you look down at the ball, never look up again. Complete one entire stroke. A good visual for a putting stroke is a battery percentage and comparing your ‘complete stroke’ to the percentage of battery in the bar.

8. Look over your shoulder once your putter has completed the stroke, i.e. listen for the ball to go in and then look up!

If you find a way that works, remember it, and use it!

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Instruction

Golf 101: Why do I chunk it?

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Whether you are a beginner, 10 handicaps, or Rory McIlroy, no one player is immune to the dreaded chunk. How many times have you hit a great drive, breathing down the flag from your favorite yardage and laid the holy sod over one? It’s awful and can be a total rally killer.

So what causes it? It could be several things, for some players, it could be a steep angle of attack, others, early extension and an early bottoming out and sometimes you’ve just had too many Coors Lights and the ground was closer than your eyes told you…been there.

This is Golf 101—let’s make it real simple and find one or two ways that a new golfer can self diagnose and treat themselves on the fly.

THE MAIN CAUSE

With beginners I have noticed there are two main things that cause the dreaded chunk:

  1. Players stand too close to the ball and have no way to get outta the way on the way down. This also really helps to hit Chunk’s skinny cousin: Skull.
  2. No rotation in any form causing a steep angle of attack. You’ve seen this, arms go back, the body stays static, the club comes back down and sticks a foot in the ground.

SO HOW DO I FIX MYSELF?

Without doing all-out brain surgery, here are two simple things you can do on the course (or the range) to get that strike behind the ball and not behind your trail foot.

This is what I was taught when I was a kid and it worked for years.

  1. Make baseball swings: Put the club up and in front of your body and make horizontal swings paying close attention to accelerating on the way through. After a few start to bend at the hips down and down until you are in the address position. This not only gives your body the sensation of turning but reorientates you to exactly where the bottom of your arc is.
  2. Drive a nail into the back of the ball: This was a cure-all for me. Whether I had the shanks, chunks, skulls, etc, focusing on putting the clubhead into the back of that nail seemed to give me a mental picture that just worked. When you are hammering a nail into a wall. you focus on the back of that nail and for the most part, hit it flush 9 outta 10 times. Not sure if its a Jedi mind trick or a real thing, but it has gotten me outta more pickles than I care to admit.

As you get better, the reason for the chunk may change, but regardless of my skill level, these two drills got me out of it faster than anything all while helping encourage better fundamentals. Nothing wrong with that.

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