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Problematic head motion during the putting stroke

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As we all know, putting requires a solid stroke, a stable body and very controlled motor motions in order to be consistent from day to day. It is with this thought in mind that most players focus on keeping a steady head in order to keep their stroke in check when things go wrong. Within this putting study we will examine the most common problems that excessive head motion causes and how to ensure that a controllable center of gravity (CG) and a steady head becomes one of your strongest putting attributes.

In my putting academy, I use several high tech tools in order to study the putting stroke. In this article I will feature two of my systems:

  1. Advanced Motion Measurement’s 3D Motion Analysis System
  2. The SAM PuttLab created by Science & Motion Sports.

AMM’s 3D Motion Analysis System for Putting

The SAM shows over 28 different factors of the putter’s motions during the stroke

If you think about how your body moves during the putting stroke you will find that in order to maintain stability it is necessary to control your head as well as your CG.  Whenever the head moves excessively during the putting stroke you will find that your stroke path, your directional control, and the ball’s impact point on the putterface will be compromised. When your body senses these actions it will subconsciously try and manipulate your hands, the putterhead, your body’s CG and/or the ball’s position in order to try to get your putting back on track quickly.

The reason why you subconsciously adjust for poor balance is because your body has homeostatic mechanisms that keep you upright and from falling down. These actions are present within your life every second of the day. This automated response helps us while walking, sitting, or playing golf — the more complex the motor skill, the more important this reaction becomes.

Homeostasis is controlled by the information given to your brain by your vision and the fluid filled canals within each of your ears. These balance centers allow your body to counter balance itself when things happen to alter your CG, such as excessive head motion. To give you an example, if I pushed your head and upper torso quickly to the right, your spine would shift your hips to the left in order to counter-balance your body so you would not fall down. This is homeostasis and it applies to your golf swing, short game and putting stroke equally.

As we all know, putting is one of the most precise actions in the game of golf. If your head is bouncing around, it makes it almost impossible to maintain your CG control and this throws a monkey wrench in your game. Whenever you call upon your homeostasis to help you control excessive motion while trying to make putts, I will assure you that rolling in that 4 footer will be your body’s last priority.

There are four head motions that plague most golfers today.

From the Frontal View:

Head Sway: The side-to-side motion of the head (lateral)

Head Rotation: The turning of the head from side to side (rotational)

From the Down the Line View:

Head Lift: The up and down motion of the head (top to bottom)

Head Thrust: The front to back motion of the head

Head Sway

Excessive side-to-side motion of the head is the most common balance issue for the beginning golfer. Beginners have not learned that a slight “rocking” of the shoulders during the putting stroke will thrust the arms effectively enough to easily power the putting stroke. These players usually try to “rotate” the shoulders in order to move the arms, hands and putter and the head moves as a result.

When the upper body over-rotates into the backswing, the head tends to move laterally as well. In beginners, this shows up on putts of any length. With better players, it only tends to happen on super-long putts. On the 50-foot putt shown above, the shoulders have rotated 25 degrees while the head has moved 1.4 inches laterally to the right. This causes many issues; however, most often it causes an exaggerated arcing motion of the putter.

For the lower handicap player:

When the shoulders work “normally” but the head moves laterally, the weight will move too deep into your rear foot on the backswing. When this happens the weight will hang back and the putter will move “up” thorough impact, making the impact point too low on the putter face. This action will give you an unsolid feeling, putts will tend to come up short.

During this putting study the player above was asked to hit the same flat 15-foot putt over and over. As you can see, the impact point is not only on the bottom portion of the putter, but there was a variant from side to side as well.  Whenever your head moves laterally too much, you will find that hitting the sweetspot consistently on a horizontal and vertical plane is virtually impossible!

Head Lift

The lifting of your head through impact is described as a “pull up or peek” by the majority of players. It happens mainly on putts from 15 feet and in and most often to players while they are facing what they perceive as a “makeable” putt.  You will find that this happens to you even more when you are nervous or are unsure of the overall putt direction in general. This flaw is comparable to “looking up” during the full swing.  Whenever you “peek,” you will find that the putter head does not want to close naturally through impact.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

If you look at this player’s putter head rotation, you will see that as this player “lifts” their head during the forward swing you can see that the putter is opening more and more as the putter moves from the transition, through impact and into the finish position. At the peak of the backstroke the putter is closed 1.6 degrees, at impact it is 0.4 degrees open, and at the finish it is 0.7 degrees open! So remember when you “lift” you head through impact the putter does not “close” through the impact zone and missed putts to the right are a result more often than not.

The gentle “rocking” of the shoulders up and down during the putting stroke that we described earlier must be taken with a grain of salt, as you can interrupt the natural motions of the clubhead on the way through the ball. Keeping your head from lifting keeps the left shoulder in check and allows your left forearm to naturally rotate, closing the putter face through impact without a conscious manipulation or release.

When the head lifts (upward 2 inches in the above model) and/or forward, the  shoulder pulls-up the lead forearm and it will not be allowed to rotate naturally. The lead wrist will break down and the putter will stay open through impact as a result.

Note for the better player:

If you are a career “head-lifter,” you might want to consider a full toe-hang putter like a Ping Zing. The extra weight in the toe of the putter will allow the putter to close through impact slightly quicker than a face-balanced putter, like a Taylor Made Monza Mallet.

Head Thrust

Very seldom do we see players who “fall forward” during their putting strokes; however, you will see this happen for one of three basic reasons:

  1. When the player’s putter does not fit it will cause the player to bend over too much from the waist placing the hands too low at address and rocking the CG toward the toes
  2. On very windy days, when the player has placed their CG too close to their toes in general, it makes it very easy for the wind to push them out of balance
  3. When the overall tempo of the backstroke is too jerky and too much on an inside track

This player is bent from the waist almost 47 degrees, slightly more than we’d like for him. In order to get his eyes over the ball without being too bent over he would need a differently fit putter!

As you look at the CG shot above you will see that even though the red dot (the player’s real-time CG location) shows that the weight is currently balanced from toe to heel at basically 50/50, the yellow line marks where the CG was a few milliseconds earlier.  Notice that there is a substantial amount of yellow above the red dot.  This helps us to identify that this player tends to be slightly toe-heavy during their address position.  This is all it takes for the wind to knock you out of balance during your stroke. This is precisely the reason why you will see players with wider stances and more knee flex when the wind blows.

The Tour average backswing speed is 650 milliseconds, and as you can see this player is slightly jerky off the start which could move the putter too much to the inside on the backswing and knock him off-balance if he is not careful!

Head Rotation

Excessive head rotation during the putting stroke seems to only happen within three instances for most players:

  1. Whenever you are left eye dominant and your head is too “centered” at address
  2. Whenever the chin is too low (tucked too close to the chest) at address
  3. Whenever you become “stroke” focused and begin to follow your backswing path with your eyes in order to audit where it is moving.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

An excerpt from “The Putting Zone” by Geoff Mangum

“The brain only sights 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.

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 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.”

If your head is too centered during the address position and you are a left eye dominant player (use the test above), your head will tend to rotate to the right during the backswing so that you can “focus” on the ball and sight your target more effectively. The normal amount of head rotation at address is between five to ten degrees in order to sight the ball with your dominant eye.

The second way excessive head rotation creeps into your putting stroke is when your chin is too low and tucked into your chest at address. As your putting stroke occurs the shoulders rock and slightly rotate “running into” your chin, and as a result, you lift your head to accommodate this motion.

This player has the optimum amount of head bend at address (45 degrees) placing his chin in a position where the shoulders can move freely back and forth without danger of running into the chin.  If a golfer’s head moves to 47 or more degrees, then he or she is looking out past the ball. If the head bend is below 40 degrees, then the golfer will not be able to move with freedom and excessive head rotation will occur.

A note for players who wear prescription glasses:  Tucking your chin too low is a very normal occurrence for golfers who wear bifocals — you will “bury” your chin in order to see over the top of the lower part of the lens that is designed for close up vision. Speak to your eye doctor and get “golf specific lenses” sooner rather than later.

The third and final way to have too much head rotation within your putting stroke is when you become too “stroke” focused and begin to monitor the putter head during the backswing in order to make sure it is on the correct path.

First, you must understand that your stroke path ONLY accounts for 18 percent of the ball’s directional error, so focusing on the backswing path is a total waste of time. Secondly, there is little you can do to consistently alter the putter while it is in motion, so it’s a total waste of time. When players have trouble with their backstrokes, usually you will find that the problem is with a set-up position that causes the putter path to be off-track, such as poor torso alignment.

If you are having trouble with your putter path on the way back and cannot stop “watching,” first make sure your alignments and “flow-lines” are correct (as shown above). From there, practice putting while closing your eyes in order to feel a more natural putting stroke that can happen much easier if you have positive alignments.

Conclusion

Putting is an accuracy endeavor, thus if you have excessive motion within your body you will have to make physical manipulations in order to make up for the deficiencies that your imbalance causes. For most people, the thought of maintaining a steady head is the key to staying still while putting, for others, just focusing on your CG and its position between your feet is the key.

Regardless of the methodology you use to control your head motion, torso actions and CG, remember that balance is the key to your putting success. You will not see any player on Tour who is a good putter violate one of the four head motion or the CG rules laid out above, so:

  1. Control your Head Sway
  2. Control your Head Rotation
  3. Control your Head Lift
  4. Control your Head Thrust

-Or-

  1. Control your CG from Toe to Heel
  2. 2. Control your CG from Right to Left

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

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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

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Hugo Mader

    Jun 24, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    Great article! And just a correction: on the heading “Head Lift”, its said that “At the peak of the backstroke the putter is closed 1.6 degrees”, you actually mean OPENED 1.6 degrees? And, what the hell are “golf prescription lenses”?!?

  2. Ben Alberstadt

    Jan 5, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    Many thanks for this quality assessment and advice, Mr. Stickney!

  3. pablo

    Jan 3, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    good article. i like the CG ‘checks’ at the end.

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Instruction

Golf 101: How to play golf (with Jake Hutt)

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Yes, you read that right. We’re talking about how to play golf. We at GolfWRX pride ourselves in not only supplying info to the golf junkies out there but to also help along the new golfers that just want to get started.

No, we won’t be discussing “tour issue” head weights or “shallowing” the club in transition. This is a BASIC look into how to play golf—how a new golfer would walk to the first tee, for the first time, and have some fun. If you dig deep that is the spirit to GolfWRX.com as a whole. Enjoying the game.

I’ve brought in some help on this one: A coach who I think has whittled down the basics to their core. Jake Hutt., look him up on IG, it’s “golf for dummies” for basically every type of player out there. Jake, like George Gankas and some others, has what I would call the “voice of the new generation.” It’s the fun, laidback, non-traditional style that my kids will be learning from in years to come. So why not introduce him to the WRX community now?

More bio: Class A PGA Professional Jake Hutt teaches out of The Stanford University Golf Course and currently lives in San Carlos, California. He can be found on Twitter, Tik Tok, Instagram, and YouTube under @Jakehuttgolf.

We are doing this breakdown of how to play golf in a very simple way. Yes, people will chime in about what we missed and explained incorrectly but hey, it wouldn’t be a real post without it.

We will do a checklist of the basics: Posture, grip, and an ABC of the motion for a full swing, chip, and a putt.

How to play golf

Posture

Stand straight up, put your arms on your legs, and tilt forward until your fingertips touch just above your knee caps. Let your arms hang straight down from your shoulders. This will feel similar to the posture when shooting a free throw in basketball.

Grip

How would you pick up a suitcase with your left hand? Now replace the suitcase with a golf club. That’s how your left hand goes on the club. To figure out where to put the right hand get in you golf posture and clap your hands together. Now without moving your left shoulder and letting your right arm bend move your hands so they’re just to the right of your right pant pocket. The left arm should be parallel to the ground. Now look at the position of your hand. The palm will either face the ground, the horizon, or the sky. Where the palm points here is where the palm should face when holding a golf club.

Swing

All a golf swing is is throwing the club around your body without letting go of it. If you hear it swoosh, it’s a swing. Once you learn to swoosh the club the next step is learning to hit the middle. To train this spray foot powder on the your clubface and observe where impact is after your attempt to hit the ball. If the ball mark shows up on the toe of the club try and hit the opposite part of the clubface (the heel) on the next shot—repeat the same process for the opposite miss (mark shows up on heel of club). Over time, you’ll need less exaggeration to hit the middle of the clubface. With enough training, this skill will become learned and will require no conscious thought.

Chipping

Stand with your feet close together, the ball off your trail foot, and the handle off the left leg. Lift the heel of the club slightly off the ground so the handle of the club is more vertical. Now make a longer, faster feeling putting stroke. The ball should pop in the air land on the green and roll. The less lofted the club the lower the ball will go and the more it will run. The more lofted the club the higher the ball will launch and less it will roll.

Putting

The most important part of putting is hitting the middle of the clubface. The faster you swing the putter the further the ball rolls. The slower you swing the putter the shorter the ball rolls.

how to play golf putting

How to play golf: Putting. Hitting the center of the putter face is the most most important thing.

The ball starts where the putter face is pointing whether it be straight right or left. To get a feel for speed imagine the effort it would take to roll a ball to the hole. Use that feel to create a putting stroke. Putting greens are not flat the ball will curve left or right. To help figure out which way a green rolls stand halfway between the ball and hole. Ask yourself which foot has more pressure on it. If you feel more pressure on your left foot the putt will break left and more pressure on the right foot means the putt will break right. If the putt breaks right the putter face should point left of the hole at impact. If the putt breaks left the putter face should point somewhere right of the hole at impact.

We’ll be back with more of this entry-level discussion of how to play golf. Let us know in the comments if there are any areas you’d like Jake to dive into!

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Clement: The best video for beginner golfers ever

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One of the deep expertise we have is knowing what side you need to be swinging from to enjoy your best golf. Sometimes it’s both sides like me! So many professionals on tour are including left-handed swings (for the right-handed player) in their warm-up routines and practice routines as a great way to create muscle confusion. Our fabulous kinesiologist, Munashe Masawi, confirms this through his studies and personal training for his grueling sport of football.

But there is always one side that fires better, feels smoother, and has the potential for a lot more than the other for many golfers. Which one are you?

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Clement: Important video on grip! (dare we say “historic!”)

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We so much love being historically correct! Back when I started teaching 35 years ago, when I looked at what the top 5 coaches were teaching, I knew I had to forge my own way. Not only did it not make sense anatomically, it did not make any sense neurologically either! Fast forward to today and we talk about ground forces and how to let the hips turn in the backswing and grip? WHOA, DID THEY MISS THE BOAT THERE!!

This video really takes the cake and REMOVES ALL QUESTIONS AND DOUBT ABOUT GRIP; where to hold it, grip pressure and IN OUR OPINION, THE FIRST TIME IT HAS BEEN REVEALED IN IT’S FULL ANATOMICAL FUNCTIONALITY.

This will end all debates about the “weak grip vs strong grip” argument!

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