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Pulled In A New Direction? How To Putt Sidesaddle

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Now that the shoe has dropped and the two major governing bodies of golf have announced a plan to ban anchoring in the golf swing, a fair number of golfers and golf fans are left to ask myriad questions, such as “why now?” and “what options do I have?” Enough writers have taken pains to clarify that the anchor point is banned, not the long putter shaft. Hopefully word gets out and assuages the multitude of torn souls whose salvation was heisted. After enough stages of grief have passed, perhaps these former dilettantes of dwarf will consider life beyond the anchor. For them, and as a fellow sufferer, I offer this piece of solace through the maelstrom.

Face The Music

If you saw the golf movie Seven Days In Utopia, based on the book of the same name by David Cook, you know that the protagonist (spoiler alert!) adopted face-on putting to prompt a return to the professional golfing circuit. The question how would you toss a golf ball to the hole is anything but a zen koan; the answer is simple. You would not stand sideways to the hole and toss it under your lead shoulder, as you essentially do with a traditional putting stroke. Instead, just as you shoot a basket, you would square your shoulders to the target and toss the ball underhanded. You would probably come pretty close to the hole, too. Recent history has veiled the identity of the individual who developed face-on putting, but Gary McCord has written about it in golf magazines and Randy Haag (a northern California amateur) has parlayed its use into regional victories and national amateur success at the mid-amateur level. Even PGA Tour player K.J. Choi gave it a try in 2010 in the British Open!

After Sam Snead’s croquet style was ruled non-complying by the USGA in the late 1960s, Snead went to sidesaddle putting. In those days, the longer putter shaft was nearly non-existent, so Snead went to work with a traditional-length putter. He putted well, winning four West Virginia Open championships and three PGA Senior championships with the method. Randy Haag is a champion amateur golfer from northern California and has been putting face-on for more than 16 years. For a look at his competitive record, visit http://randyhaag.com/about/ and locate any wins and honors from 1997 on. Credit those to the switch.

With face-on putting, I suggest that you find a lengthened putter. It might be the belly one that you imagined you’d use to stake your garden, or it might be one a bit longer. Be certain that you don’t anchor your upper hand to your shoulder (remember the ban?), but that you instead find a way to stabilize the upper hand (the fulcrum) below where the club shaft and head swing. If you are a right-handed putter, position your right foot slightly ahead of the left and then work on horizontal and vertical ball position. Horizontal spacing measures how far “out” from your right foot the ball rests, while vertical spacing determines whether the ball is behind, ahead of or even with the tip of your right shoe. Finally, start practicing.

After working for all of three or four sessions on the aforementioned personal putting green, I played 27 holes at a course between Buffalo and Rochester in early December. I was stunned to find the greens stimping at 9 or 10, simulating in-season conditions. To my partner’s amazement, I did not miss a putt inside 10 feet all day. I’ll admit that I didn’t have any long putts with enormous break (the next hurdle), but I did find my long-distance pace rather quickly. One or two of the 50-feet plus putts were pushed a foot or two off line, but the distance was excellent, leaving me with no more than 2-3 feet for the comebacker.

Here’s my check list for a successful side-saddle safari:

  1. Find a putter length with which you feel comfortable. I prefer longer shaft, as I don’t want to bend over and strain my lower back.
  2. Find a putter head that minimizes off-center hit penalties. I changed from an Anser-style head to a Two-Ball mallet for that reason.
  3. Determine if you want to putt with your left or right foot forward, or have both feet even.
  4. Determine where to situate the ball, both vertically and laterally. There are many options here, just as with a regular stance: ball forward, even with toes or behind toes. Ball tight against foot or farther away.
  5. Practice, Practice, Practice. One of the reasons Ernie Els indicated he putted so well with the belly putter was the need for practice. He had putted traditionally for so long that he got lazy and stopped grinding. With the belly putter, there was always enough light at the end of the tunnel that he kept working and kept improving, all the way to a British Open title.
  6. Putt for something. Find great putters and putt against them for sodas or change or golf balls (or big stakes, if you like). You need to simulate the same pressure you’ll feel on the golf course.

Conclusion

I’ve always been a streaky putter and have often told new partners in May, in the midst of taking 40 putts in a round, that I’ll be down to 28 or 30 in a month and that they will be stunned to find me putting so well. I’m quite interested in taking face-on putting to two levels in 2013. I will begin the season with it, then plan to use it in regional qualifiers for New York State and Buffalo District amateur events. My opinion is that friends will give me good-natured grief for using the method. They will be less inclined to continue the banter when I continue to putt lights out. I expect the reaction in the heat of competition to be much less cordial. Assuming that I am able to control my emotions and execute, I anticipate utterances of:

That can’t be legal

Some guys will have no shame and

If I putted like that…

Truthfully, none of that will matter. If I want to get the ball in the hole and shoot the best score I can, and if sidesaddle or face-on or whatever you call it gives me that opportunity, so be it. If they say That’s not a golf swing. I’ll ask them, “Was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook a set shot?” That should quiet the masses. Check back here at GolfWRX.com and learn of my progress.

Click here for more discussion in the “Putter Forum.”

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. John

    Feb 15, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    I have been using this style for 3 months. What I have discovered is:
    Center shaft is best
    Max. lie, 80 deg loft 3 deg or less
    Length, upper arm, parallel , 49″ for me
    Heavy is good, my head is 500 gm
    Boccieri Golf, Heavy putters, Scottsdale built mine and I am very pleased
    Sometimes it seems almost too easy, am surprised the pros are not using.

  2. Ronald Montesano

    Jan 16, 2013 at 5:26 am

    Jeremy, you are correct that the left forearm will not be anchored if the ban is put into the rules. Don’t know if it was conscious or not, but I naturally didn’t press my forearm to my chest, so I guess I’m still legal!

    Bob, that’s an excellent point. It brings a different 180-degree visual spectrum into the moment, so you need to remind those fidgety partners to find their center and stay there…ohm!

  3. Bob

    Jan 13, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    One other thing to consider.
    While facing the hole to putt most players will stand to your side and in your peripheral vision. It’s difficult to retrain your playing partners. Sunglasses with wide temples help.

  4. Jeremy

    Jan 3, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Having putted and studied sidesaddle for many years there are some things to keep in mind:
    1- it is by far the easiest and most consistent way to putt day and day out
    2-kj had everything going wrong for him when he did it in the Open. Wrong putter head, wrong shaft length and wrong stance. I assume that’s why he ditched it after the Open
    3- you can try to use a normal belly or long putter but you will be cheating yourself out of the full impact this style provides. The most lethal shaft is a reverse type similar to the one the putt guru Karl designs out of Vegas. You can look him up
    4- unfortunately. The ban will hurt the easiest and most effective way to sidesaddle because to do it you need to anchor your entire left forearm across your belly (for a right handler) holding out suspended in air like Snead is simply not as stable
    5- a mallet head is by far the best
    6- history has shown you can be the best in the world and putt conventional with proper techniques. I suggest check out Geoff Mangum

  5. asics10

    Dec 30, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    Were you playing Terry Hills? Those green were rolling great even at the end of November.

  6. Rico

    Dec 30, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    What is the rule on how upright the shaft can be in relation to the putter head. This intrigues me because since the the ban is only for anchoring against the body, you can essentially anchor the grip end down the forearm and make the putter an extension of your arm.

  7. loonsailor

    Dec 30, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Thanks for the article. I’m a new golfer, having started just a year ago when I turned 60. I started from the beginning with a belly putter, and pretty quickly settled on a style of looking at the hole, not the ball, as I putt. Works for me, and I have no particular desire to learn to putt in the “traditional” way. Sidesaddle is completely news to me, and I’ll definitely give it a try. It looks quite natural to me.

    In poking around a bit, there are already some putters designed specifically for this. Somebody already mentioned wonderputter.com. In addition, I found the L2 at http://www.laterallineputter.com/, and the PT Sniper at http://ptsniper.net/. The latter is in Japanese only, and there’s not much info on it, but there are a bunch of youtube videos of the L2 and it looks quite interesting. He’s posted a message on his web site that he’ll be making some small changes to the L2, so that it will conform with the new ruling. Has anybody tried any of these special putters? Any comments?

    As to it looking ridiculous, I disagree. It just doesn’t look the way we’re used to. If you gave a ball and a stick to somebody who’d never seen golf, and pointed to a hole, this might very well be what they do with it.

    Thanks again for the enlightening post!

  8. Pat Dearn

    Dec 29, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    I don’t know…it just looks rediculous…

  9. Ronald Montesano

    Dec 28, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Jeff, you may putt with one or two hands. However you putt best and legally, awesome.

    My understanding of the rules proposal is that it will correspond with the next publication of the Rules of Golf. What the PGA Tour does behind closed doors is another ball of wax.

  10. Austin

    Dec 28, 2012 at 7:53 am

    Paul,

    There is discussion amongst the pga tour that an earlier ban may take effect. To my knowledge, there is not any discussion of an earlier ban amongst us mere mortals.

  11. Jeff

    Dec 28, 2012 at 7:29 am

    Are two hands on the putter required, I have been known to stand to the side and putt with only one hand when the feel for the putting stroke has left me.

  12. Paul Cleeve

    Dec 26, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    Have heard that the date of change for the anchor/pivot putter may be as soon as 2013/2014 not 2016, Is this true?
    Have you seen the side saddle/ face the hole putter at wonderputter.com ? originally filmed in Austin, Texas around 1998.

  13. Ronald Montesano

    Dec 23, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    Thank you, Thor. You must have posted your comment as I was typing.

  14. Ronald Montesano

    Dec 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Dan, you are correct. If you read the article closely (at times I struggle with my native language) you’ll note that I discuss lateral distance OUTSIDE of the right foot for ball placement. You’ll also note that the photo of Sam Snead shows him putting sidesaddle. Immediately below the photo is the commentary on the illegality of the croquet/between the legs style. Thanks for your comment!

  15. Thor

    Dec 23, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Dan,

    The Rule reads:

    e. Standing Astride or on Line of Putt
    The player must not make a stroke on the putting green from a stance
    astride, or with either foot touching, the line of putt or an extension of that
    line behind the ball.

  16. dan

    Dec 22, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Is face on legal? Provided you don’t swing between the legs but rather on the side?

    I always thought you couldn’t stand face on.

  17. Ronald Montesano

    Dec 21, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    Thanks, NL and Rufiolegacy. Sometimes the folks who want (but can’t find) an easy fix are the same ones to attribute “easy fix” to a controversial method. If the snow melts, I’ll be out on the course this weekend to continue the experiment.

  18. Rufiolegacy

    Dec 21, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Great article! I built a forearm lock putter when the ban was announced and have been grinding away with it, but I read that book (seven days in utopia) and always wanted to build one. Who knows maybe I will still this year. Good luck, I will be checking your progress

  19. NL

    Dec 21, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    I’ve attended a seminar by David Cook and regret not trying one of his “face-on” putters. Regardless of the putting method, I agree, productive practice is the key. Thanks for the well written contribution!

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Instruction

Self-discovery: Why golf lessons aren’t helping you improve

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Of all the things I teach or have taught in golf, I think this is the most important: It’s not what we cover in a lesson, it’s what you discover. 

Some years ago, I had a student in golf school for a few days. She was topping every single shot. Zero were airborne. I explained that she was opening her body and moving forward before her arms and club were coming down. “Late” we call it. I had her feel like her arms were coming down first and her body was staying behind, a common correction for late tops. Bingo! Every ball went up into the air. She was ecstatic.

Some time later, she called and said she was topping every shot. She scheduled a lesson. She topped every shot. I asked her why she was topping the ball. “I think I’m picking up my head,” she said to my look of utter disbelief!

I had another student who was shanking the ball. At least 3 out of 5 came off the hosel with his wedges. I explained that his golf club was pointed seriously left at the top of his backswing. It was positioned well OUTSIDE his hands, which caused it to come down too wide and swing OUTSIDE his hands into impact. This is a really common cause of shanking. We were able to get the club more down the line at the top and come down a bit narrower and more inside the ball. No shanks… not a one!  He called me sometime later. The shanks had returned. You get the rest. When I asked what was causing him to shank, he told me “I get too quick.”

If you are hitting the golf ball better during a golf lesson, you have proven to yourself that you CAN do it. But what comes after the lesson is out of a teacher’s hands. It’s as simple as that. I cannot control what you do after you leave my lesson tee. Now, if you are NOT hitting the ball better during a lesson or don’t understand why you’re not hitting it better, I will take the blame. And…you do not have to compensate me for my time. That is the extent to which I’ll go to display my commitment and accept my responsibility. What we as teachers ask is the same level of commitment from the learners.

Improving at golf is a two-way street. My way is making the correct diagnosis and offering you a personalized correction, possibly several of them. Pick the ONE that works for you. What is your way on the street? Well, here are a few thoughts on that:

  • If you are taking a lesson at 10 a.m. with a tee time at 11 a.m. and you’re playing a $20 Nassau with your buddies, you pretty much wasted your time and money.
  • If the only time you hit balls is to warm up for your round, you have to be realistic about your results.
  • If you are expecting 250-yard drives with an 85 mph club head speed, well… let’s get real.
  • If you “fake it” during a lesson, you’re not going to realize any lasting improvement. When the teacher asks if you understand or can feel what’s being explained and you say yes when in fact you DO NOT understand, you’re giving misleading feedback and hurting only yourself. Speak up!

Here’s a piece of advise I have NEVER seen fail. If you don’t get it during the lesson, there is no chance you’ll get it later. It’s not enough to just hit it better; you have to fully understand WHY you hit it better. Or if you miss, WHY you missed.

I have a rule I follow when conducting a golf lesson. After I explain the diagnosis and offer the correction, I’ll usually get some better results. So I continue to offer that advice swing after swing. But at some point in the lesson, I say NOTHING. Typically, before long the old ball flight returns and I wait– THREE SWINGS. If the student was a slicer and slices THREE IN A ROW, then it’s time for me to step in again. I have to allow for self discovery at some point. You have to wean yourself off my guidance and internalize the corrections. You have to FEEL IT.

When you can say, “If the ball did this then I know I did that” you are likely getting it. There is always an individual cause and effect you need to understand in order to go off by yourself and continue self improvement. If you hit a better shot but do not know why, please tell your teacher. What did I do? That way you’re playing to learn, not simply learning to play.

A golf lesson is a guidance, not an hour of how to do this or that. The teacher is trying to get you to discover what YOU need to feel to get more desirable outcomes. If all you’re getting out of it is “how,” you are not likely to stay “fixed.” Remember this: It’s not what we cover in the lesson; it’s what you discover!

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Jumping for Distance (Part 2): The One-Foot Jump

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In Part 1, I wrote about how I think this concept of jumping up with both feet for more power may have come about in part due to misinterpretation of still photography and force plate data, self-propagation, and a possible case of correlation vs causation. I also covered reasoning why these players are often airborne, and that can be from flawed setups that include overly wide stances and/or lead foot positions that are too closed at setup or a re-planted lead foot that ends up too closed during the downswing.

In Part 2, let’s look at what I feel is a better alternative, the one foot jump. To me, it’s safer, it doesn’t complicate ball striking as much, and it can still generate huge amounts of vertical ground force.

First, set up with an appropriate stance width. I like to determine how wide to stand based on the length of your lower legs. If you go to your finish position and stand on your lead leg and let your trail leg dangle down so your knees are parallel, your lower trail leg should extend only as far back as it will go while being up on the tip of your trail toe. If you roll that trail foot back down to the ground, viola, you’ll have a stance width that’s wide enough to be “athletic” and stable but not so wide you lose balance when swinging. You can go a little wider than this, but not much.

To contrast, the stance below would be too wide.

Jumping off the ground can be caused by too wide of a stance and lead foot position that is too closed at setup

Second, make sure your lead foot is open sufficiently at address. I’ve previously outlined how to do both these first two points in this article.

Third, whether you shift your weight to your trail foot or keep a more centered weight type feeling in the backswing, when you shift your weight to your lead foot, be careful of the Bubba replant, and then push up with that lead leg to push your lead shoulder up. This is the one-foot “jump” and it will take advantage of parametric acceleration (read more about that here).

But also at the same time, shift your lower spine towards the target.

From a face-on viewpoint, this can look like back bend, but in 3D space it’s side bend. It kind of feels like you are crunching the trail side of your mid-section, or maybe just bending over to the side to pick up a suitcase, for example. This move helps lower your trail shoulder, which brings down the club (whereas this is more difficult to do if you try to two-foot jump with your trail leg). It also helps you to keep from getting airborne off your lead foot. Further it doesn’t change your low point (by not changing the relative position of the C7 vertebrae in its general orb in space) and complicate ball striking like a two-foot jump does.

At this point, the club releases and you can stand up out of the shot (you don’t need to transition in to any sort of dangerous back bend) in balance on your lead foot having generates tons of vertical ground force without having jumped off the ground or putting yourself at risk for injury.

“Movember” mustache… not required!

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Move Your Legs Like the Legends: The Key to the Snead Squat

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It’s important not to overdo the “Sam Snead squat.” Understanding the subtle leg movements of the game’s greats is key to making your practice purposeful and making real improvement.

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