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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

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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Golf 101: How to hit a bunker shot

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I’ve heard from numerous people over the years that theoretically, the bunker shot should be the easiest shot in golf—you don’t even hit the ball.

Sounds romantic, but common sense would suggest the polar opposite. Any new golfer or one walking into the game knows that hitting it into the bunker can be a disaster if you don’t know what to do. Figuring out how to hit a bunker shot can be daunting. So in the spirit of the 101 series, I want to give the beginner a three-step strategy to playing out of a bunker with one goal in mind: get it out of the bunker.

Keep in mind, this is simply to get the ball outta the sand, not spin it, not get it close, just get it back on the grass.

How to hit a bunker shot

Use a 56-degree wedge. Non-negotiable. You need the loft, the bounce, and the forgiveness.

Dig in: Gives your feet and body not only a feel for the sand but also a firm base. The bunker shot isn’t a full swing but you need stability. So when you address the ball, wiggle your feet a bit to get in there. It also makes it look like you know what you are doing—that helps for social reasons.

Face open: Imagine if you had to hold an egg on the face, that’s the visual. If the face isn’t open enough to do that its not open. Remember also that when you open the face, you are not cranking your hands over to do so. Turn the club open, grip it normally, and there you go.

Thump

This is what I have taught beginners a few times, and I’m not a teacher, but I’m a pretty gnarly bunker player. It works. Now that you are dug in, the face is open and you are ready to hit it, pick a spot an inch behind the ball, and with some speed, control, and a firm grip (hold the face open) THUMP down on that spot. Even more, THUMP the heel down on that spot. When I saw THUMP I mean CHOP, BEAT down on it with some purpose. Two things will happen, the ball will pop up by simple momentum and the face will stay open because the lever (and meatiest part) that holds it open (the heel) is doing all the work. Your tempo is key, and yes, I’m telling you to beat down on it, but also be mindful of staying in your body.

Could you potentially stick the club in the ground? Yup. Maybe. But the odds of you skulling, whiffing, chunking are reduced to almost nothing.

The best way to get outta the sound is to use the sand to help you. That’s how to hit a bunker shot. Pounding down on it with an open face uses a ton of sand, a ton of energy, the bounce of the wedge, and requires you to do very little.

Give it a shot.

 

 

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How the direction of turn influences your swing

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Understanding the direction you turn in the backswing will help identify your swing pattern. To start, turn is simply a word for something going around or moving circularly. When teaching, the term turn is very broad. The spine, shoulders and pelvis can all move in different directions.

So what direction should you turn? After an efficient setup (How Posture Influences Your Swing) I want players to coil around their original spine angle. This gives players an efficient “shape” to the body at the top of the backswing. Shape is the relationship between the upper and lower half of the body. Shape retains body angles from the setup, which also mirror impact. The relationship between the upper and lower body are highlighted in the pictures below.

When in this shape, the downswing can become a reaction towards the target. The club and body can return to impact with efficiency and minimal timing required. The body doesn’t need to find the impact position. This impact position is a common look to all great ball-strikers.

An important concept to understand is the direction of turn is more important than the amount of turn. Think of throwing a ball towards a target. You don’t turn more to throw the ball further or for more accuracy. Your body coils the correct direction to go forward and around towards the target. The golf swing and direction of turn is similar to a throwing position.

A great drill to get the feeling of this coil is what I call off the wall on the wall. Start by setting up with your lead side against a wall. Make sure your trail shoulder is below the lead shoulder with a tucked trail arm. From this position, swing your arms to the top of your swing. Note the backswing position.

When doing this drill, note how your upper body moves off the wall, and the lower body stays on the wall. An important note to make is the hips and glutes don’t stay stagnant against the wall. They go around, sliding against the wall as the upper moves off.

The beauty of the golf swing is there is more than one way to do it. Many great players turn with lead side bend in the backswing. This is where the upper body tilts towards the target (lateral trunk flexion). However, these players will have to change their spine angle to find impact. This pattern isn’t incorrect, just needs more recovery in the downswing to find the impact position.

I do not prefer players having to recover in their downswing. I define recovery as having to re-position the body in the downswing to find impact. Think of a baseball player having to throw a ball to first base when his body starts in a contorted position. I the golf swing, this requires more talent and timing and can lead to inconsistency unless precisely practiced and trained.

Educating yourself on how your body coils in the backswing is critical when working on your swing. Remember, there is no one perfect swing and people have different physiologies. However, coil in a direction that will give you the most efficient swing and prevent injuries.

www.kelleygolf.com

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