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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

The Big Shift: How to master pressure and the golf transition using prior sports training

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If you’re an #AverageJoeGolfer, work a day job, and don’t spend countless hours practicing, you might be interested in knowing that sports you played growing up, and even beer league softball skills, can be used to help you play better golf. We’re sure you’ve heard hockey players tend to hit the ball a mile, make the “best golfers”, while pitchers and quarterbacks have solid games, but baseball/softball hitters struggle with consistency. Did you know that a killer tennis backhand might help your golf game if you play from the opposite side? Dancers are way ahead of other athletes making a switch to golf because they understand that centeredness creates power and consistency much more efficiently than shifting all around, unnecessary swaying, or “happy feet.”

Lurking beneath fat shots, worm burners, and occasional shanks, are skillsets and motions you can pull from the old memory bank to apply on the golf course. Yes, you heard us right; your high school letterman jacket can finally be put to good use and help you improve your move. You just need to understand some simple adjustments different sports athletes need to make to be successful golfers.

In golf, shifting from your trailside into your lead side is what we’ll call the TRANSITION. Old School teachers refer to this motion, or shift, as “Foot Work”, New-Fangled-Techno-Jargon-Packed-Instruction uses “Ground Pressure/Force” to refer to the same concept. Don’t worry about the nomenclature; just know, as many GolfWRXers already do, that you must get your weight to your lead side if you want any chance at making solid and consistent contact. TRANSITION might be THE toughest motion in golf to master.

The good news for you is that TRANSITION happens in all other sports but in slightly different ways, depending on the sport. Golfers can more quickly learn TRANSITION, and speed up their swing learning process by understanding how prior sport experience can be applied to the golf swing.

[The basics of a solid golf move are; 1) you should have a SETUP that is centered and balanced, 2) you move your weight/pressure into your trail side during the TAKEAWAY and BACKSWING, 3) TRANSITION moves your weight/pressure back into your lead side, and 4) you FINISH with the club smashing the ball down the fairway. Okay, it’s not quite as easy as I make it sound, but hopefully our discussion today can relieve some stress when it comes time for you to start training your game.]

Baseball/Softball Hitters

Hitting coaches don’t like their hitters playing golf during the season, that’s a fact. The TRANSITIONS are too different, and if they play too much golf, they can lose the ability to hit off-speed pitches because their swing can become too upright. Golf requires an orbital hand path (around an angled plane) with an upright-stacked finish, while hitting requires batters to have a straight-line (more horizontal) hand path and to “stay back or on top of” the ball.

Now we apologize for the lack of intricate knowledge and terminology around hitting a baseball, we only played up through high school. What we know for sure is that guys/gals who have played a lot of ball growing up, and who aren’t pitchers struggle with golf’s TRANSITION. Hitters tend to hang back and do a poor job of transferring weight properly. When they get the timing right, they can make contact, but consistency is a struggle with fat shots and scooping being the biggest issues that come to mind.

So how can you use your star baseball/softball hitting skills with some adjustments for golf? Load, Stride, Swing is what all-good hitters do, in that order. Hitters’ issues revolve around the Stride, when it comes to golf. They just don’t get into their lead sides fast enough. As a golfer, hitters can still take the same approach, with one big adjustment; move more pressure to your lead side during your stride, AND move it sooner. We’ve had plenty of ‘a ha’ moments when we put Hitters on balance boards or have them repeat step drills hundreds of times; “oh, that’s what I need to do”…BINGO…Pound Town, Baby!

Softball/Baseball Pitchers, Quarterbacks, & Kickers

There’s a reason that kickers, pitchers, and quarterbacks are constantly ranked as the top athlete golfers and it’s not because they have a ton of downtime between starts and play a lot of golf. Their ‘day jobs’ throwing/kicking motions have a much greater impact on how they approach sending a golf ball down the fairway. It’s apparent that each of these sports TRAINS and INGRAINS golf’s TRANSITION motion very well. They tend to load properly into their trailside while staying centered (TAKEAWAY/BACKSWING), and they transfer pressure into their lead side, thus creating effortless speed and power. Now there are nuances for how to make adjustments for golf, but the feeling of a pitching or kicking motion is a great training move for golf.

If this was your sport growing up, how can you improve your consistency? Work on staying centered and minimizing “happy feet” because golf is not a sport where you want to move too much or get past your lead side.


Dance

My wife was captain of her high school dance team, has practiced ballet since she was in junior high, and is our resident expert on Ground Pressure forces relating to dance. She has such a firm grasp on these forces that she is able to transfer her prior sports skill to play golf once or twice a year and still hit the ball past me and shoot in the low 100s; what can I say, she has a good coach. More importantly, she understands that staying centered and a proper TRANSITION, just like in Dance, are requirements that create stability, speed, and consistent motions for golf. Christo Garcia is a great example of a Ballerina turned scratch golfer who uses the movement of a plié (below left) to power his Hogan-esque golf move. There is no possible way Misty Copeland would be able to powerfully propel herself into the air without a proper TRANSITION (right).

Being centered is critical to consistently hitting the golf ball. So, in the same way that dancers stay centered and shift their weight/pressure to propel themselves through the air, they can stay on the ground and instead create a golf swing. Dancers tend to struggle with the timing of the hands and arms in the golf swing. We train them a little differently by training their timing just like a dance routine; 1 and 2 and 3 and…. Dancers learn small motions independently and stack each micro-movement on top of one another, with proper timing, to create a dance move (golf swing) more like musicians learn, but that article is for another time.

Hockey

Hockey is a great example of the golf TRANSITION because it mimics golf’s motions almost perfectly. Even a subtlety like the direction in which the feet apply pressure is the same in Hockey as in Golf, but that’s getting in the weeds a bit. Hockey players load up on their trailside, and then perform the TRANSITION well; they shift into their lead sides and then rotate into the puck with the puck getting in the way of the stick…this is the golf swing, just on skates and ice…my ankles hurt just writing that.

If you played hockey growing up, you have the skillsets for a proper golf TRANSITION, and you’ll improve much faster if you spend your time training a full FINISH which involves staying centered and balanced.

Now we didn’t get into nuances of each and every sport, but we tried to cover most popular athletic motions we thought you might have experience in in the following table. The key for your Big Shift, is using what you’ve already learned in other sports and understanding how you might need to change existing and known motions to adapt them to golf. If you played another sport, and are struggling, it doesn’t mean you need to give up golf because your motion is flawed…you just need to know how to train aspects of your golf move a little differently than someone who comes from a different sport might.

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Clement: Effortless power for senior golfers

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Are you struggling with range of motion? Want more EFFORTLESS POWER? We are truly the experts at this having taught these methods for 25 plus years, while others were teaching resistance, breaking everyone’s backs and screwing up their minds with endless positions to hit and defects to fix. Welcome home to Wisdom in Golf!

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Clement: How to turbo charge your swing

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The shift in golf instruction continues and Wisdom in Golf and GolfWRX are right out there blazing a trail of fantastic content and techniques to get you to feel the most blissful, rhythmic golf shots you can strike! This here is the humdinger that keeps on giving and is now used by a plethora of tour players who are benefitting greatly and moving up the world rankings because of it.

The new trend (ours is about 25 years young) is the antithesis of the “be careful, don’t move too much, don’t make a mistake” approach we have endured for the last 30 years plus. Time to break free of the shackles that hold you back and experience the greatness that is already right there inside that gorgeous human machine you have that is so far from being defective! Enjoy!

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