I’m Being Pulled In A New Direction: How To Putt Sidesaddle
By Ronald S. Montesano
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Determine if you want to putt with your left or right foot forward, or have both feet even.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.