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Master these 3 set-up keys for fewer 3 putts



It seems that everyone wonders why they do not make more putts. But if you consider the multitude of variables that affect putting, it is a wonder that golfers make any at all.

Identifying the most important factors within the set-up will help you to make more putts on a daily basis. But let’s not forget, putting is a tough task for anyone to master because it places golfers to the side of a golf ball that is sitting on sloped ground. That can alter visual acuity, causing you to see the “incorrect” line, or settle into a posture that makes it much harder to move the putter back and forth consistently.

Within my putting academy, I use many high-tech tools in order to examine putting strokes. This article will feature discussion of the Advanced Motion Measurement’s 3D Analysis System and the SAM PuttLab by Science and Motion Sports. These high-tech tools give instructors a personal MRI of a golfer’s putting stroke and provide the player with research and a treatment value.

The putting research I have done has been benefited greatly by the relationship I have developed with Lanny L. Johnson, M.D. and PGA Tour player Howard Twitty. They have tested more than 150 PGA Tour players’ putting strokes during the last several years on the SAM PuttLab. For this article, I have merged our putting data together and believe that this may be the most accurate analysis to date in regards to alignments, posture and aiming.

Photo 1

The three major categories that players must understand during the set-up position are the following:

1. The Proper Alignments of the Body (Frontal View)

  • Stance
  • Grip
  • Center of gravity (CG) control
  • Spinal tilt and the “low point” of the stroke
  • The proper ball position
  • The ball’s position and its influence on aiming
  • Illusion of the putter shaft

2. The Proper Posture (Down the Line View)

  • Putter fitting
  • The “flowlines” of the body
  • Rear forearm “on-plane”
  • The eyes
  • Head and chin positioning
  • The proper forward bending of the torso
  • Your center of gravity

3. Proper Aiming

  • Address aim and impact aim
  • Putter geometry
  • The “best” tested aiming routine

The Proper Alignments of the Body

Body: You must have the ability to understand where your body is in space and have the “feel” to place your body in the proper position consistently.

Grip: Different putting grips have certain positives and negatives based on the different handicap levels; however, once you pick the grip style that best suits your stroke it is important to remember one fundamental. The best putting grips are ones that have the palms facing one another and the thumbs down the center of the grip. With this being said, there are several grip styles that go against this concept (i.e. the claw), but they are used for specific flaws within a player’s game so they match up with what they are trying to do — this is OK. However, most players will find that a palms-facing style will be the easiest to reproduce on a consistent basis.

Stance Width: As with any type of stroke that needs accuracy, it is important that you have a firm base in order to balance your torso during the motion. With putting, it is no different. Studies have shown that narrower stances tend to allow the body to rotate too much on longer putts, while wider stances deliver the most stability and the required “tilting and rocking” of the shoulders. The actual width of the stance is not as important on putts from 15 feet and in, but it is very important on putts outside of this length because of the issues listed above. In fact, putts outside 30 feet (on non-PGA Tour greens) require a harder hit, which changes the mechanics from those in the typical putting stroke.

Photo 2

Testing shows that most players have a stance width between 11 and 14 inches.

Center of gravity (CG) control: Even with the proper stance width, it is important that you have the proper balance from side to side. The proper center of gravity (CG) at address is necessary in order to keep your body stable (not sliding from side to side during the stroke). Most players have their CG between 55 percent left to 55 percent right, depending on where they like to feel their weight. Remember that your CG will influence your stability, as well as the low point of your putting stroke.

Photo 3

The CG Monitor shows this player at just about 50/50 from side to side.

Spinal tilt and the low point of your stroke arc: The lateral (side-to-side) bending of the spine influences the low point of the stroke, and you must make sure your spinal tilt, CG and stance width all correlate. Your grip style also influences the tilting of the spine as well. If you move any of these factors out of position, you will have poor balance and very little control as to where the putter “bottoms-out” during the forward stroke.

Whenever the spine is tilted too much toward or away from the target at address, the “low point” will move and thus the ball’s position must be altered as well.

Photo 4

When the spine tilts toward the target at address (as shown above), the golfer’s CG tends to shift to the left (for a right-handed golfer). It also changes the low point of a golfer’s stroke arc.

Ball: Testing has shown that there is no ideal ball position for all golfers. The ball’s position should be just after the low point of the putting stroke arc, and it should match up with a golfer’s frontal posture. The best way to figure out this correlation is to set up in front of a mirror (shown below) and see if everything looks balanced and “centered.” Then, you will be able to adjust your ball position to match up with the low point of your stroke and its needs.

Photo 5

Ball position and its influence on impact aiming:

Photo 6

In order to understand your correct ball position, you must first have your torso alignments and postures correct. Then you must match your ball position with the size of your arc. The SAM can measure your arc size (as you can see from the above player), as the size of the arc increases the importance of ball position in your stance. If the player above placed the ball too far back in his stance, the ball would tend to hang out to the right unless compensations were made by the hands.

I would suggest finding an instructor with a SAM unit in order to help you determine the “exact” ball position for your arc size. The only other way to do this would be to experiment with a video camera looking down at the ball from outside the line.

Illusion of the puttershaft

Photo 7

In the picture above, you will notice that the putter shaft is perpendicular to the ground, however, as this player looks down the shaft will appear to be backward leaning (photo below).

Photo 8

Though the putter shaft appears to be leaning from the players’ view, it is basically perpendicular (the club shaft is only leaning 0.2 degrees forward). Make sure that you understand this visual “illusion” so you can set your putter perpendicular to the ground at address.

The Proper Posture

Putter Fitting: If you pick up just about any putter off the rack in your local golf shop, you will find that most are about the same length and lie (34 inches and 71 degrees). This is because manufactures build putters in bulk. The cost of customizing each putter before shipment would make putter sales way too slow and expensive for the average player, and this is what we have to contend with as golfers.

My suggestion is to pick a putter that you like the look of and have it custom fit by your local professional or club repair technician. If you do this, you will have a fighting chance to make more putts than you did without the proper putter fitting. In fact, the putter has the least margin for error of any club in your bag. However, less than five percent of the golfers today get fit correctly!

The “flowlines” of the body: 3D and SAM testing has shown that when your body’s “flowlines” are all aligned and pointing in the same direction, most players have a better chance of making a more consistent stroke.

Photo 9

Over time, instructors have seen great putters align themselves “open” or left of their target line with their body because they said they could “see the line” better. However, with the advent of 3D-motion analysis and the SAM Putt Lab, instructors now know that this is a very inefficient way to set up to the ball because it causes the shoulders to point too far left, which means the putter path will follow suit. Doing this almost necessitates a physical compensation within the putting stroke in order to not begin the ball too far left of the line you have chosen. Over time, the body will physically compensate for your faulty alignment, because instructors have come to learn that the body is smarter than the brain.

Photo 10

Setting up “open” will cause your flowlines and visual perception to be altered.

Photo 11

Your stroke path will compensate as well, producing an out-to-in path, UNLESS an intentional physical manipulation is made during the stroke!

Rear forearm on-plane: One of the most forgotten fundamentals of putting is to keep your rear forearm on plane with the club shaft at address. If you draw a line up from the club shaft, it should bisect the rear forearm. This ensures that the rear arm can power the stroke down the line that a golfer chooses. It is this very reason why “the claw” and the cross-handed grips work for so many golfers.

When the rear forearm rides “high” it can stem from several sources:

  1. Your rear-hand grip could be in an overly weak position (too much on top of the club shaft).
  2. Your shoulders could be open to your intended target line.
  3. Your spine could be leaning too much toward the target at address. A “cross-handed” grip can solve this problem, and has been the solution of choice for many players who fight a high rear forearm.

Photo 12

As you can see with the stick-figure above, this player’s rear forearm is above the plane of the shaft. This causes an out-to-in stroke path, which result in pushes and pulls.

The Eyes: The brain sees a target most 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.

To Determine Your Eye Dominance: 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 both 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.

Two-eyed vision is necessary for depth perception, one of many distance clues, but it has little to do with locating the proper direction sighting. Here, only the dominant eye matters. And you must place the dominant eye on the line that extends from the target back to the ball and extending to you, so if you face directly toward the target, looking at the ball and the line, your dominant eye will be on the line and your nose and center of your body will be just to the side of the line. You also need to stand square to the line: that is, parallel/horizontal lines across your eyes, ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles should all be perpendicular to the line of the putt, as stated on “The Putting Zone” in an article by Geoff Mangum.

Head position: In studies done by Howard Twitty and Dr. Lanny Johnson on the PGA Tour have found that in order to place your eyes in the most advantageous position for interpreting the truth in alignment, it is necessary for you to optimize the position of your head relative to the ground.

Moving the head down from the usual “chin-up” position so that your chin and eyes are in the same plan provides the best look down the line. The chin-up position that most players possess will erroneously look to the left (for a right-handed golfer). The “level-headed” position will allow the brain to better code the information given by your eyes. The easiest way to ensure your head is in the correct position is to make sure that the plane “drawn” through your chin and forehead are parallel to the ground.

Ninety-nine percent of the golfers will have their chin “up” slightly, causing the eyes to actually look downward in their sockets in order to see the ball’s line. This, along with the dominant eye information from above, helps you to understand how easy it would be to move your eyes and body your of the proper alignment. The unsuspected error of looking left with the head up is best illustrated with a training aid called “The Pro-Aim Glasses” that can be found on

Photo 13

The incorrect head position causes the eyes to look “out and down” in order to see the ball’s target line. This will alter the flowlines of your body, which requires a mental and physical compensation.

The Proper Forward Bending of the Torso:

Photo 14

When the putter is correctly fit for the player in regards to its length and lie, you will find that the eyes will be over the ball, and the proper forward bending of the spine will happen naturally. The proper forward bending of the spine for most players is between 33 to 37 degrees at address. If you get much more or much less bending, you will find that you will have a hard time keeping your arms free from your body and your eyes over the ball. In order to have the proper forward bending at address, you MUST have your putter fit to your body. Do NOT try and accommodate the putter’s length and lie by setting up differently than you do naturally!

Center of Gravity: When the body has the proper alignment (flow lines to the fitting of your putter) the last step is to make sure you are in balance from back to front in regards to your feet. This balance is also important as stated above with your side-to-side balance. Thus, if you are out of balance in any way you will have trouble staying still!

Photo 15

As you can in the CG monitor analysis above, this player is balanced from side-to-side, but he is also balanced from back-to-front. This is shown by the percentage of weight on each portion of the foot on the lower left of the CG Screen. This dynamic balance helps golfers remain stable during the putting stroke and will ensure a solid centered impact of the putter with the ball.

Proper Aiming

Address Aim and Impact Aim: The “alignment aim” of the putter head relative to your chosen targetline is your address aim, while the direction your putter face is pointing at impact is called the impact aim. The impact aim is the more important concept of the two.

Alignment of the face at impact is the most important factor in determining what direction the ball leaves the blade, and it is the benchmark for your body to understand. In fact, impact aim accounts for 83 percent of ball error! If you are one degree off at impact, the ball will be 3 inches off your intended target line at 15 feet. This one degree of error is more than enough to miss your intended 15 footer!

Most consistent putters have the putter aligned at address between 0 and 0.5 degrees at address, and they return their putter at impact within the same range. However, there are some exceptions. One top putter on the PGA Tour aligns his blade 2.2 degrees to the right very consistently yet returns the blade to impact on the line he originally determined. While this is not the best way to putt, it can be said that if you consistently aim in the same manner (open or closed), the body can adjust to this to some degree. This is best illustrated by the golfer who unknowingly lines up to the right of a target with a 7 iron. While performing the shot, his body will respond by pulling the shot back on line. Although a golfer may perceive that they are aligned correctly intellectually, their body knows better and will often make the appropriate correction during the golf swing. This happens with the putter on a daily basis as well.

Photo 16

If you have no alignment consistency at address, then your body must make a different compensatory adjustment each time at impact. This will not allow you to have the same impact aim either, which is represented by the image above. This player cannot aim the putter at address the same way twice, giving him a consistency score of 13 percent and a face-at-impact score of 17 percent.

Putter geometry: Studies with SAM have also showed that a putter with a rectangle somewhere on the top and perpendicular aiming lines help most players line up more effectively at address. Using such rectangle-shaped putters and a ball with an aim line drawn on it has proven to be the most effective way to line up a putt at address for the average player. Putters with curved, circle or half-moon designs give players the most trouble with alignment.

Two points to consider:

  • “Square” geometry provides the best opportunity for the player to bring the putter face back to square at impact.
  • “Rounded” geometry is otherwise confusing to the brain, and gives no inherent hint of direction.

This does not mean that you must only use “blocky” types of putters, however, if you choose to use “rounded” putter head designs it is more challenging from a psychomotor standpoint. In this case, we recommend reading off the face of the putter itself. Thus, if you consistently have alignment issues, then you might need to adopt a more “blocky” putter design due to the facts above.

The “best” tested aiming routine: The best alignment routine I have seen to date and used personally comes from the Tour testing done by Dr. Lanny Johnson and Howard Twitty. This aiming technique uses the golfer’s innate ability to understand his own spatial relationship and his natural skills to place the putter in the correct position naturally.

  1. The player stands behind the ball and views the intended target line. Consider for a moment how you would aim a rifle. You put the rifle up and look down the barrel — you don’t stand to the side and aim it this way.The best way to aim a gun and a putt is looking from down the line only.
  2. Next, approach the ball from behind with the putter in the dominant hand, walking toward the ball. The instant that you turn and look down at the ball, rest the putter head on the ground immediately behind the ball.
  3. Without looking up, assume your stance and grip the putter with your other hand.
  4. From there, look once at the hole to identify the distance and go. Do NOT try and re-aim the putter again. You have already set the alignment you need from behind the ball.

Amazingly, SAM testing confirms that in two to three attempts the golfer who previously had alignment problems is almost perfectly on line using this method. This is an example of the “body being smarter than the brain.” One of the best putters on the PGA Tour, Aaron Baddeley, has been observed to use features of this method. Over the ball, he looks at the hole to confirm its position and quickly strikes the ball. We believe this is why he one of the Tour’s best putters consistently.

The Conclusion

Serious golfers must take the time to understand the three set-up issues that control their overall consistency on the greens: alignments, posture and aiming. Use the subsections of each category to analyze your current stroke and see if you are deficient in any of the area discussed above. If so, you will find that putting inconsistently is a byproduct of your set-up position, not your stroke itself.

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Tom F. Stickney II, is a specialist in Biomechanics for Golf, Physiology, and 3d Motion Analysis. He has a degree in Exercise and Fitness and has been a Director of Instruction for almost 30 years at resorts and clubs such as- The Four Seasons Punta Mita, BIGHORN Golf Club, The Club at Cordillera, The Promontory Club, and the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. His past and present instructional awards include the following: Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, Golf Digest Top 50 International Instructor, Golf Tips Top 25 Instructor, Best in State (Florida, Colorado, and California,) Top 20 Teachers Under 40, Best Young Teachers and many more. Tom is a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 25 people in the world. Tom is TPI Certified- Level 1, Golf Level 2, Level 2- Power, and Level 2- Fitness and believes that you cannot reach your maximum potential as a player with out some focus on your physiology. You can reach him at [email protected] and he welcomes any questions you may have.



  1. Tom Stickney

    Oct 21, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    Oops…hit button by accident. Not a chance…there are ALWAYS exceptions to the rules. I will say if you have that few putts you might need to work on hitting more greens???

  2. Raymond CHASTEL

    Oct 21, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    Fine article and study ,very well documented and fantastically illustrated.I’m a fairly good putter(28/32 puts per round ) sometimes 25(I even went down to 20),but now I have read this study I feel I do every thing wrong ,at least not scientifically your way!I have the posture and stance of old time golfers (HENRY PICARD ,ALEX MORRISON and alia ),elbows stuck into the chest (“anchored”),long shaft (35 inches ),left hand grip -handle in the life line ,butt of handle slightly protruding and “stuck”to left forearm ,and I put more or less the BOBBY LOCKE way ,ball off left big toe ,stance closed 3 inches,long flowing stroke .Unconventional ,but it works fine for me .Should I change to putt way more orthodoxely?

  3. Tom Stickney

    Oct 21, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Thx for the comments.

  4. John

    Oct 20, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    I always just get up and hit the thing… sometimes it works – sometimes it doesn’t!!

    Interesting article though…

  5. jeff

    Oct 20, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    Well done

  6. Chris b

    Oct 20, 2013 at 3:34 am

    what a wealth of information. Fantastic article, PDF’ing this one for future reference.

  7. Tom Stickney

    Oct 16, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    Sadly I have not. But I’m sure it works well for many people. Thx.

  8. nik

    Oct 15, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    wowwow. really great article. kudos. well done.

    have you ever tested people putting sidesaddle?

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Wedge Guy: Short iron challenges — and a little insight (hopefully!)



In my experience, almost all golfers could benefit from better short iron play. The ability to hit it closer to where you are looking with your 8-, 9- and P-irons will do more for your scoring than most anything else you can do. So, why is it that so many golfers just don’t hit the quality shots with these clubs that they do and should expect?

I chose this topic in response to an email from Phillip S., who wrote:

“I’m hitting straight and consistent most of the time but I’ve got a big problem between my 8-iron and everything else below.  I can hit my 8-iron 140-145 fairly consistently every time.  I hit my 9-iron somewhere between 110-135.  My pitching wedge is a mystery….it varies between 85 -125 yards.  No matter how “hard” I swing, I can’t seem to hit my short irons consistent distances.  It’s maddening to hit a great drive followed by a pitching wedge short of the green from 110 yards away.  What am I doing wrong?

Well, Phillip, don’t feel alone, because this is one of the most common golf issues I observe. It seems that the lion’s share of technology applied to golf clubs is focused on the long stuff, with drivers and hybrids getting the press. But I firmly believe that the short irons in nearly all “game improvement” designs are ill-suited for precise distance control, hitting shots on the optimum trajectory or knocking flags down. I’ve written about this a number of times, so a little trip back in Wedge Guy history should be enlightening. But here are some facts of golf club performance as applied to short iron play:

Fact #1. Short irons are much more similar to wedges than your middle irons. But almost all iron sets feature a consistent back design for cosmetic appeal on the store racks. And while that deep cavity and perimeter weight distribution certainly help you hit higher and more consistent shots with your 3- or 4- through 7-iron, as the loft gets in the 40-degree range and higher, that weight distribution is not your friend. Regardless of your skill level, short irons should be designed much more similar to wedges than to your middle irons.

Fact #2. As loft increases, perimeter weighting is less effective. Missed shots off of higher lofted clubs have less directional deviation than off of lower-lofted clubs. This is proven time and again on “Iron Byron” robotic testers.

Fact #3. It takes mass behind the ball to deliver consistent distances. Even on dead center hits, cavity back, thin-face irons do not deliver tack-driver distance control like a blade design. In my post of a couple of years ago, “The Round Club Mindset,” I urged readers to borrow blade-style short irons from a friend or assistant pro and watch the difference in trajectories and shotmaking. Do it! You will be surprised, enlightened, and most likely pleased with the results.

Fact #4. The 4.5-degree difference between irons is part of the problem. The industry has built irons around this formula forever, but every golfer who knows his distances can tell you that the full swing distance gap gets larger as the iron number increases, i.e. your gap between your 8- and 9-iron is probably larger than that between your 4- and 5-iron. Could there be some club tweaking called for here?

Fact #5. Your irons do not have to “match.” If you find through experimentation that you get better results with the blade style short irons, get some and have your whole set re-shafted to match, along with lengths and lie angles. These are the keys to true “matching” anyway.

So, Phillip, without knowing your swing or what brand of irons you play, I’m betting that the solution to your problems lies in these facts. Oh, and one more thing – regardless of short iron design, the harder you swing, the higher and shorter the shot will tend to go. That’s because it becomes harder and harder to stay ahead of the club through impact. Keep short iron shots at 80-85 percent power, lead with your left side and watch everything improve.

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Clement: Easily find your perfect backswing plane with this drill



When you get on one of these, magic will happen! You can’t come too far inside or outside in the backswing, and you can’t have arms too deep or shallow at the top of the backswing nor can you be too laid off or across the line either! SEAMLESS!!

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Wedge Guy: The top 7 short game mistakes



I’ve written hundreds of articles as “The Wedge Guy” and I’ve made it my life’s work to closely observe golfers and their short games. So, I thought I’d compile what I see into a list of what I believe are the most common mistakes golfers make around the greens that prevents them from optimizing their scoring. So here goes, not in any particular order:

  1. Tempo. Maybe the most common error I see is a tempo that is too quick and “jabby”. That probably comes from the misunderstood and overdone advice “accelerate through the ball.” I like to compare playing a golf hole to painting a room, and your short shots are your “trim brushes”. They determine how the finished work turns out, and a slower and more deliberate stroke delivers more precision as you get closer to the green and hole.
  2. Set Up/Posture. To hit good chips and pitches, you need to “get down”. Bend your knees a bit more and grip down on the club – it puts you closer to your work for better precision. Too many golfers I see stand up too tall and grip the club to the end.
  3. Grip Pressure. A very light grip on the club is essential to good touch and a proper release through the impact zone. Trust me, you cannot hold a golf club too lightly – your body won’t let you. Concentrate on your forearms; if you can feel any tenseness in the muscles in your forearms, you are holding on too tightly.
  4. Hand position. Watch the tour players hit short shots on TV. Their arms are hanging naturally so that their hands are very close to their upper thighs at address and through impact, but the club is not tilted up on its toe. Copy that and your short game will improve dramatically.
  5. Lack of Body/Core Rotation. When you are hitting short shots, the hands and arms have stay in front of the torso throughout the swing. If you don’t rotate your chest and shoulders back and through, you won’t develop good consistency in distance or contact.
  6. Club selection. Every pitch or chip is different, so don’t try to hit them all with the same club. I see two major errors here. Some golfers always grab the sand wedge when they miss a green. If you have lots of green to work with and don’t need that loft, a PW, 9-iron or even less will give you much better results. The other error is seen in those golfers who are “afraid” of their wedge and are trying to hit tough recoveries with 8- and 9-irons. That doesn’t work either. Go to your practice green and see what happens with different clubs, then take that knowledge to the course.
  7. Clubhead/grip relationship. This error falls into two categories. One is those golfers who forward press so much that they dramatically change the loft of the club. At address and impact the grip should be slightly ahead of the clubhead. I like to focus on the hands, rather than the club, and just think of my left hand leading my right through impact. Which brings me to the other error – allowing the clubhead to pass the hands through impact. If you let the clubhead do that, good shots just cannot happen. And that is caused by you trying to “hit” up on the ball, rather than swinging the entire club through impact.

So, there are my top 7. Obviously, there are others, but if you eliminate those, your short game will get better in a hurry.

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