We have discussed how the design of a putter affects a golfer’s ability to control aim and speed. Now it is time to look at how it affects the path of the stroke.
I believe the optimal path of a putting stroke is one that returns the putter head to impact so that it’s perpendicular to the target line. This seems to provide the most room for error. Others may believe that it is ok to have variations within the path and aim so long as the two cancel each other out and the ball rolls toward the target. Whichever way you look at it, there are design elements of the putter that influence face rotation, thus affecting the direction of the putter at impact.
On almost every putting green, I’ve seen golfers trying to become better putters. But many of them try to improve the path of their stroke before addressing their ability to aim their putter at address. Someone can work on the path of their stroke all they want, but I’ve found that if they don’t aim their putter at the target, it will be difficult to improve.
If you have not already read The Ultimate Putting Program (Part 1): The Design of Your Putter Influences Aim, click here to do so. It will give you the framework to understand my take on path.
Let’s consider a golfer who consistently miss-aims his putter 4 inches left of the hole, and has developed a compensating action during his stroke to roll the ball on his intended line. The compensation may be a push stroke, an opening of the clubface or a combination of the two. This type of compensation may work fine, but is likely to be inconsistent in the long run. It is also very likely that after a bad round of putting, a friend, or maybe the local golf professional will mention that he has an in-to-out stroke, and for him to become a better putter he will need to improve the path of his stroke.
So what happens? The golfer likely sees this as great information, and begins working on improving his path. He may even go as far as to practice the various putting drills that are so commonly recommend. Well, guess what? It is very likely that the will indeed improve the path of his stroke, but unfortunately for him, he won’t be aiming at the target, so now he will simply roll the ball where he is aiming; four inches left of the hole.
That’s why I suggest first improving aim, and then developing a stroke path that rolls your ball on your intended line. In my opinion, this is the easiest route for most golfers to improve.
Path Type: Arc or Straight-Back-Straight-Through (SBST)
There is a continuing debate amongst golfers on whether an arcing stroke or a SBST stroke is correct. I imagine that neither stroke is any better or worse than the other, but the fact of the matter is that a true SBST stroke is a manipulation of the hands and the wrists, whereas the arcing stroke adheres more to the laws of geometry and physics.
The amount of arc in a golfer’s stroke is primarily the result of how far the golfer stands from the ball. A golfer who stands rather close to the ball is likely to have a stroke that is close to being SBST, whereas someone who stands farther from the ball will likely have more of an arcing stroke. A golfer’s spine angle at address also is a contributing factor to the amount of arc in their stroke. A golfer who stands upright is likely to create more of an arc than someone who bends over more. I believe these are preferences for each golfer, though it is important to match a putter with a golfer’s path type.
Putter design affects path, which affects aim at impact
It is important to match the rotational aspect of the putter with a golfer’s stroke to allow the putter face to be square to the target at impact. The traditional way to test a putter for rotational value is to balance the shaft of a putter on your finger and notice how the club head hangs. The picture below shows putters with varying amounts of toe hang.
It is even more revealing when you do this on the inclined plane of the putting stroke to see gravity’s affect on the putter during the stroke. It may be an eye opener for some golfers to know that most putters are designed to “open” during the stroke, making it difficult to return the putter square to the target at impact. Putters can have various degrees of toe hang, and they can also be “face-balanced” and even “heel-balanced.”
As a general rule of thumb, it is a good idea for players with very little arc in their stroke to use a face- or heel-balanced putter. Players who have more arc in their stroke generally prefer a putter with some degree of toe hang, as they like the sensation of the putter face “releasing” through impact. I have been experimenting with a heel-balanced putter and I am noticing that it offers a very solid strike through impact (I would say that my natural stroke is one with medium amount of face rotation).
The weight of the putter head also affects the amount of face rotation. Heavier putter heads rotate slower than lighter ones. The amount of rotation that a golfer seeks will dictate where and how much weight should be added to the putter. By counter weighting or adding weight internally through a the puter shaft, a golfer can increase the overall weight of the putter without affecting its rotation.
Drills to Improve the Path of Your Stroke
1. The first drill is to develop a target line from the ball to the hole, which can be done in two different ways (more on that below).
The goal of this drill is to produce a path that rolls the ball on the intended line. For an arc stroke, it will allow you to see your putter move slightly inside the target line on the backstroke, square to the target line at impact, and slightly inside the target line on the forward stroke. For a SBST stroke, it will allow you to see the putter head stay on the target line throughout the stroke.
Using a chalk line is a good way to learn to roll the ball on the intended line. Another good drill for golfers who keep their eyes over the ball is to tie a knitting needle to both sides of a 10-foot string. Then find a straight putt, and place the needles in the ground so that one of them is slightly behind the hole, and the other is far enough to make the string taught. The string should be directly over the target line with enough room to putt towards the hole, while keeping the putter beneath the string. For players who stand far enough from the ball for their eyeline to be inside the target line (not over the ball) using a chalk line will be more beneficial since the string requires a golfer’s eyes to be over the ball.
Editor’s Note: If you decide to use the chalk line drill, do your best to choose an area of the practice green where you are not impeding the practice of others. Also, be weary of “wearing out” a spot on the green with your foot marks. Green keepers and follow golfers with thank you.
Either of these methods can also be done on breaking putts. Just set the target line on a tangent of the intended path of the ball so that the ball will break to the hole. You may be surprised of how much break is required for the ball to go in the hole with optimal speed (6-to-8 inches past the hole on a miss). I will explain more on green reading in my next article.
2. The next drill is to place a tee on either side of the putter head and roll putts so that the putter head swings between the two tees. The goal of this drill, which is called the “gate drill,” is to learn to contact the golf ball with the center of the putter face. Then setup two more tees slightly wider than the golf ball on the target line. The objective is to roll the ball between the tees, which if done correctly will produce a putter face that is square to the target at impact. This drill offers immediate feedback since the ball will hit the tees if done improperly.
I like to use both the chalk line and gate drills in combination of one another for an even better practice session.
By now, you should have a better understanding of the key variables that are essential for you to improve your putting; Aim, Speed, and Path. In my next article, I will discuss two ways of reading greens to help you put all of this information into action and become a better golfer.
To Continue With The Ultimate Putting Program:
Kelley: How to easily find your ideal impact position
If you look at any sport, the greats seem to do more with less. Whether it be a swimmer gliding through the water or a quarterback throwing a pass, they make it look it easy and effortless.
In golf, there are a variety of distinct swing patterns to get into a dynamic impact position. I believe in efficiency to find that impact position for effortless power and center contact. Efficiency is defined as “the ability to produce something with a minimum amount of effort.” This can easily apply to the golf swing.
It all starts with the address position. The closer we can set up to an impact position, the less we have to do to get back there. Think of it like throwing a ball. If your body is already in a throwing position, you can simply make the throw without repositioning your body for accuracy. This throwing motion is also similar to an efficient direction of turn in the golf swing.
Once you set up to the ball with your impact angles, if you retain your angles in the backswing, the downswing is just a more leveraged or dynamic version of your backswing. If you can take the club back correctly, the takeaway at hip-high level will mirror that position in the downswing (the desired pre-impact position). In the picture below, the body has become slightly more dynamic in the downswing due to speed, but the body levels have not changed from the takeaway position.
This stays true for halfway back in the backswing and halfway down in the downswing. Note how the body has never had to reposition or “recover” to find impact.
At the top of the swing, you will notice how the body has coiled around its original spine angle. There was no left-side bend or “titling” of the body. All the original address position angles were retained. From this position, the arms can simply return back down with speed, pulling the body through.
The key to an efficient swing lies in the setup. Luckily for players working on their swing, this is the easiest part to work on and control. If you can learn to start in an efficient position, all you need to do is hold the angles you started with. This is a simple and effective way to swing the golf club.
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.
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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