How to improve your putting arc
Golf is played on an inclined plane, which is established when we bend forward to address the ball. This angled plane dictates the club swing on an arc.
An arcing motion is present in all golf strokes whether you are swinging an iron, a driver or putter. On short putts the arc is smaller, so it may “FEEL” straight back and straight through, but there should still be a slight inward movement of the putter head during the back and forward swings.
A common mistake that I see is the putter head moving outside the target line on the backstroke, accompanied by a blocking action and no release of the putter face on the through stroke. Most golfers then employ some type of breakdown in the lead wrist in an attempt to square the face, which results in inconsistent loft and off-center strikes at impact. An arcing stroke would see the putter head moving slightly inside the target line on the back stroke, then naturally swinging inside once again on the through stroke — simply a pendulum motion, executed on an inclined plane.
To improve your putting arc, let’s begin with a solid address position. I call this type of setup “Complementary Angles” as it encourages the putter to swing in a way that requires very few compensations.
The address position is so crucial because we want to establish clear and accurate relationships between our target line, putter, and body. Complementary Angles means we will be stacking one good position on top of the next. An easy way to practice improving your angles both indoors and out is to draw a few lines on the reflective side of a CD or DVD disc. The first line will traverse the center of the disc and represent our intended starting line. Draw a second line perpendicular to the first line and directly behind the ball. This line will ensure that our putter face is square to our intended starting line. Last, draw a third line parallel to the first line just inside where the ball will be.
When setup properly, you should see your eyes on top of this line in the reflection provided by the disc. Setting up with your eyes slightly inside the target line provides more freedom for your hands and arms to swing while encouraging the forearms to rotate slightly during the stroke, thus transporting the putter on the desired path.
Grip in the fingers, heel pad on top
Next, we want to adopt a grip position that encourages the forearms to track properly during the stroke. Contrary to the “Lifeline” grip that’s commonly taught, we will incorporate a hold with the heel pad of our lead hand on top. As in your full swing, utilizing the heel pad provides leverage and control while removing tension from your thumb which radiates up the forearm.
Finger Grip In Four Steps
- With your lead arm hanging naturally, curl your last three fingers around the grip and rest your heel pad on top.
- Remove the thumb and index finger.
- Rotate your trail forearm slightly clockwise and slide the four fingers onto the grip. Connect the heel pad of the trail hand to the lead hand’s middle and ring fingernails for stability.
- Allow the thumbs to rest on the grip with no tension.
Notice that there is now an air pocket under your lead thumb pad and the putter head feels light. An excellent training aid that I use to quickly identify a proper fingers grip is Master Putting Instructor Pat O’Brien’s “Perfect Putting Grip.” The PPG is a decal that adheres to your existing putter grip, featuring heel pad and finger placement markings.
Backward, Upward and Inward
Now that we have completed a setup and grip comprised of “Complementary Angles,” the forearms can naturally rotate back and through. To rid yourself of any old tendencies such as bringing the putter back “outside,” place an object (alignment stick, tees, sleeve of balls) just outside the toe of your putter to verify that the club is working slightly away from the object as you swing back.
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The Wedge Guy: 5 indisputable rules of bunker play
Let’s try to cover the basics of sand play – the “geometry and physics” at work in the bunkers – and see if we can make all of this more clear.
First of all, I think bunkers are among the toughest of places to find your ball. We see the tour players hit these spectacular bunker shots every week, but realize that they are playing courses where the bunkers are maintained to PGA standards, so they are pretty much the same every hole and every week. This helps the players to produce the “product” the tour is trying to deliver – excitement. Of course, those guys also practice bunker play every day.
All of us, on the other hand, play courses where the bunkers are different from one another. This one is a little firmer, that one a little softer. So, let me see if I can shed a little light on the “whys and wherefores” of bunker play. I’ve always challenged the old adage, “bunker shots are easy; you don’t even have to hit the ball.” I challenge that because bunker shots are the ONLY ones where you don’t actually try to hit the ball, so that makes them lie outside your norm.
Let’s start with a look at the sand wedge; they all have a sole with a downward/backward angle built into it – we call that bounce. It’s sole (no pun intended) function is to provide a measure of “rejection” force or lift when the club makes contact with the sand. The more bounce that is built into the sole of the wedge, the more this rejection force will affect the shot. And when we open the face of the wedge, we increase the effective bounce so that this force is increased as well.
The most basic thing you have to assess when you step into a bunker is the firmness of the sand. It stands to reason that the firmer the texture, the more it will reject the digging effect of the wedge. That “rejection quotient” also determines the most desirable swing path for the shot at hand. Firmer sand will reject the club more, so you can hit the shot with a slightly more descending clubhead path. Conversely, softer or fluffier sand will provide less rejection force, so you need to hit the shot with a shallower clubhead path so that you don’t dig a trench.
So, with these basic principles at work, it makes sense to remember these “Five Indisputable Rules of Bunker Play”:
- Firmer sand will provide more rejection force – open the club less and play the ball back a little to steepen the bottom of the clubhead path.
- Softer sand will provide less rejection force – open the club more and play the ball slighter further forward in your stance to create a flatter clubhead path through the impact zone.
- The ball will come out on a path roughly halfway between the alignment of your body and the direction the face is pointing – the more you open the face, the further left your body should be aligned.
- On downslope or upslope lies, try to set your body at right angles to the lie, so that your swing path can be as close to parallel with the ground as possible, so this geometry can still work. Remember that downhill slopes reduce the loft of the club and uphill slopes increase the loft.
- Most recreational golfers are going to hit better shots from the rough than the bunkers, so play away from them when possible (unless bunker play is your strength).
So, there you go – the five undisputable rules of bunker play.
As always, I invite all of you to send in your questions to be considered for a future article. It can be about anything related to golf equipment or playing the game – just send it in. I need your input to keep writing about things you want to know.
The Wedge Guy: Making the short ones
One of the most frustrating things in golf has to be missing short putts. I’m talking about putts under six feet for the most part here, but particularly those inside of four. You hit a great approach to set up a short birdie…and then miss it. Or you make a great pitch or chip to save par — or even bogey — and it doesn’t go in.
When we face any short putt, several things happen to get in the way of our success. First, because we feel like we “have” to make this, we naturally tense up, which mostly manifests in a firmer hold on the putter, maybe even the proverbial “death grip” (appropriately named). That firmer hold is generally concentrated in the thumbs and forefingers, which then tightens up the forearms, shoulders and everything else. So the first tip is:
- Lighten up. When you take your grip on the putter, focus on how tight you are holding it, and relax. Feel like you are holding the putter in the fingers, with your thumbs only resting lightly as possible on the top of the putter. To see the difference, try this: while you are sitting there, clench your thumb and forefinger together and move your hand around by flexing your wrist – feel the tension in your forearm? Now, relax your thumb and forefinger completely and squeeze only your last three fingers in your hand and move it around again. See how much more you are able to move? Actually, that little tip applies to all your shots, but particularly the short putts. A light grip, with the only pressure in the last three fingers, sets up a smooth stroke and good touch.
The second thing that happens when we have a short putt is we often allow negative thoughts to creep in… “Don’t miss this”…“What if I miss it?”…“I have to make this”…all those put undue pressure on us and make it that much harder to make a good stroke.
So, the second tip is:
- Chill out. Just allow yourself a break here. You have hit a great shot to get it this close, so allow yourself to believe that you are going to make this. Relax, shake out the nerves, and think only positive thoughts while you are waiting your turn to putt. And you know what? If you do miss it, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just one shot. So chill out and have fun…and make more short putts.
Finally, we often tend to get so focused on “just make a good stroke” that we get all wrapped up in mechanical thoughts. Forget those. Focus your vision intently and completely on the target. Most short putts are pretty darn straight, or maybe just on or outside the high side. My favorite thought on these putts comes from a favorite movie, The Patriot.
- Aim small, miss small. Early in the movie, Gibson’s character took his two very young sons and several rifles and went to rescue his older son. He coached them to “Remember what I told you?” and the son replied “Yes sir. Aim small, miss small.” That’s great advice on short putts. Instead of focusing your eyes on the hole, pick a specific spec of dirt or grass in the back edge, or inside one lip or the other – on whatever line you want the putt to start. Don’t just look at the hole…focus intently on that very specific spot. That intensifies your visual acuity and allows your natural eye-hand coordination to work at its very best.
So, there you have the three keys to making more short putts:
- Lighten up
- Chill out
- Aim small, miss small
I hope this helps all of you make more of them.
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Mar 15, 2017 at 9:21 pm
When I try this grip it feels like I need a shorter putter with a flatter lie angle. Does that seem right?
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Jan 1, 2015 at 6:48 pm
Thanks for your article. I’ve read the Dave Pelz Putting’Bible’ and he refers to a PILS Stroke (Perfect In Line Stroke). He used a grid and special photography to show strokes that appear to go slightly inside square to inside (like a screen door), but actually go straight back and thru. He refered to this as an optical illusion. You need to see the stroke from the target line or from above the ball. Otherwise if you view the stroke from head on (like on TV), the stroke will be seen as a ‘screen door’ but its not.
The arms hang straight down from the shoulders to create a vertical penduleum and despite the lie angle of the putter, the putter head moves straight back and thru.
ref: p81 Pelz Putting Bible
Jan 1, 2015 at 10:55 pm
Hello M60 – I have also read Mr. Pelz ‘Putting Bible, as well as ‘Putt Like The Pros’ and am familiar with his PILS method. Here are a few points I believe worth noting in the above excerpt. Having access to current technology like SAM Putt Lab, I will say that the putter does swing on an arc. This is due to the angle of the club shaft and fact that we are bent over at the waist to address a ball on the ground, which we are standing to the side of. The degree of arc is greatly affected by our amount of forward bend, eye placement, forearm position, and other address conditions. Also if I remember correctly, the PERCY model used to demonstrate the PILS stroke had NO wrist or elbow joints.
My experience has been that golfers who are trying to truly execute a SBST stroke must make many compensations in an attempt to keep the putter from doing what it naturally wants to do, which is swing on an arc. These compensations usually show up as the putter head moving outside on the way back with a closed face, followed by a blocking type through stroke. I also see these players set up with their eyes positioned outside of the ball and require very upright lie angles when trying to get the right forearm and shaft on plane at address.
That being said, I am advocating allowing the putter to swing on a slight arc. The set up and grip that I outlined complement this arc and might even “Feel” SBST, depending on the player and their tendencies. Test it out and thanks for reading.
Jan 1, 2015 at 11:05 pm
Jan 5, 2015 at 7:59 am
In fact, the only way to actually bring the club straight back and straight through without breaking the wrists is to adopt the Michelle Wie stance (or possibly Nicklaus), whereby the club is actually hanging straight down.
Dec 31, 2014 at 6:55 pm
Nice article. I like how you noted the importance of the grip. I believe that’s where the majority of amatuers get it wrong. Probably worthy of a mention is that with the correct grip the forearms can become an extension of the putter shaft allowing the correct plane for the putter to travel
Jan 1, 2015 at 11:06 am
Right on David. Complementary Angles at address lead to simple strokes. Thx for posting.
Dec 31, 2014 at 3:27 pm
Really enjoy the instruction since putting is the biggest mystery in my golf game. I have a tendency to push short putts and pull long putts. I’ve tried multiple different grips and occasionally succeed for a short time. How much pressure is applied by each hand? And does either hand assume a more dominant role?
Dec 31, 2014 at 5:21 pm
Edward & Steve, here is my recommendation on grip pressure. We want as little tension in the forearms as possible. When holding the putter horizontal to the ground I should not be able to pull the club from your grip, but we still want your hands and forearms relaxed. This is why I advocate the putter be gripped in the fingers with the heel pad on top, as opposed to a lifeline grip which is commonly taught. Gripping in the fingers allows for touch and control by relieving the forearm pressure created when the putter’s only support is the thumb pads. Tiger Woods wrote in his 2001 book, How I Play Golf, “The handle of the putter runs under the butt of my left hand. Most players like the handle running straight up the palm so the club shaft is parallel to the left forearm. My grip is unique this way, but I believe gives me a little extra feel and gives me freedom in my wrists when I need it.” Tiger goes on to write of his conversation with Ben Crenshaw on grip pressure and Ben’s advice to grip light enough so that he be able to “feel the weight of the putterhead at the other end of the shaft”. When pressed for a number between 1 and 10, I have heard Crenshaw say 4. Hand placement has a huge effect on grip pressure and deserves experimentation at the very least.
Try this drill: Tie some type of weight (I use brass washers) to the end of a piece of nylon string. Grip the putter with the string lying in your fingers and running on the underside of the putting grip. Begin making strokes, keeping the putter and the weight swinging in unison. Increase grip pressure until the weight and putter no longer keep pace. Relax your pressure until you are able to regain a swinging motion. This is your “Feel”.
Dec 31, 2014 at 1:52 pm
One question I have is that No one ever seems to talk about the Grip, by that I mean “How tight” should you hold the Putter.
With a wedge its ” Soft hands” as if you were holding an ‘open Tube of Tooth paste’ which I can understand and feel the difference if I were to hold it ( The wedge ) too tight.
But what about the Putter ??
Steve ( UK )
Dec 31, 2014 at 5:22 pm
Good question Steve! Please see my above response to you and Edward in reagrds to grip pressure.
Dec 29, 2014 at 1:15 pm
Michael, great article!
Look forward to trying it soon. Sounds like it can greatly help me. Also got excited when I was reading the article and recognized the clubhouse in the background. Played there once and loved it! Always great to know there are other WRXers around Louisiana.
Dec 29, 2014 at 10:23 pm
pleasure to hear from an La golf enthusiast. Keep me posted on your putting progress and have a great New Years!
Dec 28, 2014 at 8:26 am
Nice article. A follow up article on the mechanics of the stroke would be very helpful too.
Dec 29, 2014 at 1:09 pm
Thx for reading.
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Dec 27, 2014 at 6:10 pm
ok, so how about the left hand low grip? I like the idea with the grip though
Dec 27, 2014 at 6:59 pm
Did you switch to left hand low, due to right hand “hit”? Try out the grip procedure outlined in article and you should find a much more passive right hand.
Dec 28, 2014 at 3:59 pm
Hi, I stragled with the conventional grip recent years so thought I try something new. Actually I like the feel of the left hand low and I seem to be more consistent. Still tinkering with my hand positions slighly so will try some of your instructions. cheers
Dec 27, 2014 at 10:58 am
Good article. Thanks!
If one putts face-on, the stroke becomes nearly straight back and through. No need for the arc.
Dec 26, 2014 at 8:46 pm
“Connect the heel pad of the trail hand to the lead hand’s middle and ring fingernails for stability.” But in the picture isn’t the heel pad of the trail hand resting more on the lead hand’s thumb?
Dec 27, 2014 at 5:28 pm
JL – in the completed grip picture, the right hand’s heel pad is on the fingernails of left hand. The only part touching the lead hand, is the trail hand’s thumb and thumb pad. Hope that helps.
Dec 26, 2014 at 6:41 pm
Love this article regarding the putting arc as this has recently been introduced to me by my golf coach following a lesson after having a turbulent year on the greens.
I was taking the club away slightly on the outside “thinking I was taking it back in a straight line” you can guess the rest 🙂
Many many hours later the movement is better and am utilising an MSIII aid to drill the natural movement even more.
Dec 27, 2014 at 5:24 pm
Great to hear Ponjo. You’re on the right track – set the right forearm up correctly at address & that outside takeaway will be a thing of the past! Keep on it.