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What’s the deal with putter face rotation?

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In a conventional golf swing, the clubface opens and closes, rotating to the target line. But with the putter, this is often seen as undesirable. In this article I’ll examine how clubface rotation happens, whether it should, and if so, to what extent.

Pendulum-style

Many people discount that the putter can be swung like a pendulum because the club does not lie vertical at the start. But if you lean a grandfather clock back 20 degrees or so from vertical, does not the pendulum still swing? The requisite feature is not that the pendulum swings vertically, but that it swings in-plane along a theoretical flat surface.

Here are just a few examples to support why an in-plane swing is worth pursuing:

  1. You can lay a STRAIGHT line on the flat surface of a plane, but not on a CURVED surface.
  2. Inertial forces act to pull the clubhead in-line with the path of the hands, and thus to form a plane for the swing.
  3. The best putters in the world swing the WHOLE putter in-plane, or very nearly so (regardless of what some may THINK that they do).

If a club is to swing within a single plane, it must begin the swing within that plane, the address plane, formed between the ball-to-target line and the club. The standard lie angle of a putter is typically 70 degrees, for which the address plane is inclined 20 degrees from vertical (90-20=70). The geometry of a swing within an inclined plane dictates that as the club rotates around the golfer, the clubhead travels up and away from the target line, toward the golfer’s side, on both sides of the lowest point of the arc. As this happens, the clubface will open and close to the target line, even when the clubface remains square to the flat surface of the plane. Additionally, the clubface may roll (rotating upon itself), opening and closing not only to the target line but also to the plane. Example: the Earth rotates around the Sun, and also rolls upon itself.

Modeling the swing

The putting model, “Iron Archie,” can swing a putter pendulum-style with clubface continually square to the in-plane arc when its “shoulders” are set to rotate parallel to the address plane. The only moving part of this simple machine is the entire shoulder/arm/club assembly around a central axis/hub.

Iron Archie in action

The human golfer CAN reproduce the single-action swing of Iron Archie simply by rotating the shoulders, or more accurately, the upper torso, parallel to the address plane.

A difference from the model

The most natural rotation of the shoulders is perpendicular to the spine, specifically a section of the thoracic spine just below the shoulders. This square rotation of shoulders-to-spine allows the whole spine, including the head, to remain fixed. This is why players who “rock the shoulders” on a steeper tilt may be observed with the head teetering back and forth. From an orthodox golf posture, the spine is not normally inclined to the degree that is perpendicular to the address plane. In this scenario (assumed throughout the article), if the golfer’s only movement were to rotate the shoulders naturally perpendicular to the spine, the club would move under and out of the address plane on both sides of the lowest point, the club carving a cone shape through space. In this scenario, a second movement must be added to keep the club moving in-plane – a vertical swinging of the arms from the shoulder joints — and this reality is no different with any other club. This specific action causes the golfer’s arm/club/clubface assembly to roll.

Learning from the best

A fine example of this “rolling” action is seen in the technique of arguably the greatest performer with the putter of our time, Tiger Woods. Tiger swings the putter near perfectly in-plane while maintaining a notably steady head position, indicating that his shoulders rotate mostly perpendicular to the central axis/hub. But since that area of his spine is more vertical than perpendicular to the swing plane, the clubface rolls, as the arms must swing from the shoulder joints to keep the club swinging in-plane. Tiger has been measured by the SAM PuttLab system to exhibit in the impact zone (4 inches before and after impact) 10.2 degrees of clubface rotation relative to the target line, of which 8.5 degrees is clubface roll, relative to the path of the clubhead. This degree of roll, in particular, is notably higher than other Tour players tested. To be clear, the roll of the clubface results not from the wrists rotating about themselves, independently of the upper arms (pronation and supination), but from the roll of the whole shoulder/arm/club assembly around a vertical axis within the swing plane. Thus, this higher degree of face rotation does not represent an undesirable manipulation of the hands, which some might see it as. In fact, the only way for Tiger to maintain a square face-to-plane relationship, all else the same, would be to roll the wrists independently of the upper arms — counter-clockwise in the backswing, then clockwise in the forward swing. Clearly, that would be the manipulation, an unnecessary added movement. And many have wandered down that dark road, often leading to a case of the dreaded “yips.”

Screen Shot 2016-09-12 at 12.42.16 PM

Tiger Woods’ athletic posture with the thoracic spine (red line) inclined short of 90 degrees to the club, which incidentally lies at roughly 68 degrees to horizontal.

Tiger_putting_2

Tiger’s forearms roll over the swing plane. This is the action that rolls the clubface. In contrast, Iron Archie’s “forearms” remain parallel to the plane, allowing the clubface to remain perpendicular.

Seeing the light

The club, as it swings in-plane, will continually point to a straight line on the ground – a line within the plane – a “plane line.” Laser pointers can effectively be used to confirm an in-plane swing.

Practicing an in-plane swing. First, swinging the dominant arm with a laser pointer in-hand, then with the SmartStick training aid. The laser continually points straight to the white target line. Finally, flying solo.

A laser line-generator, like the LaserPutt training aid, can confirm an in-plane swing and also shed light on clubface roll. When the laser line remains on the target line:

  1. The swing is in-plane to the target.
  2. The clubface is maintaining a square relationship to that plane.

We saw both of those conditions achieved with Iron Archie in the first video in this article.

Comparing two in-plane swings with the LaserPutt. On the left is an Iron Archie-style “shoulder” swing; the right forearm remains in-plane while the clubface remains square to the plane. On the right is a Tiger Woods-style “arm” swing; the right forearm rotates out of plane slightly while the clubface rolls, evidenced by the laser line rotating off the target line. Even in this case, the LaserPutt provides valuable visual feedback as to whether you are returning the face squarely to impact. The PerfectStroke training aid serves as a suspended “plane line.”

The straight dope

Turning the spotlight to the so-called “straight-back-straight-through” style, in which the clubhead is supposedly to remain directly ABOVE the target line within a vertical plane, realize that when the club is inclined from vertical, this scenario would see the WHOLE club moving along a CURVED surface. I find the feel of this style notably less stable, less natural and less repeatable than the in-plane style. Still, it CAN be done, BUT if you’re hoping to power this style with a “shoulder” swing, know that your shoulders will need to rotate within a VERTICAL plane. This is unnatural at best, UNLESS you can incline your spine to parallel to the ground, but this is quite unnatural also.

Screen Shot 2016-09-12 at 12.46.05 PM

Perhaps there was more method than madness to Michelle Wie’s adoption of this posture? Yet even she does not maintain the clubhead entirely within a vertical plane.

Proponents of the straight-back-straight-through style usually suggest also that the clubface should remain square to the target line. Again, to achieve this, either the shoulders must rotate within a vertical plane, or if not, then the golfer must actively roll the wrists about themselves to counter the roll resulting from the vertical arm swing required to maintain the clubhead within the vertical target plane. Frankly, either effort is an aberration. Further, I am not aware of a single player on any major professional tour who swings the putter head entirely within the vertical target plane. This style is mostly a myth. It makes some sense in theory, just not in practice.

Straight vs. curved

Have a look at the following two swings. Which looks straight and which looks curved/arced to you?

It’s a bit of a trick question, as both swings are in-plane. The swing on the right is viewed from within the vertical target plane, while the swing on the left is viewed from within the inclined address plane.

Swing like Archie or Tiger?

Both the style of Iron Archie and Tiger Woods produce the in-plane, pendulum-style swing. The main difference is in the relationship of the incline angles for the shoulder turn and the swing plane. The “flatter” or closer to horizontal the shoulder turn is from the swing plane, the more the clubface will roll, adding to the total face rotation. Many have concluded that less clubface rotation MUST automatically be “better,” less likely to be mis-timed, but consider these three points:

  1. The additional clubface rotation results simply from the arms swinging the club in-plane while maintaining a fixed spine. The squaring of the face-to-plane for impact in the forward swing is achieved solely by reversing that single action, and not on timing any additional active action to that action.
  2. A steady head position has always been deemed orthodox, especially when putting.
  3. In the full swing, a so-called “square” position at the top of the back-swing is reached when the clubface rolls, building up to 90 degrees to the swing plane along the path of the clubhead.

Of course, the golfer may use a degree of shoulder tilt somewhere between parallel to the address plane and perpendicular to the spine. The arms are then required to swing from the shoulder sockets, more than Iron Archie (zero) but less than Tiger, producing less face rotation than Tiger but more than Iron Archie (zero). But since the degree to which the shoulders tilt affects the face-to-path alignment, as we have seen, variance in that angle during the swing can directly cause clubface misalignment at impact.

Anything Else?

For the in-plane, pendulum-style swing with the putter, since the clubhead path parallels the plane direction ONLY at the lowest point of the arc, in-line with the thoracic spine, this is where the back of the ball should be positioned. The elbow and wrist joints should be immobile also, maintaining the one-piece structure of a single pendulum, unlike the double-pendulum action used with other clubs.

Conclusion

Those interested in exploring the in-plane, pendulum-style swing with the putter will find the training aids highlighted in this article to provide essential feedback. When guided on an in-plane swing, golfers consistently discover a feeling that they intuitively sense to be most appropriate. Perhaps that’s because an in-plane swing is the accepted ideal with any other club — in the area approaching impact at the very least.

Your sense of touch may guide you, as the stable feel of the hands and clubhead swinging in-line with each other contrasts to the wobbly feel of motion out-of-plane. Your sense of direction may guide you also, since although the clubhead is constantly changing direction as it circles within the plane, the plane ITSELF has direction with the target.

Conflict arises from beliefs that make sense in theory but not in practice, such as the belief that the clubhead should move in-line with the target for an extended length rather than in-line with the hands. And although an in-plane swing FEELS right, it may not initially LOOK right to you. You must not be alarmed when you see the path of the clubhead progressing inside the target plane and the clubface opening to the target line as the clubhead swings up the straight, inclined address plane. As an old Jedi Master once said, “May the force be with you.”

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As an independent contractor based in Scottsdale, Arizona, Todd Dugan provides video swing analysis as a player gift to groups hosting golf tournaments and also is available for private instruction. * PGA Certified Instructor * Teaching professionally since 1993 CONTACT: [email protected] vimeo.com/channels/todddugangolf

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Josh

    Dec 16, 2018 at 1:44 am

    Is there are type of toe-hang that assists the putter face staying on plane (with less/no rotation as it pertains to hitting the ball)? Face balanced, etc.? Thanks

  2. Cumby Long

    Oct 21, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    i’d trust this article more if i heard of the writer before

    • Todd Dugan

      Oct 21, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      I never “trusted” anything I heard from a golf instructor. I study and test everything to my own satisfaction. I encourage others to do the same and discover that the information presented in this article is true.

  3. Dill Pickleson

    Oct 17, 2016 at 9:54 pm

    This is fantastic stuff. The ‘feel players’ will hate it and say they don’t need it but they don’t know how truly great consistent putters they can be. Once you get this right, then feel comes. There are no penalties in putting so people only judge themselves on made or missed “makeables” and enjoying occasional hot streaks. How about being hot every day you play and being white hot on some days….now you’re talking. Keep up the good work.

    • Todd Dugan

      Oct 20, 2016 at 4:24 pm

      Thanks, Dill. You’ve got it. Once you get you stroke on-plane, you roll out of bed putting great. Its no different in the full swing really.

  4. kevin

    Oct 6, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    would you recommend using that raised putting rod that keeps the putter on plane for longer putts too? or does it work better for short putts? thanks for the help

    • Todd Dugan

      Oct 6, 2016 at 4:32 pm

      Kevin, the rod can be used to guide an in-plane swing with any club, up to the length of the rod. You can use the PerfectStroke aid for longer putts, the longest depending on the tempo of your swing. You raise a good point; the rod could be longer. I saw a video on YouTube where a long rod was suspended with a chair at both ends. You might try that.

      • kevin

        Oct 7, 2016 at 3:11 pm

        thanks for the reply. built one yesterday and seeing way better face rotation numbers based on my blast sensor!

  5. Bill Presse

    Oct 5, 2016 at 11:45 am

    This article is dead nuts on point. A putter that is Lie Angle Balanced (Directed Force Putters) is balanced to remain square to each individual’s arc. ‘May the force be with you’????

  6. Mr. Wedge

    Oct 5, 2016 at 11:33 am

    Albeit putting can be broken down into science, I always feel that putting is more of an art. Go with what feels natural and if you can read greens you will be a decent putter.

    • Todd Dugan

      Oct 13, 2016 at 12:27 am

      Mr. Wedge, with great technique, you can be far beyond a “decent” putter. But historically, nobody’s ever had much idea on what good putting technique actually is. In over 20 years as a pro, the best putters I’ve ever seen swing in-plane or nearly so. I’ve always been a good putter, but since developing an in-plane swing, I have become much better.

  7. Bob Jones

    Oct 5, 2016 at 10:10 am

    Horton Smith, the best putter of his era, rotated his hands counter-clockwise to keep the putter going exactly straight back and straight through. This is really hard to do and get it right, but he made it work. Billy Casper hooded the putter on shorter putts, too.

    Just for the record, astronomers say one body revolves around another (Earth-Sun, Moon-Earth) and bodies rotate on their own axis.

  8. TheCityGame

    Oct 5, 2016 at 9:49 am

    Maybe it’s me, but there are no videos. There are just lines that say, in bold, “INSERT VIDEO”.

    • Zak Kozuchowski

      Oct 5, 2016 at 10:26 am

      Sorry about that, TheCityGame. We’ve fixed the issue.

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Instruction

Fixing the shanks: How to stop shanking the golf ball (GolfWRX Explains)

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May you never be concerned about fixing the shanks! But if you’re begging the golf gods for guidance how to stop shanking the golf ball? Ready to offer up your first-born child for the wisdom how to stop shanking irons? Frantically asking Google how to never shank a golf ball again?

Fear not. We’ll get to drills to stop shanking irons shortly that are guaranteed to ingrain the proper feel and anti-shank action, but first, a brief discussion of what exactly a shank is (other than will-to-live crushing).

More often than not, a shank occurs when a player’s weight gets too far onto the toes, causing a lean forward. Instead of the center of the clubface striking the ball—as you intended at address—the hosel makes contact with your Titleist, and—cover your ears and guard your soul—a shank occurs.

How to stop shanking the golf ball

If you’ve ever experienced the dreaded hosel rocket departing your club at a 90-degree angle, you know how quickly confidence can evaporate and terror can set in.

Fortunately, the shanks are curable and largely preventable ailment. While there are drills to fix your fault you once the malady has taken hold, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

How to stop shanking the golf ball

If you’re trying to understand how to stop shanking the golf ball, you need to understand where the ball makes contact with the club during a shank.

Fixing the shanks

To avoid shanking the golf ball, it’s important to lock in on some keys…

  • Have a proper setup and posture…Athletic posture, arms hang down, neither too bent over nor too upright, weight on the balls of the feet.
  • Keep your grip light and arms tension free…If 10 is a death grip of golf club and 1 is the club falling out of your hand, aim for a grip in the 4-6 range. Make sure your forearms aren’t clenched.
  • Maintain proper balance throughout the swing…50/50 weight to start (front foot/back foot). 60/40 at the top of the backswing. 90/10 at impact.
  • Avoid an excessively out-to-in or in-to-out swing path…Take the club straight back to start, rather than excessively inside (closer to the body) or outside (further away from the body).

The best drill to stop shanking the golf ball

Set up properly (as discussed above), flex your toes upward as you begin your swing and keep your chest high (maintain your spine angle) throughout the swing.

Other than those focal points, keep your brain free of any additional chatter, which only exacerbates shankitis.

(For more advice, be sure to check out what our friends at Me and My Golf have to say below)

Now you know how to stop shanking the golf ball and have the tools to never shank the golf ball again.

Praise the golf gods!

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Cameron Smith’s 3-month Covid-19 training block

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Whilst Covid-19 has presented countless grave health and economic challenges to the world’s population, it has also provided opportunity for many people to focus their attention on projects that they normally wouldn’t have time for.

Turns out PGA Tour players are no different, and in the case of Cameron Smith, we used the enforced break from competitive golf to undertake a very rare, uninterrupted 3 month block of strength training.

Cam plays 25-30 events a year spread across 4 continents and this presents a number of challenges to overcome from a training and programming perspective:

– Varying facilities

– Travel fatigue and jet lag

– Concerns around muscle soreness affecting ability to perform on course

– Physical and mental cost of competing

When combined, these challenges can often render even the most carefully planned training programs redundant. So whilst many golf fans were coming to terms with a prolonged absence of PGA Tour events, I was getting stuck into designing programs that would hopefully elicit the following outcomes for Cam:

– More muscle mass

– More strength

– More power

In a normal season, I’m hesitant to prescribe programs that focus on muscle gain, because the nature of the training volume tends to tighten Cam up (reduce his range of motion), reduce his club-head speed and elicit a lot of muscle soreness…..not an ideal combination for short term performance! But I knew in this case, we could get stuck into some higher volume work because we would have plenty of time to recover from any lost mobility, reduced speed and increased soreness before tournaments started again.

 

Mid March – Program 1 – General Hypertrophy Focus

We decided with the global virus outlook looking dire and the PGA Tour promising to deliver a 30 day notice before resumption of play, we should focus on hypertrophy (increasing muscle size) until the 30 day notice period was delivered. At that point we would switch to a more familiar power based program in preparation for tournaments starting up again.

Program Breakdown:

– 4 weeks

– 3 sessions per week

– 1 x lower focus (legs, glutes, core)

– 1 x push focus (chest, shoulders, triceps, core)

– 1 x pull focus (back, biceps, core)

– Gradually increasing volume over 4 weeks (more reps and sets to failure)

Training Variables:

Sets: 3 to 4

Reps: 8 to 12

Tempo: 2-0-2 (2 seconds up, no pause, 2 seconds down)

Weight: around 70% of maximum

Rest: 60 seconds, but this can vary when pairing exercises together in supersets or mini circuits

 

Example Workout – Lower Body Focus (legs, glutes, core):

 

Example Exercises:

 

Mid April – Program 2 – Lower Body Hypertrophy Focus

As Cam was about to finish up his first hypertrophy program, there was a fairly clear indication that there would be no play until mid June at the earliest. Knowing that we had 2 more months of training, we decided to continue with another hypertrophy block. This time increasing the focus on the lower body by breaking down the leg work into 2 seperate sessions and ramping up the training volume.

Program Breakdown:

– 4 weeks

– 4 sessions per week

– 2 x lower body focus (1 x quad focused workout and 1 x hamstring / glute focused workout)

– 1 x push focus (chest, shoulders, triceps, core)

– 1 x pull focus (back, biceps, core)

– Gradually increasing volume over 4 weeks (more reps and sets)

Training Variables:

Sets: 3 to 4

Reps: 8 to 12

Tempo: 2-0-2 (2 seconds up, no pause, 2 seconds down)

Weight: around 70% of maximum

Rest: 60 seconds, but this can vary when pairing exercises together in supersets or mini circuits

 

Example Workout – Pull Focus (back, biceps, core):

 

Example Exercises:

Mid May – Program 3 – Power Focus

Once we received confirmation that play would be resuming 11th June at Colonial, we made the call to switch to a power focused program. Moving back to 3 days per week, lowering the volume and increasing the intensity (more weight and more speed in the main lifts).

The idea is to get the body used to moving fast again, reduce muscle soreness to allow better quality golf practice, and supplement the with more mobility work to re-gain any lost range of motion.

We also added some extra grip work because Cam discovered that with the muscle and strength gain, plus lifting increased weight, his grip was failing on key lifts…..not such a bad problem to have!

Program Breakdown:

– 4 weeks

– 3 sessions per week

– 1 x lower body focus (legs, glutes, core, grip)

– 1 x upper body focus (chest, back, biceps, triceps, core, grip)

– 1 x combined focus (legs, glutes, shoulders, core, grip)

– Volume remains constant (same sets and reps), aiming to increase intensity (either weight or speed) over the 4 weeks.

Training Variables:

Sets: 4 to 5

Reps: 3-5 for main exercises, 8-12 for accessory exercises.

Tempo: X-0-1 for main exercises (as fast as possible in up or effort phase, no pause, 1 second down). 2-0-2 for accessory exercises.

Weight: around 85% of maximum for main exercises, around 70% for accessory exercises.

Rest: 90 seconds, but this can vary when pairing exercises together in supersets or mini circuits

 

Example Workout – Combined (legs, glutes, core, shoulders, grip):

 

Example Exercises:

 

If you are interested in receiving some professional guidance for your training, then check out the services on offer from Nick at Golf Fit Pro

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Instruction

What you can learn from Steve Elkington

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When you think of great golf swings from the past and present time, Steve Elkington’s golf swing instantly comes to mind. His playing career has included a PGA championship, two Players Championships and more than 50 weeks inside the top-10 world golf rankings. This article will examine not only key moves you can take from Elk’s swing but learning to take your swing to the golf course.

As opposed to looking at a swing frame by frame at key positions, viewing a swing at normal speed can be just as beneficial. This can give students a look at the sequence of the swing as one dynamic motion. Research also suggests learning a motion as one movement as opposed to part-training (stopping the swing at certain points) will enhancing learning.

When viewed at full speed, the simplicity of Elk’s swing is made clear. There is minimal motion as he gets more out of less. This swing pattern can correlate to a conversation he once had with five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson.

When asking Thomson keys to his golf swing and it’s longevity, Thomson explained to Elk, “You have to have great hands and arms.” Thomson further elaborated on the arms and body relationship. “The older you get, you can’t move your body as well, but you can learn to swing your arms well.”

So what’s the best way to get the feel of this motion? Try practicing hitting drivers off your knees. This drill forces your upper body to coil in the proper direction and maintain your spine angle. If you have excess movement, tilt, or sway while doing this drill you will likely miss the ball. For more detail on this drill, read my Driver off the knees article.

Another key move you can take from Elk is in the set-up position. Note the structure of the trail arm. The arm is bent and tucked below his lead arm as well as his trail shoulder below the lead shoulder – he has angle in his trail wrist, a fixed impact position.

This position makes impact easier to find. From this position, Elk can use his right arm as a pushing motion though the ball.

A golf swing can look pretty, but it is of no use if you can’t perform when it matters, on the golf course. When Elk is playing his best, he never loses feel or awareness to the shaft or the clubface throughout the swing. This is critical to performing on the golf course. Using this awareness and a simple thought on the golf course will promote hitting shots on the course, rather than playing swing.

To enhance shaft and face awareness, next time you are on the range place an alignment stick 10 yards ahead of you down the target line. Practice shaping shots around the stick with different flights. Focus on the feel created by your hands through impact.

Twitter: @kkelley_golf

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