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The illusion of the putter shaft, and why you should forward press

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If you watch the vast majority of Tour players putt, you’ll notice that their hands start in front of the putter head at address, and this condition doesn’t vary throughout their stroke.

Most golfers don’t putt this way, though. Their hands start behind the putter head at address and tend to break down even more. They “slap” at the ball through impact and beyond, which is detrimental for both speed and direction control.

Golf instructors can agree that in order to be effective on the greens, golfers must have the putter shaft returning to neutral or even leaning forward at impact, allowing the hands to lead the blade throughout the stroke. Fundamentally, we know that the left hand controls the putter face and its direction, while the right hand controls the putter head and its effective loft (for right-handed golfers). These two factors together allow golfers to roll their putts more consistently.

The bottom line: if you do not lead the putter head with your hands on today’s fast green, you’ll struggle to be an effective putter.

The Illusion

GOLF-US-MASTERS-ROUND3

Jordan Spieth keeps the back of his left hand stable and ahead of the putter head throughout his stroke.

So isn’t the solution as simple as forward pressing your hands during address. Why is that so hard? Well, when most amateurs forward press it’s almost never enough. That’s because they’re fighting an illusion. 

That’s right, there’s an optical illusion that occurs when golfers look down from address at their hands and their putter shaft angle. It influences the breakdown of their impact alignments, and promotes a “slapping” action of the wrists and hands. It also encourages the putter head to swing past the hands, leaning the shaft away from the target at impact adding loft to the putter — not something we want.

Try It Yourself

To understand how putters are designed, place your putter flat on the ground, and up against the wall as pictured below. You will notice that the shaft leans away from the target.

ForwardPressDrill

If you still don’t buy it, take your setup in front of a full-length mirror and look down at the shaft of the putter. From your address position, you will swear that your putter shaft is even or slightly ahead of the golf ball. But when you look in the mirror you will see an entirely different picture. The putter shaft will actually be behind the putter head.

The Illusion Explained

Putter manufactures have built-in this backward leaning of the shaft and loft into the putter face to promote good mechanics (as well as other things) by forcing players to forward press their hands at address.

This was and still is a great idea, but the problem is that it causes an illusion, leading golfers to believe that their hands are pressed forward more than they actually are. This means that when the shaft is set in a forward-leaning position, the hands are really just over the top of the putter head, not in front of the blade as it looks visually from above.

How to Overcome the Illusion

Most golfers would be better off if they forward pressed their hands too much, rather than too little at address with their putter. This way, there is more room for error if something does breakdown.

A good rule of thumb is to always point the butt end of the putter shaft at the first belt loop on the target side of your belt buckle. As you look down, you may think you have the putter shaft pointed too far toward the hole, but when you look into your mirror you will find that it is only slightly forward leaning. This is the most desirable position for you to roll a putt.

Use a mirror to help you understand of the illusion of the putter shaft. I promise it will give you better control over your line and speed, and knowing you’re set up correctly will give you more confidence on the greens, too.

Don’t be fooled by the illusion.

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: [email protected]

35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. Myths as Facts?

    Aug 6, 2019 at 5:12 am

    A lot of myths being repeated here. A forward press is a triggering device, nothing more. It takes maybe .8 degrees of loft away, so a 4 degree club is more than fine. I’m amazed at the poor quality of this article and the comments supporting it. It seems because someone works with Trackman people assume they have studied this, but certainly this is one of the most ill informed articles I’ve seen on this topic. Ask Frank Thomas. As Geoff Mangum. Ask Ralph Maltby. They will all set it straight.

  2. EgdewRich

    Feb 27, 2017 at 7:26 am

    Combine Tom’s comments and analysis with Dave Stockton videos and written work and you may find a formula for improved rolling of the ball! I find attaching two longer tees to the heel and toe helps in practice since “seeing loft” helps me see the impact moment that produces a tight roll. Try gluing two quarters together for a practice ball
    marker and resting the putter head on them before starting the stroke helps align the “vertical” sweet spot with the impact point on the ball. Try with a Nike Ping or Odyssey textured surface putter face! Putt to a 5 inch wide block of wood and work on the tight roll and just hitting the woodblock!

  3. jc

    Jan 16, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    this works very well..I have the new golf pride overside piston grip on my ping rustler and b54….I just set it down and it naturally fall into the postion in the article…I then step in so my body mathes the end of the club….then back and into the hole….works with either putter, a no arc and a slight arc…

  4. REAL REASON...

    Jan 5, 2017 at 8:44 am

    The real reason is because putters are ill designed.
    1. Loft causes the ball to be hit below the equater
    2. This causes the ball to get airborne, have backspin, bounce and results in bad distance control

    Good putters forward press to reduce loft (3* quickly becomes 0* or less).

    The ball is then hit at the equator or higher.
    “Topped” balls roll better
    Putting is the only shot in golf you really don’t want to get airborne….
    better hit at the equator or above… better forward press or have negative loft to start with.

    • mark c

      Jan 19, 2017 at 7:05 am

      not true – unless youre playing on marble greens you need the ball to initially get airborne to lift it above the slight sunken lie it will be in on the grass and get it rolling on the top

  5. tom stickney

    Jan 3, 2017 at 4:55 pm

    23 years of full-time teaching…if you doubt this, go to your local putting green any busy saturday am

  6. Steven

    Jan 3, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    Great Advice. I think many of us would benefit from looking in the mirror during parts of the swing to see what is really happening. Like they always say, feel is not real.

  7. Alfredo Smith

    Jan 2, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    Awesome read! I use a forward press to avoid a static swing. That illusion check blew me away because it has always appeared that my hands are ahead at address before I started the press. After reading this article my forward press is giving me that much more confidence. Thanks Tom Stickney!

  8. david

    Jan 2, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    I put a line on the ball and, if I see the line after I putt, I feel I have hit a good putt because it rolled end over end. Seems to me that’s all that matters. Am I wrong on that? If I could read greens worth a damn and hit the short ones hard enough, I might be a decent putter.

  9. Deadeye

    Jan 1, 2017 at 11:14 am

    Going back to legal anchoring days, why were the long and belly putters so effective? It’s my impression there was no forward press in those strokes. At least not in mine.

  10. Tcope

    Dec 31, 2016 at 9:10 am

    The best thing I ever did was actually get fitted for a putter. Specifcally an Edel. That putting fit session was eye opening. Instead of really changine stance, press etc. Just have a putter built to your EYES and how you see the ball and address it. Had my first sub 2 putts per round the other day.

  11. PineStreetGolf

    Dec 30, 2016 at 10:50 am

    My coment didn’t get posted for some reason, so sorry if this is a double.

    Where did you get the data that “most” golfers don’t forward press? Study? Could you link it?

    Having your hands ahead of the putter is nice, I guess, but its all relative. If your putter has three degrees of loft and 2* of shaft lean and you press it’ll be awful. Its all relative. The full swing is relatively similar and governed by motion physics, so you can make generalizations, but the putting stroke is much smaller – “get your hands forward” might be absolutely awful advice for some people.

    Where did you get the source for your comment that “most” need it? Is this just you making it up? Poll? Shotlink? The entire article is based on this sentence and there isn’t a whiff of authority to support it. I’m not saying its wrong, but if your going to solve a problem with an enitre article it would be nice if you first proved there was actually a problem to be solved – where did the data that “most” golfers do this come from?

    • Myths as Facts?

      Aug 6, 2019 at 5:14 am

      No one presses two degrees at impact, forward press typically results in a maximum of .8 degrees reduction in loft which is fine for a typical 4 degree putter. That’s not the issue here. However the issues here are indeed many, agreed.

  12. PineStreetGolf

    Dec 30, 2016 at 10:18 am

    “Most golfers don’t putt this way, though. ”

    This is from your article. How do you know this? Study, survey? Or did this come from your head? Curious.

    Blanket golf advice “always forward press…” is generally bad, unless you actually have tendency numbers to back it up. Where did your “most” come from? are we talking 70%? 90% Its a whole lot different if your making up that 65% do it versus an actual study that shows 95% do it.

    In fact, Pelz concluded in his book the exact opposite – “most” golfers *do* have a forward press at impact. Its just offset by too much body lean away from the target.

    i’d really like to see some evidence for the “most don’t forward press” basis of this article. A forward press is relative. If you forward press and then your spine titlts backwards, you actually arn’t forward pressing at all. Its alot more interconnected than this article makes it seem.

    Putting your hands forward is not the same thing as proper loft at impact.

  13. JH

    Dec 29, 2016 at 10:58 pm

    garbage

  14. Lowell

    Dec 29, 2016 at 7:05 pm

    I had this experience today working with a new putter. I felt to me that if I just set the putter down the putter has a tendency to have a lean away from the target. I almost have to promote pressing my hands forward which looked better but will take some time to buy into. I felt like the feel of the putt felt more solid as compared to when I would step in and set the putter with its natural position as I saw it. Pretty significant to say the least. Knowing this now, I will stick with pressing my hands forward and get that solid consistent roll that I want.

  15. Mr B

    Dec 29, 2016 at 6:41 pm

    Great read Tom. Quick questions: I feel like I seriously close the face when I try to fwd press. Looks so awkward at address.

    Is this common and just an illusion? If not an illusion and problematic, any tips not to close down the face when using a fwd press?

    • Prime21

      Dec 29, 2016 at 11:45 pm

      Tape a tee to the face of the putter. If you press the putter properly, it will lean towards the hole. If you are truly closing it will turn inwards towards you. A proper press may very well look “closed” to you, but if you have a system to check it, you will be able to determine if what your eyes are telling you is true or simply different. You may also want to put a line on the front of the tee (facing the target) with a sharpie. If done properly you will never see it, if you’re closing it, it will come into vision.

  16. Job

    Dec 29, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    What about using this technique with a Seemore? When I do this, it exposes the red button on the riflescope and takes away the advantage of ensuring proper alignment, which was one of the big draws of that putter. I now see that I almost assuredly am behind the ball but maybe there is a compromise?

    • Dill Pickleson

      Dec 29, 2016 at 8:30 pm

      I use a seemore and arc stroke and don’t think forward press is necessary if you square the face. A device like SkyPro will tell you that. Seemore gives you the setup and feedback you need

  17. Double Mocha Man

    Dec 29, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    What if I’m wearing Sansabelt trousers left over from the ’70’s? There are no belt loops.

  18. mlb

    Dec 29, 2016 at 3:35 pm

    Thanks Tom this helps me a lo i have this problem.

  19. Darrin

    Dec 29, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    Face square at impact is all that matters. I just focus on the putter face being perpendicular to my starting line, what the shaft is doing at that point is irrelevant.

  20. Jason

    Dec 29, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    Typical putter lofts are 3.5 to 4 degrees, which is typically measured when the shaft is vertical, correct? If the first belt loop is two inches ahead of the vertical line the putter shaft is leaning forward by 3 degrees which reduces static loft by the same amount. So, wouldn’t I want a putter with five or six degrees of loft if the goal is to return to impact on a level path with three degrees of shaft lean?

    If some accommodation is not made in the putter’s loft it seems like a lot of people would begin experiencing bouncing putts.

    I would love to know your two cents..

    • tom stickney

      Dec 29, 2016 at 1:50 pm

      It all depends on how you deliver the puttershaft into impact…for this article I wanted people to understand only the basics of the “illusion.” Find someone with a SAM Puttlab or a Quintic in your area for the best static/dynamic loft fitting.

  21. Dave R

    Dec 29, 2016 at 1:21 pm

    Very good and yes it works ,I’ve done it for years tought to me over 40 years ago by a very old and good friend.

  22. Jay

    Dec 29, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    Good read!!

  23. Philip

    Dec 29, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    Tom, indeed when you place the putter flat on the ground you will get backward shaft lean, but the face of the putter will also be leaning back and adding loft. I’ve never putted like that and don’t know anyone that does either. I putt with the club face square and flat to the ball which results in some natural forward shaft lean. When I placed the putter faces up against a square steel block I see just a bit of forward shaft lean and when I set up at address I see even a bit more forward shaft lean that matches the full-length mirror when I look up. If one allows the putter to naturally hang from their arms and then lines up the club face to the ball, they will have no choice but to have some forward shaft lean unless their setup is messed up. I do not see this is an optical illusion, but more of an issue of improper setup or not understanding how to use a tool “putter” properly.

  24. Tom

    Dec 29, 2016 at 11:48 am

    Great article. And this technique works.

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Instruction

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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Walters: Try this practice hack for better bunker shots

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Your ability to hit better bunker shots is dramatically reduced if you have no facility to practice these shots. With so few facilities (especially in the UK) having a practice bunker it’s no wonder I see so many golfers struggle with this skill.

Yet the biggest issue they all seem to have is the inability to get the club to enter the sand (hit the ground) in a consistent spot. So here is a hack to use at the range to improve your bunker shots.

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Golf Blueprint: A plan for productive practice sessions

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Practice range at the Dormie Club. Photo credit: Scott Arden

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

You’ve gotten lessons.  Several of them.  You’ve been custom fitted for everything in your bag.  You even bought another half a dozen driver shafts last year looking for an extra couple of yards.  And yet, you’re still…stuck.  Either your handicap hasn’t moved at all in years or you keep bouncing back and forth between the same two numbers.  You’ve had all the swing fixes and all the technological advances you could realistically hope to achieve, yet no appreciable result has been achieved in lowering your score.  What gives?

Sample Golf Blueprint practice plan for a client.

One could argue that no one scientifically disassembled and then systematically reassembled the game of golf quite like the great Ben Hogan.  His penchant for doing so created a mystique which is still the stuff of legend even today.  A great many people have tried to decipher his secret over the years and the inevitable conclusion is always a somewhat anticlimactic, “The secret’s in the dirt.”  Mr. Hogan’s ball striking prowess was carved one divot at a time from countless hours on the practice range.  In an interview with golf journalist George Peper in 1987, Mr. Hogan once said:

“You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but the truth is, I was enjoying myself. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I’d be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it. And I still thoroughly enjoy it. When I’m hitting the ball where I want, hard and crisply—when anyone is— it’s a joy that very few people experience.”

Let me guess.  You’ve tried that before, right?  You’ve hit buckets and buckets of range rocks trying to groove the perfect 7-iron swing and still to no avail, right?  Read that last sentence again closely and you might discover the problem.  There’s a difference between mindful practice and mindless practice.  Mindful practice, like Mr. Hogan undoubtedly employed, is structured, focused, and intentional.  It has specific targets and goals in mind and progresses in a systematic fashion until those goals are met.

This is exactly what Nico Darras and Kevin Moore had in mind when they started Golf Blueprint.  In truth, though, the journey actually started when Nico was a client of Kevin’s Squares2Circles project.  Nico is actually a former DI baseball player who suffered a career-ending injury and took up golf at 22 years old.  In a short time, he was approaching scratch and then getting into some mini tour events.  Kevin, as mentioned in the Squares2Circles piece, is a mathematics education professor and accomplished golfer who has played in several USGA events.  Their conversations quickly changed from refining course strategy to making targeted improvements in Nico’s game.  By analyzing the greatest weaknesses in Nico’s game and designing specific practice sessions (which they call “blueprints”) around them, Nico started reaching his goals.

The transition from client to partners was equal parts swift and organic, as they quickly realized they were on to something.  Nico and Kevin used their experiences to develop an algorithm which, when combined with the client’s feedback, establishes a player profile within Golf Blueprint’s system.  Clients get a plan with weekly, monthly, and long-term goals including all of the specific blueprints that target the areas of their game where they need it most.  Not to mention, clients get direct access to Nico and Kevin through Golf Blueprint.

Nico Darras, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

While this is approaching shades of Mr. Hogan’s practice method above, there is one key distinction here.  Kevin and Nico aren’t recommending practicing for hours at a time.  Far from it.  In Nico’s words:

“We recommend 3 days a week.  You can do more or less, for sure, but we’ve found that 3 days a week is within the realm of possibility for most of our clients.  Practice sessions are roughly 45-70 minutes each, but again, all of this depends on the client and what resources they have at their disposal.  Each blueprint card is roughly 10 minutes each, so you can choose which cards to do if you only have limited time to practice.  Nothing is worse than cranking 7 irons at the range for hours.  We want to make these engaging and rewarding.”

Kevin Moore, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

So far, Golf Blueprint has been working for a wide range of golfers – from tour pros to the No Laying Up crew to amateurs alike.  Kevin shares some key data in that regard:

“When we went into this, we weren’t really sure what to expect.  Were we going to be an elite player product?  Were we going to be an amateur player product?  We didn’t know, honestly.  So far, what’s exciting is that we’ve had success with a huge range of players.  Probably 20-25% of our players (roughly speaking) are in that 7-11 handicap range.  That’s probably the center of the bell curve, if you will, right around that high-single-digit handicap range.  We have a huge range though, scratch handicap and tour players all the way to 20 handicaps.  It runs the full gamut.  What’s been so rewarding is that the handicap dropping has been significantly more than we anticipated.  The average handicap drop for our clients was about 2.7 in just 3 months’ time.”

Needless to say, that’s a pretty significant drop in a short amount of time from only changing how you practice.  Maybe that Hogan guy was on to something.  I think these guys might be too.  To learn more about Golf Blueprint and get involved, visit their website. @Golf_Blueprint is their handle for both Twitter and Instagram.

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