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Problematic head motion during the putting stroke

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As we all know, putting requires a solid stroke, a stable body and very controlled motor motions in order to be consistent from day to day. It is with this thought in mind that most players focus on keeping a steady head in order to keep their stroke in check when things go wrong. Within this putting study we will examine the most common problems that excessive head motion causes and how to ensure that a controllable center of gravity (CG) and a steady head becomes one of your strongest putting attributes.

In my putting academy, I use several high tech tools in order to study the putting stroke. In this article I will feature two of my systems:

  1. Advanced Motion Measurement’s 3D Motion Analysis System
  2. The SAM PuttLab created by Science & Motion Sports.

AMM’s 3D Motion Analysis System for Putting

The SAM shows over 28 different factors of the putter’s motions during the stroke

If you think about how your body moves during the putting stroke you will find that in order to maintain stability it is necessary to control your head as well as your CG.  Whenever the head moves excessively during the putting stroke you will find that your stroke path, your directional control, and the ball’s impact point on the putterface will be compromised. When your body senses these actions it will subconsciously try and manipulate your hands, the putterhead, your body’s CG and/or the ball’s position in order to try to get your putting back on track quickly.

The reason why you subconsciously adjust for poor balance is because your body has homeostatic mechanisms that keep you upright and from falling down. These actions are present within your life every second of the day. This automated response helps us while walking, sitting, or playing golf — the more complex the motor skill, the more important this reaction becomes.

Homeostasis is controlled by the information given to your brain by your vision and the fluid filled canals within each of your ears. These balance centers allow your body to counter balance itself when things happen to alter your CG, such as excessive head motion. To give you an example, if I pushed your head and upper torso quickly to the right, your spine would shift your hips to the left in order to counter-balance your body so you would not fall down. This is homeostasis and it applies to your golf swing, short game and putting stroke equally.

As we all know, putting is one of the most precise actions in the game of golf. If your head is bouncing around, it makes it almost impossible to maintain your CG control and this throws a monkey wrench in your game. Whenever you call upon your homeostasis to help you control excessive motion while trying to make putts, I will assure you that rolling in that 4 footer will be your body’s last priority.

There are four head motions that plague most golfers today.

From the Frontal View:

Head Sway: The side-to-side motion of the head (lateral)

Head Rotation: The turning of the head from side to side (rotational)

From the Down the Line View:

Head Lift: The up and down motion of the head (top to bottom)

Head Thrust: The front to back motion of the head

Head Sway

Excessive side-to-side motion of the head is the most common balance issue for the beginning golfer. Beginners have not learned that a slight “rocking” of the shoulders during the putting stroke will thrust the arms effectively enough to easily power the putting stroke. These players usually try to “rotate” the shoulders in order to move the arms, hands and putter and the head moves as a result.

When the upper body over-rotates into the backswing, the head tends to move laterally as well. In beginners, this shows up on putts of any length. With better players, it only tends to happen on super-long putts. On the 50-foot putt shown above, the shoulders have rotated 25 degrees while the head has moved 1.4 inches laterally to the right. This causes many issues; however, most often it causes an exaggerated arcing motion of the putter.

For the lower handicap player:

When the shoulders work “normally” but the head moves laterally, the weight will move too deep into your rear foot on the backswing. When this happens the weight will hang back and the putter will move “up” thorough impact, making the impact point too low on the putter face. This action will give you an unsolid feeling, putts will tend to come up short.

During this putting study the player above was asked to hit the same flat 15-foot putt over and over. As you can see, the impact point is not only on the bottom portion of the putter, but there was a variant from side to side as well.  Whenever your head moves laterally too much, you will find that hitting the sweetspot consistently on a horizontal and vertical plane is virtually impossible!

Head Lift

The lifting of your head through impact is described as a “pull up or peek” by the majority of players. It happens mainly on putts from 15 feet and in and most often to players while they are facing what they perceive as a “makeable” putt.  You will find that this happens to you even more when you are nervous or are unsure of the overall putt direction in general. This flaw is comparable to “looking up” during the full swing.  Whenever you “peek,” you will find that the putter head does not want to close naturally through impact.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

If you look at this player’s putter head rotation, you will see that as this player “lifts” their head during the forward swing you can see that the putter is opening more and more as the putter moves from the transition, through impact and into the finish position. At the peak of the backstroke the putter is closed 1.6 degrees, at impact it is 0.4 degrees open, and at the finish it is 0.7 degrees open! So remember when you “lift” you head through impact the putter does not “close” through the impact zone and missed putts to the right are a result more often than not.

The gentle “rocking” of the shoulders up and down during the putting stroke that we described earlier must be taken with a grain of salt, as you can interrupt the natural motions of the clubhead on the way through the ball. Keeping your head from lifting keeps the left shoulder in check and allows your left forearm to naturally rotate, closing the putter face through impact without a conscious manipulation or release.

When the head lifts (upward 2 inches in the above model) and/or forward, the  shoulder pulls-up the lead forearm and it will not be allowed to rotate naturally. The lead wrist will break down and the putter will stay open through impact as a result.

Note for the better player:

If you are a career “head-lifter,” you might want to consider a full toe-hang putter like a Ping Zing. The extra weight in the toe of the putter will allow the putter to close through impact slightly quicker than a face-balanced putter, like a Taylor Made Monza Mallet.

Head Thrust

Very seldom do we see players who “fall forward” during their putting strokes; however, you will see this happen for one of three basic reasons:

  1. When the player’s putter does not fit it will cause the player to bend over too much from the waist placing the hands too low at address and rocking the CG toward the toes
  2. On very windy days, when the player has placed their CG too close to their toes in general, it makes it very easy for the wind to push them out of balance
  3. When the overall tempo of the backstroke is too jerky and too much on an inside track

This player is bent from the waist almost 47 degrees, slightly more than we’d like for him. In order to get his eyes over the ball without being too bent over he would need a differently fit putter!

As you look at the CG shot above you will see that even though the red dot (the player’s real-time CG location) shows that the weight is currently balanced from toe to heel at basically 50/50, the yellow line marks where the CG was a few milliseconds earlier.  Notice that there is a substantial amount of yellow above the red dot.  This helps us to identify that this player tends to be slightly toe-heavy during their address position.  This is all it takes for the wind to knock you out of balance during your stroke. This is precisely the reason why you will see players with wider stances and more knee flex when the wind blows.

The Tour average backswing speed is 650 milliseconds, and as you can see this player is slightly jerky off the start which could move the putter too much to the inside on the backswing and knock him off-balance if he is not careful!

Head Rotation

Excessive head rotation during the putting stroke seems to only happen within three instances for most players:

  1. Whenever you are left eye dominant and your head is too “centered” at address
  2. Whenever the chin is too low (tucked too close to the chest) at address
  3. Whenever you become “stroke” focused and begin to follow your backswing path with your eyes in order to audit where it is moving.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

An excerpt from “The Putting Zone” by Geoff Mangum

“The brain only sights 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.

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 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.”

If your head is too centered during the address position and you are a left eye dominant player (use the test above), your head will tend to rotate to the right during the backswing so that you can “focus” on the ball and sight your target more effectively. The normal amount of head rotation at address is between five to ten degrees in order to sight the ball with your dominant eye.

The second way excessive head rotation creeps into your putting stroke is when your chin is too low and tucked into your chest at address. As your putting stroke occurs the shoulders rock and slightly rotate “running into” your chin, and as a result, you lift your head to accommodate this motion.

This player has the optimum amount of head bend at address (45 degrees) placing his chin in a position where the shoulders can move freely back and forth without danger of running into the chin.  If a golfer’s head moves to 47 or more degrees, then he or she is looking out past the ball. If the head bend is below 40 degrees, then the golfer will not be able to move with freedom and excessive head rotation will occur.

A note for players who wear prescription glasses:  Tucking your chin too low is a very normal occurrence for golfers who wear bifocals — you will “bury” your chin in order to see over the top of the lower part of the lens that is designed for close up vision. Speak to your eye doctor and get “golf specific lenses” sooner rather than later.

The third and final way to have too much head rotation within your putting stroke is when you become too “stroke” focused and begin to monitor the putter head during the backswing in order to make sure it is on the correct path.

First, you must understand that your stroke path ONLY accounts for 18 percent of the ball’s directional error, so focusing on the backswing path is a total waste of time. Secondly, there is little you can do to consistently alter the putter while it is in motion, so it’s a total waste of time. When players have trouble with their backstrokes, usually you will find that the problem is with a set-up position that causes the putter path to be off-track, such as poor torso alignment.

If you are having trouble with your putter path on the way back and cannot stop “watching,” first make sure your alignments and “flow-lines” are correct (as shown above). From there, practice putting while closing your eyes in order to feel a more natural putting stroke that can happen much easier if you have positive alignments.

Conclusion

Putting is an accuracy endeavor, thus if you have excessive motion within your body you will have to make physical manipulations in order to make up for the deficiencies that your imbalance causes. For most people, the thought of maintaining a steady head is the key to staying still while putting, for others, just focusing on your CG and its position between your feet is the key.

Regardless of the methodology you use to control your head motion, torso actions and CG, remember that balance is the key to your putting success. You will not see any player on Tour who is a good putter violate one of the four head motion or the CG rules laid out above, so:

  1. Control your Head Sway
  2. Control your Head Rotation
  3. Control your Head Lift
  4. Control your Head Thrust

-Or-

  1. Control your CG from Toe to Heel
  2. 2. Control your CG from Right to Left

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

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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]

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Hugo Mader

    Jun 24, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    Great article! And just a correction: on the heading “Head Lift”, its said that “At the peak of the backstroke the putter is closed 1.6 degrees”, you actually mean OPENED 1.6 degrees? And, what the hell are “golf prescription lenses”?!?

  2. Ben Alberstadt

    Jan 5, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    Many thanks for this quality assessment and advice, Mr. Stickney!

  3. pablo

    Jan 3, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    good article. i like the CG ‘checks’ at the end.

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Short Game University: How to hit wedges 301

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In golf, there is nothing harder than judging a flop shot over a bunker to a tight pin out of long grass. Why? Because there are so many variables to account for — in addition to what you can and cannot do with a wedge. In fact, up until very recently in the world of wedge design, we were limited to only increasing the landing angle to stop the ball, because relying on spin from this lie and this close to the green was next to impossible.

Now with the advent of things like raw faces, different CG locations, new groove design, and micro-ribs between the grooves, we can now spin the ball out of lies that we never could have done so before. This is not to say that you can now zip the ball back from these types of lies, but we are seeing spin rates that have skyrocketed, and this allows us to not open the face as much as we needed to do before in order to stop the ball.

Before we get into the shot around the green itself, let’s talk a bit about wedge design. For that, I called a great friend of mine, Greg Cesario, TaylorMade’s Staff Manager to help us understand a bit more about wedges. Greg was a former PGA Tour Player and had a big hand in designing the new Milled Grind 3 Wedges.

Cesario said: “Wedge technology centers on two key areas- the first is optimizing its overall launch/spin (just like drivers) on all shots and the second is optimum ground interaction through the geometry of the sole (bounce, sole width, and sole shape).”

“Two key things impact spin: Groove design and face texture. Spin is the secondary effect of friction. This friction essentially helps the ball stick to the face a little longer and reduces slippage. We define slippage as how much the ball slides up the face at impact. That happens more when it’s wet outside during those early morning tee times, out of thicker lies, or after a bit of weather hits. Our Raised Micro-Ribs increase friction and reduce slippage on short partial shots around the round – that’s particularly true in wet conditions.”

“We’ve been experimenting with ways to find optimal CG (center of gravity) placement and how new geometries can influence that. We know that CG locations can influence launch, trajectory and spin. Everyone is chasing the ability to produce lower launching and higher spinning wedge shots to help players increase precision distance control. In that space, moving CG just a few millimeters can have big results. Beyond that, we’re continuing to advance our spin and friction capabilities – aiming to reduce the decay of spin from dry to fluffy, or wet conditions.”

Basically, what Greg is saying is that without improvements in design, we would never be able to spin the ball like we would normally when it’s dry and the lie is perfect. So, with this new design in a wedge like the Milled Grind 3 (and others!), how can we make sure we have the optimal opportunity to hit these faster-stopping pitch shots?

  1. Make sure the face is clean and dry
  2. Open the blade slightly, but not too much
  3. Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the AoA
  4. Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going

Make sure the face is clean and dry

If your thought is to use spin to stop the ball quicker under any situation, then you must give the club a chance to do its job. When the grooves are full of dirt and grass and the remaining exposed face is wet, then you are basically eliminating any opportunity to create spin. In fact, if you decide to hit the shot under these conditions, you might as well hit a flop shot as this would be the only opportunity to create a successful outcome. Don’t put yourself behind the eight-ball automatically, keep your club in a clean and dry condition so you have the best chance to do what you are capable of doing.

Open the blade slightly, but not too much

Without going into too much extra detail, spinloft is the difference between your angle of attack and your dynamic loft. And this difference is one of the main areas where you can maximize your spin output.

Too little or too much spinloft and you will not be able to get the maximum spin out of the shot at hand. With wedges, people equate an open clubface to spinning the ball, and this can be a problem due to excessive spinloft. Whenever you have too much dynamic loft, the ball will slide up the face (reduced friction equals reduced spin) and the ball will float out higher than expected and roll out upon landing.

My thought around the green is to open the face slightly, but not all the way, in efforts to reduce the probability of having too much spinloft during impact. Don’t forget under this scenario we are relying on additional spin to stop the ball. If you are using increased landing angle to stop the ball, then you would obviously not worry about increasing spinloft! Make sure you have these clear in your mind before you decide how much to open the blade.

Opened slightly

Opened too much

One final note: Please make sure you understand what bounce option you need for the type of conditions you normally play. Your professional can help you but I would say that more bounce is better than less bounce for the average player. You can find the bounce listed on the wedge itself. It will range between 4-14, with the mid-range bounce being around 10 degrees.

Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the angle of attack

As we know, when debris gets in between the clubface and the ball (such as dirt/grass), you will have two problems. One, you will not be able to control the ball as much. Secondly, you will not be able to spin the ball as much due to the loss of friction.

So, what is the key to counteract this problem? Increasing the angle of attack by setting the wrists quicker on the backswing. Making your downswing look more like a V rather than a U allows less junk to get between the club and the ball. We are not using the bounce on this type of shot, we are using the leading edge to slice through the rough en route to the ball. Coming in too shallow is a huge problem with this shot, because you will tend to hit it high on the face reducing control.

Use your increased AoA on all of your crappy lies, and you will have a much better chance to get up and down more often!

Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going

The final piece of the puzzle through the ball is speed through the pivot. You cannot hit shots around the green out of tall grass without keeping the club moving and having speed. A reduction of speed is obvious as the club enters into the tall grass, but you don’t want to exacerbate this problem by cutting off your pivot and letting the arms do all the work.

Sure, there are times when you want to cut off the body rotation through the ball, but not on the shot I am discussing here. When we are using spin, you must have speed to generate the spin itself. So, what is the key to maintaining your speed? Keeping the rear shoulder rotating long into the forward swing. If you do this, you will find that your arms, hands, and club will be pulled through the impact zone. If your pivot stalls, then your speed will decrease and your shots will suffer.

Hopefully, by now you understand how to create better shots around the green using the new wedge technology to create more spin with lies that we had no chance to do so before. Remembering these simple tips — coupled with your clean and dry wedge — will give you the best opportunity to be Tiger-like around the greens!

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