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Pulled In A New Direction? How To Putt Sidesaddle

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Now that the shoe has dropped and the two major governing bodies of golf have announced a plan to ban anchoring in the golf swing, a fair number of golfers and golf fans are left to ask myriad questions, such as “why now?” and “what options do I have?” Enough writers have taken pains to clarify that the anchor point is banned, not the long putter shaft. Hopefully word gets out and assuages the multitude of torn souls whose salvation was heisted. After enough stages of grief have passed, perhaps these former dilettantes of dwarf will consider life beyond the anchor. For them, and as a fellow sufferer, I offer this piece of solace through the maelstrom.

Face The Music

If you saw the golf movie Seven Days In Utopia, based on the book of the same name by David Cook, you know that the protagonist (spoiler alert!) adopted face-on putting to prompt a return to the professional golfing circuit. The question how would you toss a golf ball to the hole is anything but a zen koan; the answer is simple. You would not stand sideways to the hole and toss it under your lead shoulder, as you essentially do with a traditional putting stroke. Instead, just as you shoot a basket, you would square your shoulders to the target and toss the ball underhanded. You would probably come pretty close to the hole, too. Recent history has veiled the identity of the individual who developed face-on putting, but Gary McCord has written about it in golf magazines and Randy Haag (a northern California amateur) has parlayed its use into regional victories and national amateur success at the mid-amateur level. Even PGA Tour player K.J. Choi gave it a try in 2010 in the British Open!

After Sam Snead’s croquet style was ruled non-complying by the USGA in the late 1960s, Snead went to sidesaddle putting. In those days, the longer putter shaft was nearly non-existent, so Snead went to work with a traditional-length putter. He putted well, winning four West Virginia Open championships and three PGA Senior championships with the method. Randy Haag is a champion amateur golfer from northern California and has been putting face-on for more than 16 years. For a look at his competitive record, visit http://randyhaag.com/about/ and locate any wins and honors from 1997 on. Credit those to the switch.

With face-on putting, I suggest that you find a lengthened putter. It might be the belly one that you imagined you’d use to stake your garden, or it might be one a bit longer. Be certain that you don’t anchor your upper hand to your shoulder (remember the ban?), but that you instead find a way to stabilize the upper hand (the fulcrum) below where the club shaft and head swing. If you are a right-handed putter, position your right foot slightly ahead of the left and then work on horizontal and vertical ball position. Horizontal spacing measures how far “out” from your right foot the ball rests, while vertical spacing determines whether the ball is behind, ahead of or even with the tip of your right shoe. Finally, start practicing.

After working for all of three or four sessions on the aforementioned personal putting green, I played 27 holes at a course between Buffalo and Rochester in early December. I was stunned to find the greens stimping at 9 or 10, simulating in-season conditions. To my partner’s amazement, I did not miss a putt inside 10 feet all day. I’ll admit that I didn’t have any long putts with enormous break (the next hurdle), but I did find my long-distance pace rather quickly. One or two of the 50-feet plus putts were pushed a foot or two off line, but the distance was excellent, leaving me with no more than 2-3 feet for the comebacker.

Here’s my check list for a successful side-saddle safari:

  1. Find a putter length with which you feel comfortable. I prefer longer shaft, as I don’t want to bend over and strain my lower back.
  2. Find a putter head that minimizes off-center hit penalties. I changed from an Anser-style head to a Two-Ball mallet for that reason.
  3. Determine if you want to putt with your left or right foot forward, or have both feet even.
  4. Determine where to situate the ball, both vertically and laterally. There are many options here, just as with a regular stance: ball forward, even with toes or behind toes. Ball tight against foot or farther away.
  5. Practice, Practice, Practice. One of the reasons Ernie Els indicated he putted so well with the belly putter was the need for practice. He had putted traditionally for so long that he got lazy and stopped grinding. With the belly putter, there was always enough light at the end of the tunnel that he kept working and kept improving, all the way to a British Open title.
  6. Putt for something. Find great putters and putt against them for sodas or change or golf balls (or big stakes, if you like). You need to simulate the same pressure you’ll feel on the golf course.

Conclusion

I’ve always been a streaky putter and have often told new partners in May, in the midst of taking 40 putts in a round, that I’ll be down to 28 or 30 in a month and that they will be stunned to find me putting so well. I’m quite interested in taking face-on putting to two levels in 2013. I will begin the season with it, then plan to use it in regional qualifiers for New York State and Buffalo District amateur events. My opinion is that friends will give me good-natured grief for using the method. They will be less inclined to continue the banter when I continue to putt lights out. I expect the reaction in the heat of competition to be much less cordial. Assuming that I am able to control my emotions and execute, I anticipate utterances of:

That can’t be legal

Some guys will have no shame and

If I putted like that…

Truthfully, none of that will matter. If I want to get the ball in the hole and shoot the best score I can, and if sidesaddle or face-on or whatever you call it gives me that opportunity, so be it. If they say That’s not a golf swing. I’ll ask them, “Was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook a set shot?” That should quiet the masses. Check back here at GolfWRX.com and learn of my progress.

Click here for more discussion in the “Putter Forum.”

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. John

    Feb 15, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    I have been using this style for 3 months. What I have discovered is:
    Center shaft is best
    Max. lie, 80 deg loft 3 deg or less
    Length, upper arm, parallel , 49″ for me
    Heavy is good, my head is 500 gm
    Boccieri Golf, Heavy putters, Scottsdale built mine and I am very pleased
    Sometimes it seems almost too easy, am surprised the pros are not using.

  2. Ronald Montesano

    Jan 16, 2013 at 5:26 am

    Jeremy, you are correct that the left forearm will not be anchored if the ban is put into the rules. Don’t know if it was conscious or not, but I naturally didn’t press my forearm to my chest, so I guess I’m still legal!

    Bob, that’s an excellent point. It brings a different 180-degree visual spectrum into the moment, so you need to remind those fidgety partners to find their center and stay there…ohm!

  3. Bob

    Jan 13, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    One other thing to consider.
    While facing the hole to putt most players will stand to your side and in your peripheral vision. It’s difficult to retrain your playing partners. Sunglasses with wide temples help.

  4. Jeremy

    Jan 3, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Having putted and studied sidesaddle for many years there are some things to keep in mind:
    1- it is by far the easiest and most consistent way to putt day and day out
    2-kj had everything going wrong for him when he did it in the Open. Wrong putter head, wrong shaft length and wrong stance. I assume that’s why he ditched it after the Open
    3- you can try to use a normal belly or long putter but you will be cheating yourself out of the full impact this style provides. The most lethal shaft is a reverse type similar to the one the putt guru Karl designs out of Vegas. You can look him up
    4- unfortunately. The ban will hurt the easiest and most effective way to sidesaddle because to do it you need to anchor your entire left forearm across your belly (for a right handler) holding out suspended in air like Snead is simply not as stable
    5- a mallet head is by far the best
    6- history has shown you can be the best in the world and putt conventional with proper techniques. I suggest check out Geoff Mangum

  5. asics10

    Dec 30, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    Were you playing Terry Hills? Those green were rolling great even at the end of November.

  6. Rico

    Dec 30, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    What is the rule on how upright the shaft can be in relation to the putter head. This intrigues me because since the the ban is only for anchoring against the body, you can essentially anchor the grip end down the forearm and make the putter an extension of your arm.

  7. loonsailor

    Dec 30, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Thanks for the article. I’m a new golfer, having started just a year ago when I turned 60. I started from the beginning with a belly putter, and pretty quickly settled on a style of looking at the hole, not the ball, as I putt. Works for me, and I have no particular desire to learn to putt in the “traditional” way. Sidesaddle is completely news to me, and I’ll definitely give it a try. It looks quite natural to me.

    In poking around a bit, there are already some putters designed specifically for this. Somebody already mentioned wonderputter.com. In addition, I found the L2 at http://www.laterallineputter.com/, and the PT Sniper at http://ptsniper.net/. The latter is in Japanese only, and there’s not much info on it, but there are a bunch of youtube videos of the L2 and it looks quite interesting. He’s posted a message on his web site that he’ll be making some small changes to the L2, so that it will conform with the new ruling. Has anybody tried any of these special putters? Any comments?

    As to it looking ridiculous, I disagree. It just doesn’t look the way we’re used to. If you gave a ball and a stick to somebody who’d never seen golf, and pointed to a hole, this might very well be what they do with it.

    Thanks again for the enlightening post!

  8. Pat Dearn

    Dec 29, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    I don’t know…it just looks rediculous…

  9. Ronald Montesano

    Dec 28, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Jeff, you may putt with one or two hands. However you putt best and legally, awesome.

    My understanding of the rules proposal is that it will correspond with the next publication of the Rules of Golf. What the PGA Tour does behind closed doors is another ball of wax.

  10. Austin

    Dec 28, 2012 at 7:53 am

    Paul,

    There is discussion amongst the pga tour that an earlier ban may take effect. To my knowledge, there is not any discussion of an earlier ban amongst us mere mortals.

  11. Jeff

    Dec 28, 2012 at 7:29 am

    Are two hands on the putter required, I have been known to stand to the side and putt with only one hand when the feel for the putting stroke has left me.

  12. Paul Cleeve

    Dec 26, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    Have heard that the date of change for the anchor/pivot putter may be as soon as 2013/2014 not 2016, Is this true?
    Have you seen the side saddle/ face the hole putter at wonderputter.com ? originally filmed in Austin, Texas around 1998.

  13. Ronald Montesano

    Dec 23, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    Thank you, Thor. You must have posted your comment as I was typing.

  14. Ronald Montesano

    Dec 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Dan, you are correct. If you read the article closely (at times I struggle with my native language) you’ll note that I discuss lateral distance OUTSIDE of the right foot for ball placement. You’ll also note that the photo of Sam Snead shows him putting sidesaddle. Immediately below the photo is the commentary on the illegality of the croquet/between the legs style. Thanks for your comment!

  15. Thor

    Dec 23, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Dan,

    The Rule reads:

    e. Standing Astride or on Line of Putt
    The player must not make a stroke on the putting green from a stance
    astride, or with either foot touching, the line of putt or an extension of that
    line behind the ball.

  16. dan

    Dec 22, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Is face on legal? Provided you don’t swing between the legs but rather on the side?

    I always thought you couldn’t stand face on.

  17. Ronald Montesano

    Dec 21, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    Thanks, NL and Rufiolegacy. Sometimes the folks who want (but can’t find) an easy fix are the same ones to attribute “easy fix” to a controversial method. If the snow melts, I’ll be out on the course this weekend to continue the experiment.

  18. Rufiolegacy

    Dec 21, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Great article! I built a forearm lock putter when the ban was announced and have been grinding away with it, but I read that book (seven days in utopia) and always wanted to build one. Who knows maybe I will still this year. Good luck, I will be checking your progress

  19. NL

    Dec 21, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    I’ve attended a seminar by David Cook and regret not trying one of his “face-on” putters. Regardless of the putting method, I agree, productive practice is the key. Thanks for the well written contribution!

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Clement: This wrist position can add 30 yards to your drive

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Drop the mic on how the wrists should load and be positioned for compressive power, accuracy, and longevity! There is a better way, and this is it!

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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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An awesome drill for lag that works with the ball!

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Many lag drills have come and gone in this game because they have a hard time working when the ball is there! How many times do you hear about someone having a great practice swing and then having it all go away when the ball is there? This one is a keeper!

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