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The Case for Putting Instruction Part 2: Fundamentals and Drills

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Last month I tried to persuade readers to treat the flat stick with respect when it comes to practice and lessons (You can read it here). In this follow up, I’ll address the so-called fundamentals of putting — grip, alignment, posture and ball position. You’ll also find some useful drills to help you practice putting with concrete objectives and feedback at home or at the course.

Keep in mind that while this piece is somewhat long, many of these ideas are the ones that have been the foundation of great putting careers of players like Payne Stewart and Zack Johnson and countless players who used the SeeMore putting system only in training because their staff contracts with other equipment manufacturers.

Grip

We only need to turn on the Golf Channel, or read articles about ongoing debate over anchoring to know that the putting grip is the most hotly debated topics in golf right now. I am not going to address the validity of belly or long putters here, because that’s not the purpose of this article. As far as a conventional putting grip goes, rule No. 1 is that the hands should oppose each other (as if palms were facing each other) because we don’t want either side fighting the other.

It’s notable that Tiger Woods recently regained his putting prowess after Steve Stricker pointed out that the stronger left hand grip Tiger uses for his full swing had crept into his putting. Once Tiger neutralized his grip so his hands were facing each other, he started putting lights out again. Rule No. 2 is that the club should rest in the fingers of both hands with minimal tension. A phrase I use with my juniors is “hot dog in the bun.” This will have a few positive effects — it will prevent your rear hand (the right hand for right handed golfers) from rolling over the front during the stroke, which can easily happen when you hold the grip in your lifeline. It will also get the shaft of the putter to look like an extension of your forearms (when viewed from behind) — a key to a consistent stroke. What many golfers don’t know is that good posture at address can greatly reduce the effect of the rear hand in the stroke, but I’ll get to that in a moment. So, to summarize, the keys to a conventional putting grip are hands facing each other and grip cradled in the fingers with minimal tension.

Alignment

There are great players who have not lined their body up parallel to the target line when they putted. Jack Nicklaus used an open stance and Jim Furyk stands closed to the target line. The point I try to make to my students (as kindly as possible) is that none of them have the combination of a PGA Tour player’s long-term muscle memory, practice time and physical gifts. Most amateurs need a simple and neutral putting stance because that makes it easy to repeat under pressure with a limited practice schedule.

Standing parallel to the target line with your eyes and shoulders parallel sets you up to make a simple and repeatable stroke without any manipulation. The real alignment key is that the putter absolutely must be aimed at your intended target because face angle, not path, exerts the majority of control over the direction the ball travels.

The first step is to figure out whether you are in fact aiming at your target. The first thing I do with my students is measure their alignment using a device made by SeeMore called the Triangulator which can be purchased for $15 on the company’s website. There are a variety of laser aiming devices that are much more expensive, but the Triangulator does the job just as well. The vast majority of players I work with, including low handicap amateurs and a few professionals, aimed substantially wide of their target on a ten foot putt when I first measured them.

Once you establish what your aiming fault is, you can begin working to correct the alignment of your body and the club face. I use a SeeMore putter and encourage my students to do the same because they are the only putters that help a golfer learn to consistently line up the club and their body while they practice, and keep them on track while they play. So, if you wanted two catch phrases for the keys to putting alignment, they are “putter face aimed at the intended target” and “eyes, shoulders and feet parallel to the target line.”

Posture

Good posture is probably the most important element of great putting. In the mid to late 20th century, grass on greens was longer and professionals and amateurs had to give the ball a pop with their wrists to get it out of its depression on the green and rolling on the putting surface. Advances in technology created faster and firmer putting surfaces and rendered that method useless. To make the consistently smooth stroke required on modern greens, we have to be able to rotate our shoulders around our spine, and to do that our shoulders have to be in line, not slouched. The sensation should be that the muscles between your shoulder blades are pulling them back so your shoulders are straight.

The more a player slouches their shoulders, the greater the chance the small muscles in their forearms, wrists and hands will take over the stroke because the shoulders can’t turn, especially under pressure. Excellent posture is what almost all of the great putters currently on Tour share. Along with changing his grip, Tiger correcting his posture was the thing he attributed to his putting renaissance this season. Tiger is the model of good putting posture and we should all emulate him at address. For simplicity’s sake, the catch phrase for posture should be “shoulders back, 45 degree bend at the waist.” You may find that you need a longer putter after adopting this posture.

Ball Position

Conventional wisdom in putting has been that the ball should be positioned off of the heel of the foot closest to the target — the left foot for a right-handed player. The problem with this is that if the player’s posture is good (as described above) and he is standing with his shoulders aimed at the target, his hands should hang naturally, straight down from his sternum. If the ball is positioned off of his front foot, the player has to make a compensation to get his hands over the ball at address. One of the great benefits of the Rifle Scope Technology used on every SeeMore putter is that the putter itself will tell you when your hands and head are directly over the blade — when you hide the red dot and trap the shaft between the white lines. To make a smooth stroke that is based on shoulder rotation and not hand manipulation, the putter should be in the center of your stance and the ball just to the left. The result is a solid, relaxed and neutral set up that is easy to repeat and because it is free of manipulation. Your ball position key should be “ball just left of center, eyes over the heel of the putter.”

photo 1 (1) photo 2

A Few Drills

Practice drills serve two purposes — there are those that help a player groove technique, and there are those that help him learn how to perform by simulating the pressure of playing situations during practice. Both are useful, but you have to know what you’re trying to accomplish before you decide how to spend your time.

One of my favorite drills is to have a student practice rolling a ball down a metal yardstick to a cup or target. The best part of the drill is that you can use the back edge of the ruler to confirm proper aim and alignment before you hit the putt. You can also use it to get visual feedback that you are making a good arc practice stroke before hitting a putt. Using the SeeMore Triangulator (above and below) also helps identify and confirm proper alignment.

photo 4 photo 5 (1)

The ladder drill (above left) is probably my favorite pressure simulation drill. If you want to learn how to make short putts when they matter, being able to make it around a circle of 12 tees from varying lengths, holing putts of different speed and breaks is the best way to test your nerve. You can also adjust the length of the putts or set them up on more severe slopes to increase the difficulty.

A Pair of Trained Eyes

I hope these fundamental and drills will lead you toward more effective practice. Remember to check in with your local putting teacher whenever you need help. Putting may not seem as technical as the full swing, but as I think I demonstrated this piece and in Part 1, putting is more important to your overall scoring than any other part of your game and we all need a pair of trained eyes to help us accomplish those things as often as possible.

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Paul Kaster was selected by U.S. Kids Golf as one of the top 50 Kids Teachers in the world in 2017 and was named by Golf Digest as one of the top teachers in New Jersey for 2017-2018. He learned the game on Chicago’s only 18-hole public golf course, Jackson Park G.C., and went on to play Division I college golf, and on mini tours including the Tar Heel Tour (now EGolf Tour), and the Golden Bear Tour (now Gateway Tour). After suffering a wrist injury, he left the golf business to pursue a career in the law but after passing two bars and practicing for several years decided to return to golf to share his passion for the game and for learning with his students. He is a a level II AimPoint certified putting coach, a member of Foresight Sports’ Advisory Board, Cobra-Puma Golf’s professional staff, Proponent Group, and is a National Staff member with the SeeMore Putter Company. Paul coaches his clients out of a state of the art private studio located in Little Silver, NJ, featuring a Foresight GC Quad simulator and putting software, K-Coach 3D system, and Boditrak pressure mat. His studio is also a SeeMore Tour Fitting location and features a fully adjustable putting table that Paul uses to teach putting and fit putters. Website: www.paulkastergolf.com

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. matt S.

    Jan 7, 2016 at 12:04 am

    I find that if I follow the rifle scope with my eyes while putting, I can’t miss…but I hear that you should keep your head straight. What are your thoughts on where the eyes should be before, and during your stroke?

  2. rtylerg

    Apr 26, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Hi Paul,
    Tyler here. This article has got me questioning my current putting technique. I’ve been trying to incorporate a traditional “life line” of the hands putting grip. However you say that it’s better to have the grip in the fingers and the hands facing each other. I’d like to learn more about this grip style. Can you describe in detail how you grip the putter in this method? Thanks!

    • Paul Kaster

      Apr 26, 2013 at 8:35 pm

      Hi Tyler, thanks for the question. To grip the club in the fingers, start by setting up with proper posture (shoulders back, 45 degree bend at the waist). Then, whether you interlock, reverse overlap, etc., you just set the grip in the first joints of the fingers (between the first and second row of phalanges) in both hands. Cradling the grip this way, you should be able to support the putter and make a natural stroke by turing your shoulders, even without your thumbs on the grip (see the first photo above). All you need to do after this is naturally set the thumps on the top of the grip with minimal tension and your hands should be facing each other. Putting in this position, putter should naturally rotate on an arc and square itself at impact when you turn your shoulders. Using a center shafted putter will definitely help as well. Good luck!

      • Caddy

        May 8, 2013 at 11:09 am

        I can let you know I have played with and caddie for Paul and he used to putt in the palm ………I’m glad he’s using this finger method because I have started doing it as well and my putting is super nice now………as for the first comment this is no PR stunt Paul feels strong about the Seemore line up system its like a helper in pressure situations

  3. Stan Couples

    Apr 25, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    nice article – the question that everyone needs to ask themselves is “do you know why you putt that way?” I believe most people can not answer this question. Paul here has a system or an idea why he putts a certain way and teaches it.

    • Paul Kaster

      Apr 26, 2013 at 8:17 pm

      Thanks Stan! I think you’re exactly right about knowing how and why we putt the way we do. I chose this method because I’d always been a very streaky putter and this made me much more consistent and confident under tournament pressure. I was so impressed, I decided to become a certified instructor. If one’s putting method amounts to a collection of conventional wisdom and tips picked up along the way, there is nothing coherent or solid to reach for when things go wrong.

  4. Pingback: Las ridículas expectativas que tenemos los golfistas | Golf76.com

  5. Nice PR campaign

    Apr 25, 2013 at 10:26 am

    A bit too much of a “one size fits” all opinion article.
    Why make everything so “convential” if the golfer has to rebuild, relearn and hope it works better? I need to see some data and evidence that one size fits all.

    • Paul Kaster

      Apr 25, 2013 at 2:33 pm

      Thanks for your feedback. I’d address you by name, but I noticed you chose not to give it. Over 235 teachers internationally have chosen to teach this system because it works for them and for their students. There is very little rebuilding involved because the system is premised on neutral and natural posture. The purpose of the article was to give readers a chance to see what the SeeMore putting system is about, and whether it can work for them. Give it a try, you might just find you make more putts!

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Instruction

The Wedge Guy: Short game tempo

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One of my favorite things to do is observe golfers closely, watching how they go about things from well before the shot to the execution of the swing or stroke. Guess the golf course has become kind of like going to the lab, in a way.

One thing I notice much too often is how “quick” most golfers are around the greens. It starts with grabbing a club or two from the cart and quickly getting to their ball. Then a few short jabs at a practice swing and usually a less-than-stellar result at a recovery.

Why?

If you are going to spend a morning or afternoon on the course, why hurry around the greens? I tend to be a fast player and despise five-hour rounds, but don’t fault anyone for taking a few seconds extra to get “right” with their recovery shot. You can still play “ready golf” and not short yourself in the close attention to execution. But let me get back to the specific topic.

Maybe it’s aggravated by this rush, but most golfers I observe have a short game tempo that is too quick. Chips, pitches and recoveries are precision swings at less than full power, so they require a tempo that is slower than you might think to accommodate that precision. They are outside the “norm” of a golf swing, so give yourself several practice swings to get a feel for the tempo and power that needs to be applied to the shot at hand.

I also think this quick tempo is a result of the old adage “accelerate through the ball.” We’ve all had that pounded into our brains since we started playing, but my contention is that it is darn hard not to accelerate . . . it’s a natural order of the swing. But to mentally focus on that idea tends to produce a short, choppy swing, with no rhythm or precision. So, here’s a practice drill for you.

  1. Go to your practice range, the local ball field, schoolyard or anywhere you can safely hit golf balls 20-30 yards or less.
  2. Pick a target only 30-50 feet away and hit your normal pitch, observing the trajectory.
  3. Then try to hit each successive ball no further, but using a longer, more flowing, fluid swing motion than the one before. That means you’ll make the downswing slower and slower each time, as you are moving the club further and further back each time.

My bet is that somewhere in there you will find a swing length and tempo where that short pitch shot becomes much easier to hit, with better loft and spin, than your normal method.

The key to this is to move the club with the back and through rotation of your body core, not just your arms and hands. This allows you to control tempo and applied power with the big muscles, for more consistency.

Try this and share with all of us if it doesn’t open your eyes to a different way of short game success.

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The Wedge Guy: The core cause of bad shots

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You are cruising through a round of golf, hitting it pretty good and then you somehow just hit an absolutely terrible shot? This isn’t a problem unique to recreational golfers trying to break 80, 90, or 100 — even the best tour professionals occasionally hit a shot that is just amazingly horrible, given their advanced skill levels.

It happens to all of us — some more frequently than others — but I’m convinced the cause is the same. I call it “getting sloppy.”

So, what do I mean by that?

Well, there was a USGA advertising campaign a while back feature Arnold Palmer, with the slogan “Swing Your Swing.” There’s a lot of truth to that advice, as we all have a swing that has — either frequently or occasionally – produced outstanding golf shots. While there is no substitute for solid mechanics and technique, I’ve always believed that if you have ever hit a truly nice golf shot, then your swing has the capacity to repeat that result more frequently than you experience.

The big question is: “Why can’t I do that more often?”

And the answer is: Because you don’t approach every shot with the same care and caution that you exhibit when your best shots are executed.

To strike a golf ball perfectly, the moon and stars have to be aligned, regardless of what your swing looks like. Your set-up position must be right. Your posture and alignment have to be spot-on. Ball position has to be precisely perfect. To get those things correct takes focused attention to each detail. But the good news is that doing so only takes a few seconds of your time before each shot.

But I know from my own experience, the big “disrupter” is not having your mind right before you begin your swing. And that affects all of these pre-shot fundamentals as well as the physical execution of your swing.
Did you begin your pre-shot approach with a vivid picture of the shot you are trying to hit? Is your mind cleared from what might have happened on the last shot or the last hole? Are you free from the stress of this crazy game, where previous bad shots cause us to tighten up and not have our mind free and ready for the next shot? All those things affect your ability to get things right before you start your swing . . . and get in the way of “swinging your swing.”

So, now that I’ve outlined the problem, what’s the solution?

Let me offer you some ideas that you might incorporate into your own routine for every shot, so that you can get more positive results from whatever golf swing skills you might have.

Clear your mind. Whatever has happened in the round of golf to this point is history. Forget it. This next shot is all that matters. So, clear that history of prior shots and sharpen your focus to the shot at hand.

Be precise in your fundamentals. Set-up, posture, alignment and ball position are crucial to delivering your best swing. Pay special attention to all of these basics for EVERY shot you hit, from drives to putts.

Take Dead Aim. That was maybe the most repeated and sage advice from Harvey Penick’s “Little Red Book”. And it may be the most valuable advice ever. Poor alignment and aim sets the stage for bad shots, as “your swing” cannot be executed if you are pointed incorrectly.

See it, feel it, trust it. Another piece of great advice from the book and movie, “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days In Utopia”, by Dr. David Cook. Your body has to have a clear picture of the shot you want to execute in order to produce the sequence of movements to do that.

Check your grip pressure and GO. The stress of golf too often causes us to grip the club too tightly. And that is a swing killer. Right before you begin your swing, focus your mind on your grip pressure to make sure it isn’t tighter than your normal pressure.

It’s highly advisable to make these five steps central to your pre-shot routine, but especially so if you get into a bad stretch of shots. You can change things when that happens, but it just takes a little work to get back to the basics.

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Stickney: To stack or not to stack at impact?

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As you look at the impact positions of the best players in the world, you will find many different “looks” with respect to their body and club positions. Some of these impact positions might even appear unique, but don’t be fooled. They all have one thing in common: preserving the players’ balance throughout the impact interval! In fact, if you are not in-balance, then you will lose power, consistency, and have trouble controlling your launch dynamics from shot to shot.

This balance is a necessary key to playing well and one area that can be easily understood with a few graphics shown on GEARS 3D. As you examine the photo in the featured image, you can see a few things:

  • The player on the left has “fallen” backwards through impact slightly moving his head out of the circle established at address
  • The player on the right is more stacked at impact — meaning that his chest, zipper and hands are all in the same place at the same time (within reason)
  • The player on the left has reached this same position in the swing with different segments of the body reaching the ball at different times
  • There will be a difference of impact shaft lean between the two players due to one player reaching impact “together” and the other shoving his hands more forward as he falls back
  • The player on the right is more “connected” through impact…won’t be the longest hitter but will be able to find the ball in the fairway more often
  • The player on the left is putting more pressure on the rear portion of the lower back which could have a potential for injury if he’s not careful

Now, obviously there are pro and cons to both positions. Overall, if you want to be consistent and in-balance more often that not, I would suggest you try your best to focus on being “stacked” when you hit the ball.

Let’s dive in a touch deeper to show you what happens physiologically on 3D when you fall back through impact and I think it will really drive the point home.

  • At address notice the Vertical Spine Number 96.2, this is showing us where the spine is positioned at address
  • You can see the head is in the center of the bubble

  • On the way to the top of the swing you can see that the spine has moved “away” from the target laterally a slight bit to 98 degrees
  • The head has dropped downward and has also moved laterally as well- more lean over the right leg to the top

Now here is where the problem comes in…as you work your way to the top, it’s ok of your head moves a touch laterally but in transition if it stays “back” while your hips run out from under you then you will begin to fall backwards on the way to your belt-high delivery position.

  • We can see at the delivery position that the spine has continued to fall backwards as the hips rotate out from under the upperbody
  • When this happens the hands will begin to push forward- dragging the handle into the impact zone
  • Whenever you have too much spin out and fall back the hands move forward to accommodate this motion and this reduces your Angle of Attack and decreases your dynamic loft at impact
  • This will cause balls to be hit on the decent of the club’s arc and reduce loft making shots come out lower than normal with a higher spin rate and that means shorter drives

Now let’s examine impact…

  • The player on the left has reached impact in a more disconnected fashion versus the player on the right as you compare the two
  • The player on the right has a shaft lean at impact that is less than a degree (.75) while the player on the left has a much more noticeable forward lean of the shaft thereby reducing dynamic loft at impact

  • The player on the left’s spine has moved from 96.2 to 112.9, a difference of 16.7 degrees while the player on the right has only moved back a few degrees. We know this because his head has stayed in the bubble we charted at address
  • The hips have run out from under the player on the left in the downswing and this causes the head to fall back more, the hands to push forward more, and the impact alignments of the club to be too much down with very little dynamic loft (as also shown in the photo below)

Whenever the hips turn out from under the upper body then you will tend to have a “falling back effect of the spine and a pushing forward of the hands” through impact.  Notice how the hips are radically more open on the player on the right versus the left- 27.91 versus 42.42 degrees.

So, now that we can see what happens when the hips spin out, you fall back, and you fail to be “stacked” at impact let’s show you a simple way you can do this at home to alleviate this issue.

  

  • A great drill to focus on being more stacked at impact is to make slow motion swings with the feeling that the upper portion of your arms stay glued to your chest
  • These shots will be full swings but only 20% of your total power because the goal here is connection which allows everything to reach impact together and in-balance
  • The second thought as you make these swings is to pay attention to your head, if you can focus on allowing it to stay “over the top of the ball” at impact you will find that it will stay put a touch more so than normal. Now this is not exactly how it works but it’s a good feeling nonetheless
  • Once you get the feeling at 20% speed work your way up to 50% speed and repeat the process. If you can do it here then you are ready to move up to full swings at top speed

Finally, don’t forget that every golfer’s hips will be open at impact and everyone’s head will fall back a touch — this is fine. Just don’t over-do it! Fix this and enjoy finding the ball in the fairway more often than not.

Questions or comments? [email protected]

 

 

 

 

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