The Myth of the Pendulum Stroke
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This is the first of a series of putting instruction articles you will find helpful to your game. To benefit from this instruction, you will have to crack open your mind just a bit. Golf is filled with myths and bad teaching that sounds really good but will mess up both your game and your head. Putting is the one golf skill that can help your game the quickest. The pendulum putting stroke technique is one of the myths that hurt your game. If you choose to abandon this myth, then you open up the possibility of becoming a really good putter.
Before we begin with the putting, a little advertisement for what you will be reading. This information was once used by a college golf team. It, along with the use of a Master Pre-Shot Routine was the basis for how a team quickly won three of six, finished 2nd in two more and finished the year nationally ranked! This stuff works! This ad is not for the ego of the author, it is for you, the reader’s benefit. Do what you learn and you will get better quickly.
There are a few critical concepts you should understand.
You would be foolish to take such an undisciplined approach in your personal or business life. Style and fundamentals matter. And yes, there are fundamentals for putting just like there are fundamentals for the whole swing. There’s also some very good news! Putting fundamentals can be used to integrate your game into a complete package.
Pendulum putting has some appealing concepts … on the surface. Who wouldn’t want the rhythmic smoothness of a pendulum stroke? Unfortunately there are some solid reasons why this technique doesn’t make sense.
You ask, "What about all those tour pros who swear by the pendulum technique?" The simple explanation is, many of the pros we hear endorsing the pendulum technique are not really doing what they think they are doing and cannot provide a rational basis for why they do what they do. In truth, many professional players are very skilled but ignorant about their technique. They can be victims of the same clichés, myths and bad teaching as everyday players. To quote a pretty good golfer …
There is one thing I wish people would stop talking about and writing about, because I think it causes much confusion in a beginner’s mind. I refer to the theory of the pendulum putting stroke. It has been described and expressed in different ways, but when boiled down, each demonstration resolves itself into a thing absolutely impossible of accomplishment so long as human beings are built as we know them. Bobby Jones
A pendulum is a simple machine and we humans use a far more complex bio-machine! The human machine is not built with the same physical structure as a pendulum. A pendulum hangs from one fixed point and swings back and forth in only one direction. A pendulum also depends upon gravity for its consistent movement. Finally, a pendulum must be started in motion by an outside force.
The main problem with attempting to use the pendulum method is that you will invariably hit at, not through the ball. Very often this causes the putter face to be mis-aligned to the target. Mis-alignment is one of the two biggest problems in putting.
The human putting machine is connected to the club at two points through a system of semi-flexible links. It is a more of a double-pendulum. This system of links can move (and often does) in more than one direction. This system is powered by muscles, which sometimes do what we want and sometimes seem to have a mind of their own!
Putting, like other aspects of the game is best learned in sequential, bite sized pieces that are integrated into a larger motion. When fundamental techniques are learned, you can then move onto other requirements such as reading the green for break and speed.
Be clear, until you can make a repetitive stroke, you are doomed to inconsistency. The ideal stroke technique on modern, well-conditioned greens is the arm and shoulder technique (minimum use of the wrists). Easy to learn mechanical fundamentals exist that will allow you to make a repetitive, dependable, shoulder/arm stroke.
Your first task is to develop the ability to repeat the mechanics of your stroke without mental effort. Basic putting skill is the application of simple techniques that allow you to consistently strike a straight ten-foot putt. There are three mechanical requirements to putting:
1. Move the putter relatively straight back and straight through the "impact zone". Research has proven there is no need to make a perfect stroke. Stroke path errors do not affect a putt as much a clubface direction! Controlling your stroke path is largely a matter of using correct pre-putt fundamentals.
2. Square the putter face to the intended target path at impact.
3. Control the speed of the putt in a manner that assists with the second mechanical requirement. Speed control involves both “feel/touch” and strategy … more on this later.
Controlling BOTH putter face direction and speed is actually one in the same task Because face direction directly affects the direction of a putt and
because stroke path has only a secondary, limited affect, our first requirement is to learn how to strike a putt squarely (relative to the intended target path).
There is an extremely effective method for controlling both face direction and the speed. The technique involves nothing more than controlling the rhythm of the stroke. “Striking” into and through the back of the ball CAUSES the putter to “square up” to the target path! If there is a magic move in golf, this is it!
The technique is as simple as using a “Slowwww andd GO!” rhythm. Please note the tricky spelling and punctuation. “Slowwww” means taking a deliberate and very slow backstroke. “Andd” means using a smooth transition between the backstroke and the forestroke … don’t hurry the forestroke. And GO! Means strike into and through the back of the ball. The time it takes to make the backstroke should be about three times longer than the time it for the forestroke. The length of the forestroke is ALWAYS about three times longer than the length of the backstroke.
Taking a slow backstroke forces you to accelerate the putter. Proof that you accelerated is seen a longer length forestroke. Learning this technique is easy, but it takes intention, focus of attention and discipline.
Learn this stroke technique in parts, on lag putts that are not aimed at any hole. Take away the target and you can focus on your technique.
Part one is to practice making ultra slow backstrokes … you don’t even need a ball. Part two is to learn how to make a smooth transition between the backstroke and forestroke. In the early stages of practice, you might try to make a deliberate, but fractional pause at the limit of your backstroke. Later, you can eliminate this pause. Finally, your most important learning task is to “strike the ball” with an accelerating stroke.
How far the ball rolls will depend on the length of the backstroke, NOT on the amount of power/force you use. All putts will use the same amount of muscular force. Using this technique, “feel” is the same for all length putts … you simply strike through the back of the ball.
Controlling distance becomes a matter of practicing different length putts on different surfaces to learn how much backstroke is required. So, how long should the backstroke be and how do you develop the “touch” needed to control the speed of a putt?
We need to answer the second half of that question first. As you undoubtedly know, practice, practice and more practice is the key. Over time and after practicing on greens of different speeds, you develop a sense of feel. Ultimately, controlling distance is a matter of allowing your subconscious sense of feel to control the length of your backswing. This is something you are probably, naturally, already doing. This technique simply requires a refocus of your attention onto more productive ques.
How do you know if you are doing this technique correctly? You will notice three things. First, you began to feel and become comfortable with the slower backstroke. Second, you began to develop a sense of confidence that you do not need to hurry the forestroke. And most importantly, you will feel a much more centered, solid contact with the ball. You will know where the ball is going before you look up!
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