Stroke Fundamentals

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The Easy Part,  Developing a Precision Stroke

Everything Depends Upon the Set-up

This paper assumes ALL he concepts in Part One of this series have been learned and mastered.  This paper is about the mechanics of the stroke.  If your pre-putt set-up has been correctly executed, the stroke is easy.  It is a simple matter of pushing the extended handle back with the left hand and then striking the back of the ball with a GO motion of the extended handle.

Extended Handle

The mental concept of the upper portion of the club (shaft and grip) combines with the forearms to form a solid unit that cannot bend … much like a bent steel rod.  This concept applies to both forearms.  The elbows are tucked close to your sides and act as pivot points.

On the forward stroke the  pushing is reversed.  The right forearm system is accelerated into the back of the ball.  Again, the putter face remains much more square.

The essential concept is “stroke the handle”.  This phraseology is borrowed from Eddie Merrin’s “Swing the Handle” instruction method.  This method extends and integrates into the short game and full swing.

Path of the Putter

The stroke is made by pushing the left forearm straight backwards.  The shoulders pretty much remain in the same place, showing far less movement than in other stroke methods.  Hanging the hands directly under the shoulder joints creates the “monkey arms” situation where the natural direction of the stroke path is straight back and straight through/along the intended target path.  The directional motion is also aided by the use of an extremely weak/open top hand grip position.  A weak grip will prevent the club from following a semi-circular path that leaves the target path which is common to placing both hands square on the grip.  When the grip is too weak, the putter head will tend to move outside the target path.  Simply fiddle with the top hand grip until the putter is moving along the target path.

When the extended handle is moved backward the movement is a hands free motion.  The wrists cannot easily flex or extend.  The entire forearm and shaft “system” moves as a unit.  The face of the putter remains square to the target path limiting the possibility of an off center or misaligned strike on the forward stroke.   

There are two “stroke du jour” stroke models This description is a very different method from that recommended by the Momentous Golf Company or The Putting Arc.  Both models are flawed for the same reason … the putter head is allowed to open and close relative to the target path on all putts, regardless of length of the putt.  Any deviation from square to square creates a very large possibility  for face alignment error at the point of contact with the ball.  Obviously the putter head must begin to follow a curved path at some point, but the goal is to keep it square for as long as possible.  In a practical sense, there is no need for the putter to get off path or misaligned so long as the length of the stroke is between the toes.  Another important point of understanding is to know the face of the putter, and EVERY other factor AFTER ball contact is of zero physical consequence.  Everything you see after contact DOES NOT AFFECT THE ROLL OF THE BALL!  This is not to say the followthru is of NO importance.  The followthru is a good indicator of some of the things that happened on the other side of the stroke.  The critical task is to deliver the face of the club squarely into the back of the ball with an accelerating stroke.

Stroke Styles

There are three basic ways to move the putter ... by using your wrists, by using your shoulder and the method taught here, by moving your arms. Wrist putting was popular when greens were shaggy.  It was kinda like putting on a dog's back.  Today this seems like madness to experienced.  Why madness?  Wrist putting is very inconsistent.  Any little twitch and the ball rolls off line or distance is compromised.  But, there was some method to the madness which can and should be brought forward into today's game.  As greens became smoother and turf science and mowing created faster and more consistent greens, out of necessity, a new putting style came into fashion.  It was poorly described and practiced, for a long time, but has evolved into today's shoulder and arm stroke characterized by a rocking of the shoulders and no wrist movement.

The modern stroke is hands free. This style is a great improvement over the mechanics of the wristy stroke, but something got lost in the process.  Modern players have difficulty striking the back of the ball with an accelerating stroke.  The most important key to keeping the putterface square into the ball is to be accelerating the putterhead into the back of the ball.  This is difficult to do with a pure shoulder and arm stroke.  Another problem comes into play when the shoulders are not squarely aligned to the intended putter path.  The shoulders want to take the putter on one path and the mind is locked on the intended path ... a ticket for complete inconsistency.  Recreational players follow the lead of pros who have the skill and
practice time necessary to overcome the mind/body fight.

The illustration on the right shows the concept of "moving the triangle" by "rocking the shoulders.  While this takes the hands out of the swing, making your stroke motion more consistent, you have to be very careful to keep your head still during the stroke.  Any head movement will throw the stroke motion off.  Additionally, there is a problem with day to day consistency with your distance control.  There are a lot of moving parts with this style of putting.  You have more nerve endings in your hands than your shoulders.  There is not a lot of "feel" to this stroke style.  If your ey3es are not directly over the ball, a rocking stroke will throw the path off line.

Are you a right handed or left handed putter?  How do your control the stroke motion?  Do you "backhand" the putter into the back of the ball?  If so, then the focus of the feel for your stroke needs to be in your top hand.  If you "forehand" the putter, then the focus of your feel needs to be in your bottom hand.  Additionally, your controlling hand needs to be perfectly square to the face of the putter and the putterface must be square to the desired path.  Finally, how you control the stroke should be a consideration in the style of grip you choose.  Four fingers of your controlling hand should be on the club.  For backhanders, the four fingers of the top hand need to be on the club.  For forehanders, four fingers of the bottom hand need to be on the club.  Backhanders should use the normal overlapping grip used for your other clubs.  Forehanders should use a reverse overlap. 

Years of experience have taught this writer the forehanded method is the better choice.  All putts are speed putts.  The feel for speed comes from your fingers and palm.  A good picture of how to forehand putt is that of spanking the back of the ball.  The palm of the bottom hand accelerates into the back of the ball.

There is another way to get the benefits of a shoulder and arm motion AND the feel of a wristy style putt.  The method begins with paying careful attention to your body alignment.  Your knees and shoulders must be parallel to the path.  There must be a bend in both elbows and they need to be relatively close to the body.  In this position they can serve two purposes.  First, they act as "shock absorbers", giving you some margin for error in your movement.  Second, they allow you to move the putter with minimum body movement.  The large shoulder movement of the modern rocking horse style is nearly eliminated.  This is basically a forearm stroke. 

The stroke is made using both arms.  The left forearm pushes the club back away from the ball.  On the foreword  stroke the right forearm pushes the putter forward.  With a little practice, the backwards movement of the putter becomes a subconscious "nothing".  You can focus your attention on the movement of the putter into the back of the ball.  A little poem might help you remember how ... "Blue on Blue, Left Arm Back, Right Arm Through".   As the putter moves back, the flex in the left elbow decreases.  When the putter moves into and through the back of the ball, the flex of the right elbow decreases.  Using this technique opens up a possibility for eliminating any arcing of the putter path.  Because the shoulders have a minimum movement, they cannot influence the direction of the putterhead's movement. 

As an additional technique to the arm stroke method, forehanders might consider using a modified Paul Runyan grip.  He used this technique for chipping, but works even better with putting.  This technique is done by turning the top hand to an extremely weak position.  The bottom hand is placed on the putter in the same, palm square to the putterface and intended path as with other styles.  Putting your top hand on the club in this way eliminates any inside/arc putting.  Your stroke becomes very consistent on the backswing.  So consistent you will be able to ignore the back stroke and focus 100% of your attention to the forestroke.  This makes good since since all putts are speed putts.  It is logical to focus on "striking" the back of the ball. 

Some might ask how striking works with short, downhill, fast putts.  Short putts are mostly a matter of correctly aiming the putterface at the desired target and hitting it firmly (hard enough to roll about 18" past the hole).  The key to distance control is to make a slower and shorter backstroke.  If you aim at the correct target and hit a quality putt, the ball will drop. 

Stroke Rhythm … Squaring the Putter Face

Here comes some good news!  We get to kill two birds with one stone!  Squaring the putter face is a function of your stroke rhythm.  By learning to accelerate the putter head into the back of the ball, you automatically learn to strike the ball squarely and consistently near the sweetspot.  When the act of accelerating the putter head into the ball is mastered, you will make solid putts.  Why this happens is a matter of speculation, but it absolutely does happen.

This makes even more sense when you consider the bigger picture.  When you make your stroke, the direction you want to roll the ball is already determined.  The same goes for your skill … it either exists or it doesn’t.  The ONLY factor over which you have any control, during the actual stroke, is speed.  Even this is largely a product of practice.  But, sense all putts are speed putts and it is the only possible point of control, it makes sense to focus your attention on how hard, not where.  Three things help this. 

First is the fact that you are largely forgiven from stroke path errors.  They simply do not affect the roll to a significant degree.  Second, your pre-putt fundamentals largely determine the path and quality of the roll.  Finally, striking the back of the ball squares the clubface more accurately than trying to control the effort.  All this adds up to solid, consistent putt stroking which frees your mind for feeling the force needed for speed control. It is the closest thing to mindless putting as you can get!

 

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