Push or Pull: What’s your power source when putting?
A big mistake that many amateurs, and even some professionals make when putting is to use their hands to deliver the putter to the ball. These types of players have made it a habit to use hand action to power the putter, which causes very mixed results on today’s faster green surfaces.
Your lead hand controls the face angle at impact; thus, if your lead hand is breaking down or bending, you will never be able to control the direction of the ball as it leaves the blade. To illustrate this point, take your putter and stroke putts with your lead hand only using a slapping, wrist-bending type of motion and you will notice that the initial starting direction of your putts will be scattered. Consequently, if you do the same thing with a firm left hand, your putts will begin more consistently in the direction you’re aiming.
Your rear hand controls the dynamic loft of the blade at impact. Therefore, if your rear hand moves from a bent condition at address into a flat or even arched condition post impact, then you will find that you will increase the loft of the putter. Whenever this happens, it affects the way the ball leaves the blade and tends to create excessive backspin, which actually launches the ball into the air. Obviously, if you add loft to your putter, you will have issues with your speed control. Try hitting putts with your rear hand only, and do not let the angle between your hand and your forearm change. This will keep the loft from changing relative to the setup position. If that angle does change, however, you’ll see how the loft changes, thus adding inconsistencies to your speed.
Our main line of defense to strengthen our consistency on the greens is to improve the quality of our impact alignments and to learn how to power the stroke in the best way for each individual. The best way to check to see if you have quality impact alignments and a sound putting stroke is to look at the hands when they stop moving during the follow through, and check the conditions of your wrists. If the lead wrist is bent and the rear wrist is flat with the club head passing your hands, then you have too much hand action during the putting stroke.
Now, let’s identify which type of putting stroke you tend to have: a push or a pull.
My keys to building a better stroke
Are you a lead-arm puller or a rear-arm pusher? If you don’t know, you will always have trouble controlling your impact alignments during the putting stroke.
If you’re a lead-arm puller then you tend to enjoy faster greens, have a long and flowing putting stroke, better speed control, and better impact alignments. If you’re a rear-arm pusher then you will be better on slower greens and have a more aggressive putting stroke. Most of your problems will come from speed control due to faulty impact alignments.
How do these two sources of power work to create better alignments?
The first type of power source comes from the angle formed between the lead upper arm and the lead shoulder during the backstroke. As this angle moves from an acute condition to an obtuse condition during the downstroke, it is deemed a lead arm pull stroke. The pulling action is a result of using this type of power source and is mostly felt in the back of the lead hand.
When you use this type of stroke — usually reserved for faster greens — your rear hand will remain bent and will always react and be pulled through the stoke by the motions of the lead arm. When using this type of stroke, you will find that a slower tempo is the key — long and flowing putting strokes are usually a result of this type of putting power source.
Players such as Ben Crenshaw, Phil Mickelson (from the left-handed side) and John Daly exemplify this type of stroke pattern. The only problem with using this type of power accumulation during a putting stroke is that if the greens start to slow down, most players have a hard time advancing the ball to the hole.
The second type of power accumulation involves moving the rear arm from a bent condition into a straightening condition through the impact zone with a bent rear wrist: therear arm push stroke. The rear arm is never fully straight during impact, but it is straightening and is only fully straight long after the ball is gone. When the rear arm starts to straighten, with a mandatory bent rear wrist through impact, it powers the putter shaft and transports energy to the ball preserving the effective loft of the putter head. Anytime you keep the rear wrist bent through the ball using the rear arm push stroke, the loft of the putter becomes more consistent through the ball and your speed control will be better.
This type of putting power source is best used when you have a tendency to “slap at the ball” with your rear hand, or for people who tend to have poor speed control. More aggressive putters who putt with less break tend to use this type of stroke for a stronger feel through the ball. Players using this type of motion on Tour include Brandt Snedeker and Nick Price.
What to Do
When golfers are putting well, the stroke and its power seems to flow from both sources (push and pull) simultaneously, and the feels that are derived from this action seem to be very simple in nature; there is little need to focus on the individual sources of power. If you are having trouble with speed control, impact alignments, or fast greens, however, then try one of these two putting styles and you may see better success on the greens.
I usually try to keep my students thinking about as little as possible during the actual stroke, but on the putting green I try to get them to focus on the proper motions that each individual body part must make. This education of the hands and body will allow you to better understand your total motion, as well as the individual pieces.
The key to putting consistency is to understand what your impact alignments do in your stroke and how these alignments are transported based on these two power sources. Take the time to understand these alignments and use the drills listed above to see if you are a rear-arm pusher or a lead-arm puller on the greens. Then practice accordingly.
By Guest Contributor Tom Stickney II