January 18, 2020- by Steven E. Greer
Putting is a mental exercise. Jack Nicklaus, perhaps the best putter of all time, said recently that putting was all about the attitude of the player. If someone thinks they will make the putt, they will likely make the putt. Jack turns 80 in a few days and still putts better than many PGA Tour players.
In contrast to Jack and Tiger are scores of tour players who have allowed putting to become their nemesis. They have convinced themselves that they have a problem. As remedies, they turn to superstitions and alternative grips. This is very debatable, but I do not think that alternative grips are the solution for the tour player.
I have followed Ryan Armour for three-years, from his last year on the Web.com tour to his PGA Tour career. He is a fellow Ohio State Buckeye and an excellent iron player.
Despite his below-average length, he is above average in his fairway-to-green play. Based on my estimates from the stats available, if he could hole two more putts per round, he would be winning several tournaments per year. But alas, he has succumbed to putting troubles.
I have seen Armour putt great with a normal grip. However, he recently switched to the long-grip-up-the-left-wrist style. He has been missing cuts more than ever.
Yesterday, at the American Express tournament in La Quinta, he started his second round with at least three three-putts (plus a quadruple bogie on a water hole). He will likely miss the cut after today unless he goes low.
The greens out in Coachella Valley now are ideal surfaces and people are rolling in the putts. The greens cannot be blamed.
I fundamentally disagree with the strategy used by so many professional golfers to alter their grip to improve putting. It is a Band-Aid approach. They are not addressing the real cause of their putting problems.
I cannot think of any player who has gone to an unusual grip who is winning tournaments very often. On the senior tour, Bernhard Langer and Scott McCarron do well, but they are flagrantly cheating with anchor putting.
On the regular tour, of the top 20-ranked players only a few have an alternative grip and they putt poorly. They are highly ranked despite bad putting. Adam Scott, Tony Finau, and Bryson DeChambeau are painful to watch putt. Bryson is such a mental case on the greens that his slow play has become the case example for PGA rules reforms.
Only one player in the top 10 rankings, Tommy Fleetwood, has an alternative grip. In contrast, the best players now, and of all time, have always used traditional grips (I consider left-hand-low to be a traditional grip).
Putting is a very simple act. It does not require the complex body movements of a full swing. A small child can putt well.
The main reason that people start missing putts and losing confidence is that they make fast jabby backswings. They are uncomfortable starting the stroke and then panic.
For all of these PGA pros who feel they need to go to alternative grips, I would love to coach them and have them do one simple drill: Using a regular grip, I would have them take the club back about four-inches farther in the backswing than normal. When one does that, the brain feels that it will hit the ball too far, so it forces the entire swing to slow down and become a smooth stroke like John Daly.
I would also focus the struggling tour player on how they start the putt. I am a big fan of elevating the putter like Ricky Fowler. It is something I invented on my own before I knew others did it.
I fundamentally disagree with the whole premise that one can fix their putting by avoiding the underlying psychological anxiety and simply going to a new grip. The anxiety remains. The short, fast, backswing remains. The beneficial effect of a new grip wears off quickly.
In the medical field, there are numerous psychiatric “diseases” that are bogus and man-made. ADHD, for example, is a label slapped on young kids that harms them for life. I view alternative putting grips as being similar to a wrong mental diagnosis. Once one throws in the towel and goes to a weird grip, they have labeled themselves as being handicapped.
All of my comments above refer only to tour pros. Many recreational golfers do indeed have medical issues or shaky nerves and will benefit from alternative grips. Even if they do not, then the band-Aid effect of a new putting grip style will shave a few strokes. They are not trying to win tournaments and exceptional putting is not required. Compromises and life-hacks are OK.
However, for the PGA player, all of them are good athletes in good health. None of them have any neurological problems requiring anchor putters or claw grips. They should not be surrendering to an easily fixable anxiety issue. Some coach somewhere has allowed them to become misdiagnosed.
I would like to see the PGA Tour limit putting shaft lengths to outlaw any sort of long grip. I would also strictly enforce the speed of play. (The voodoo perpetrated by sports psychologist quacks that causes players to spend three-minutes lining up a putt is the topic for another essay.)