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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Tiger's Putting Change

Tiger got a lot of attention Friday, but not so much for his play as for his putting grip. Normally he uses a reverse-overlap grip, where the forefinger of his lead hand (left hand for a righty, right hand for a lefty) overlaps the last couple of fingers on his trailing hand. Friday he used the interlock grip he normally uses in his full swing.

Here are pictures of the two grips. The first photo of the reverse-overlap grip comes from this page at thesandtrap.com and the second photo of the interlocking grip comes from 1st-beginners-golf-swing-tips.com.

Reverse-overlap putting gripInterlocking grip

Tiger said simply that Steve Stricker does it, and that was good enough for him to experiment with it.

On Golf Central Charlie Rymer tried to explain why Tiger might find this change useful. (Charlie called the original grip a "double reverse-overlap," but that just refers to how many fingers Tiger's forefinger overlaps.) He said that the interlocking grip gave Tiger a bit more flexibility in the wrists, which allowed him to release the clubhead more easily.

Unfortunately, he was completely wrong. In Charlie's defense, he gave the explanation that most teachers would have probably given.

In this post I'm going to tell you why Tiger -- and apparently Steve Stricker -- are using the interlocking grip with their putter.

First, let's get this whole "releasing" thing straight. "Releasing the putterhead" is how many people describe the toe of the putter passing the heel during the stroke. But too many teachers and players are giving the impression that you have to twist your wrists and forearms in order to "release" the putterhead. This is completely wrong, and I suspect it's part of the reason that so many people have trouble squaring the putter at impact.

Here's a diagram I used in my book Ruthless Putting. It shows the putterhead moving as it strokes the ball -- the top one is a straight-line stroke (a la Dave Pelz) and the bottom one an arc stroke (a la Stan Utley). In each case, the little squares in front of the putterhead indicate that the putterface is always at a right angle to the path of the stroke.

How the putterhead releases during the stroke
Now, the putterhead is clearly "releasing" in that bottom stroke -- that is, the toe of the putter passes the heel of the putter. But if you imagine the triangle formed by your shoulders and hands as a flat iron triangle that can't be bent, and you welded the putter shaft to it so the putterface was square at address (the middle position on the diagram), you could make the stroke shown by merely turning around your spine. Your wrists and forearms don't have to twist at all to release the putterhead. If you do, you're just making the game harder than necessary.

The problem many players have is that their lead wrist cups as they hit the ball. That just means the lead wrist bends backward. In fact, the photo of the reverse-overlap grip at the beginning of this post actually shows this player's left (lead) wrist in a cupped position. Many players cup their wrist even more at the moment they hit the putt, and that causes the putterhead to suddenly move upward. As a result, they don't hit the ball solidly.

The reverse-overlap grip doesn't firm up the wrists. In fact, it's the most flexible of any putting grip you can use. It was developed many decades ago, back when greens were slower and players wanted more wrist action so they could "pop" the ball and get it up on top of the grass.

However, if you grip your putter with an interlocking grip, you'll actually reduce the amount of flex in your wrists. There are other grips that also do this, but the interlocking grip lets you get a firmer hold on the club without tightening your grip as much. The interlocking fingers form a mechanical bond between the hands that is reinforced by the shaft, almost as if the shaft was wedged into your hands.

Try it yourself. You'll find that you don't cup your wrist as much with the interlocking grip because you don't have to hold the club as tightly. Or to put it another way, since your wrists are more relaxed, the weight of the club keeps them straighter. The pull of gravity actually keeps you from cupping your wrist.

A light grip is one of the two most important components of a consistent putting stroke. That's why Steve Stricker uses this grip and why Tiger is copying him. And I agree with Tiger -- Stricks hits it pretty good, so he's a good player to copy.

And that, as Paul Harvey would have said, is the rest of the story. ;-)

UPDATE: I finally got to hear some of Tiger's after-round comments in the media center and he said that Stricker's putting grip is essentially a Vardon grip and that he (Stricker) feels as if his left hand controls the putter. Since Stricks is using the same grip for both long and short game, it makes sense that he would recommend Tiger do the same.

3 comments:

  1. I have also seen in YouTube videos and the Golf Channel, that Stricker likes the feel of the heel off the ground, so he putts (and his full swing) with a slight arch to his hands.

    I have not noticed that he uses the same grip for every stroke but it makes sense with his way of playing, which is to simplify the swing.

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  2. I suspect Stricks experiments more than we give him credit for, Lefty. You don't become as skilled as he is without a little exploration to find out what does and doesn't work. Even if it doesn't work or you don't use it during an event, it certainly helps your confidence when you know you're doing it the way you do it best.

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  3. Yes, Sticker does things his way. He's one of the few pros that I am aware of, who uses forearm rotation instead of wrist cock.

    I watch this video

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBYDgLwKwCc&feature=g-like

    to rebuild my full swing and I saw how he uses the same feeling through several types of swings.

    Not surprised that he raises the heel and uses his own grip and is one of the best putters out there.

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