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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

More About Phil’s Putting Change

A few days ago I talked about the changes Phil Mickelson made to his putting stroke. Since then, more info has come out, plus I was able to watch Phil putt over the weekend. I think now’s a good time to look at the change in more detail.

Specifically, I want to look more closely at that hand position. The original info I had was that Phil was leaning the putter shaft forward, more toward the target. There’s more to it than that.

Phil is, in fact, using a classic technique often called a forward press. Phil isn’t just setting up with his hands more over the ball; he’s actually moving his hands forward to begin his putt. If you think of a typical modern stroke as being a two count, where you take the club back on one and strike the ball on two, then Phil’s stroke is a three count. He moves his hands ahead of the ball, leaning the shaft toward the target on one; then he takes the club back on two, and strikes the ball on three. Understand that the clubhead doesn’t move on one; only the hands and the club handle move, with the clubhead resting on the ground as a pivot point.

This move isn’t used as much today, because modern players tend to keep the wrists firm throughout the stroke. But the forward press has two uses in a putting stroke:
  1. It eases the player into the stroke, making a smoother stroke possible because the player doesn’t have to go from standing motionless directly into the swing. (Some players use this move on their full swing as well, for the same reason.)
  2. It serves a rhythm device, helping a player create a rhythm to the stroke before actually taking the club back.
The interesting thing to me is that Phil says he used to do this, but stopped. He specifically said he was able to see results so soon because it was just a return to his old putting style. Why would he change something that worked so well? Probably because he started working with Dave Pelz, and Pelz didn’t do it. Some of the things I heard Phil say indicated that he felt his forward press was wrong somehow, and that Dave Stockton was the first person to convince him it was ok.

This may be the most important thing you can learn from Phil’s “new” putting stroke, and it’s something I harp on constantly: The best putting stroke for you is probably the one you already have. If you apply the Basic Principles of Good Putting to your existing stroke, you’ll probably find that it works really well without requiring a lot of effort from you. Always go with what’s natural for you unless there’s something really wrong with it… and then change it as little as possible to get the results you want. You’re more likely to see consistent improvement if your stroke is one you feel comfortable with.

A late minute addition to this post: On Tuesday night Dave Stockton spoke to Golf Channel's Scott Walker about the changes to Phil's stroke, and he said the biggest change he caused in Phil's game was getting him to look at the hole longer as he set up, because he wanted Phil to be more aware of the line on which he intended to start the ball. Stockton said that Phil is now looking at the hole for as long as 7 or 8 seconds as he takes his practice swings and "steps into the ball." Obviously Phil is seeing the line better now; he was bogey-free on Sunday.

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