I've forgotten more about bad putting than all the lousy putters in the firmament combined. My mind has been twisted into an incurable, disturbing venue of bad speed and inadequate line. I just want to go out and not feel like I'm putting a Rubik's Cube with a flimsy piece of rope. I'm nearsighted in my right eye, have glaucoma in my left, and the nerves in my hands are on Medicare. Basically, I'm on the wrong end of a short sale.
But epiphanies come when you least expect them. I was on a recent sabbatical and visiting the Insufferable Maladies Rest Home (name changed to protect the elderly) when I got involved in a raucous game of shuffleboard with the local clientele. They were slinging the puck down the slab with a grace and form that was downright elegant. They stood tall, faced the target and used a one-arm propulsion method designed for efficiency. There was no worrying about the stroke, whether it was down the line or arched or low to high. It was a natural movement in a convoluted world, and these people are the grandparents of the guys on the Champions Tour. I thought, There is hope!
I immediately went out and got a long (44-inch) putter, bent it upright to 10 degrees off perpendicular (the Rules say the shaft has sit at a minimum of 10 degrees to the ground) put my left hand on the grip with the thumb on the butt end. I let my right hand fall down the shaft until my arm was almost straight. I placed my feet, with my right foot several inches farther forward, on the inside of my target line (again, for Rules conformity) and then leaned to my right until my eyes were over the line. I took the putter back with no concern for where the putterhead was going and swung it like I was pitching a ball to the hole. I missed my first 4-footer 16 inches wide and seven feet long. Seriously, I couldn't believe how good it was. I knew I was on to something!
Let's get one thing straight. If you are going to make a change, don't go halfway. Make it with conviction and stick with your new idea. Ignore the scoffers. Remember, it is a law of nature that if something is different you're going to be taunted, jeered, and told the world is flat. Let the doubters fall off the edge.
So here's what I discovered: The new world order is face-on putting, or FOP. It's math without numbers, light without a switch, Mel Gibson without anger management. What makes it so great? The simplicity: You move only your right arm (for righties), like you're rolling a ball to the target, with your eyes looking directly at the hole (not from the side, like in traditional putting). You can even look at the hole when you putt. Hey, we're making up new rules here.
FOP is not actually new, though we haven't had any original thoughts on it since Bob Duden introduced a form of the method in the 1960s and Sam Snead
followed with his sidesaddle style a few years later. I played with Sam in the final group on Saturday at the 1979 Quad Cities Open, the year he shot a 67 and a 66 at age 67. His putting was a miraculous, mind-jarring thing to witness and became embedded deep within the folds of my cerebellum. K.J. Choi
made the leap to FOP in the summer of 2010, albeit one that was aborted in mid-air. Nevertheless, I was committed to finding out all I could about it. In the words of Albert Einstein, "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new." I had to dig deeper.
I asked around my golfing circles, and, of course, did the requisite Googling to try to find out two things: (1) If face-on putting makes sense and (2) What's the best way to do it. I found some great information on the web site of Karl Higham (puttmagic.com
). Higham taught himself a version of FOP back in the 1950s. His web site contains research by Dr. Gideon Ariel, founder of Ariel Dynamics and a world-renowned authority on biomechanics. In Dr. Ariel's study of sidesaddle versus traditional putting, he states, "The sidesaddle style significantly reduced the upper body range of motion, shoulder rotation and total body motion needed to execute a successful putt. This reduction of putting movement... would indicate that it uses more efficient putting mechanics while reducing the potential for variability/error in the lateral direction of the putt." I assumed this meant it's good.
In my insatiable quest for knowledge, I perused Dave Pelz's Putting Bible and found a relevant section: "[A fellow came to me] standing beside the putting line facing the hole and swung the putter along a perfect vertical pendulum, with his top hand and the top of the putter tucked under his armpit. He leaned over to set his eyes directly over the putting line, then balanced his weight by extending one foot away from the line. This sidesaddle technique produced the consistently best putting I've ever seen, and it's legal." I was starting to believe. I was at the fountains of knowledge, and it was time to take a drink.
Also time to come clean: This all happened in early 2008, when in July I actually switched to FOP for a Champions Tour event with mixed results (I blame the ridicule from players and fans). I worked on FOP for a while, feeling like a crash-test dummy. People in the gallery at tour stops must have thought David Feherty, my twisted CBS colleague, had finally gotten to me. But I kept playing with it, knowing it's the most efficient putting method. Now two years later, I'm still trying to perfect it and push away the nay-sayers. You do need a special putter--go online to find several manufacturers who make them--although you can try it out by bending a long putter more upright as long as it has a curved sole. I don't putt face-on exclusively, but in the back on my mind I'm haunted by the notion that I'm sure it's the best way to putt.
If your putting is lousy, give face-on putting a try. Guzzle the Kool-Aid. This will be the single most disruptive moment in your putting life. FOP isn't going away, but using it, I think my putrid putting finally might.
Gary McCord is a Golf Digest Professional Advisor.