Who'll Bring Back Side-Saddle Putting?
HAVEN, Wis. -- There is a smorgasbord of putting methods on display at the U.S. Senior Open. I've seen long putters, belly putters and traditional-length putters, claw and saw and crosshanded grips, smooth strokes and shaky ones. Des Smyth finished 36 holes at 5-under using a long putter, while Ben Crenshaw got to the same number using the kind of old-fashioned blade that was in vogue in 1967 -- both in pursuit of Tom Watson (8-under), whose has stubbornly stayed traditional on the greens.
Now I haven't seen all 156 players in the field, so I can't be sure, but I believe there is one putting style that isn't in use: side saddle, a la the late Sam Snead, who used it pretty effectively in his latter years after the USGA banned his croquet putting. Perhaps the longer shafts and creative grips to stave off nerves have made it a moot point, but side saddle is a pretty natural way to way to roll a putt, when you think about it. When I had the privilege of playing with Snead when he was 84, he sure came through with it when he had to, when the $20 was on the line.
I recall a practice-green conversation earlier this year at a Champions Tour event with Snead's fellow Virginian, Curtis Strange, who has remained a tried-and-true traditionalist in competition (he's ranked 11th in putting average in 2007, so he's still capable on the greens). But he confessed to having always been intrigued with Snead's method and having had a putter custom-made to facilitate a side-saddle stroke. He said that he makes a lot of putts with it practicing at home. As if to prove it, he took his regular putter, did his best Snead imitation and casually canned a couple of eight-footers.
Don't expect Strange to go side saddle on the senior tour any time soon, but I wonder if anyone else will? Everything old in golf is new again at some point. I wouldn't bet against it.
-- Bill Fields