Every golfer is built differently, but in constructing a putting posture that will yield the most successful results, you have to take into account subtle, less obvious differences in build. The most important of these anatomical fingerprints is shoulder lines. When standing naturally, every golfer has shoulders that are either open (left shoulder behind right), closed (right shoulder behind left) or square. Most golfers have open shoulders, and the putting setup that best accommodates this anatomical structure is one that features a cross-handed (left-hand-low) putting grip.
There are a few ways to determine your anatomical structure. The best is to stand in any doorway with your toes set across the carpet seam. Look left, then right. If your left shoulder is farther behind the door jamb than your right, you have open shoulders. A second test is to get into your putting stance, allow your hands to hang naturally, then pull your arms together until your hands meet. If your right hand is outside your left, again you have open shoulders. To accommodate open shoulders in your setup, use a cross-handed putting grip. With the left hand below the right on the handle, your shoulders will automatically square themselves to the target line, resulting in a straighter putting stroke.
Of all the different facets of putting, the setup is the most important. Regardless of the purity of your stroke, your sense of touch or your ability to read greens, you won’t find the bottom of the cup too often if you’re not set up correctly.
Setting up correctly involves not only adopting a fundamentally sound posture, but addressing a putt based on your own anatomical structure as well. Every golfer is built differently and, if these differences aren’t taken into account when you address a putt, you may find the majority of your putts rolling to the right or left of the cup.
One of the main anatomical differences among golfers is shoulder rotation. Believe it or not, every person stands with shoulders that are open, closed or square. The majority of golfers stand with open shoulders, which means that the majority of golfers may benefit from a cross-handed putting grip. Read on to discover why.
If you do everything with your right hand and you swing and putt right-handed, your shoulders are very likely open to your stance line. If you putt and swing right-handed, but you do most other things left-handed, your shoulders are likely closed to your target line. If you do extensive upper-body stretching, your shoulder lines are likely square or closed to your stance line. When you use one hand to do most everything, from eating to opening doors, activity creates a continuous stretching of your dominant side. The lesser use of the non-dominant side of your body creates muscular asymmetry and resulting tension on that side that pulls your shoulders open. Your hips are subject to the same process. I played baseball in my youth and threw about 50,000 pitches in my career. When I stand with the toes of both feet on a line, my shoulders are 1 3__ã4 inches open and my hips are 2 inches open.
Your individual body lines are your anatomical structure and have a great effect on the type of putting setup you should adopt. To determine your anatomical structure, try the following.
Stand in a doorway and place the toes of both feet on a threshold divider or carpet seam. Stand tall and look straight ahead. Slowly turn your head to the right and then to the left without moving your shoulders. Which shoulder is further behind the door jamb, your left or right? If your left shoulder is farther back, then you have naturally open shoulder lines.
Here’s another test: Stand tall and relaxed as you look in a full-length mirror. Notice which of your hands turns in more than the other. If you’re right-handed and your shoulders are open, your left hand will turn in more than your right. The more open your shoulders, the more your left hand will turn in. Notice how much my left hand turns in compared to my right (see opening photo).
No matter how slightly open or closed, your natural shoulder lines have a pronounced effect on your setup and stroke. You must make adjustments for open or closed shoulders. There are two primary adjustments you can make: where in your stance you play the ball or how you position your hands on the grip. For most players, adjusting the grip will produce more comfortable, more positive results.
Assume your current putting setup in front of a mirror. Then, lean your putter on your thigh and let your arms and hands hang relaxed. Notice the orientation of your hands. Do they hang on different lines? Slowly move your hands toward each other without changing the line on which they hang. If they meet, your hands hang neutrally and your shoulders are square to the target line. Most players have their arms and hands out of neutral at address. This out of neutral position imparts sidespin on the ball when you stroke a putt.
Now, move your ball back in your stance an inch at a time. Notice that the further back in your stance you move the ball, the squarer to the target line your shoulders become. Move the ball in your stance until you find the one that sets your shoulders square to the target line. Some golfers can square their shoulders with a forward-of-center ball position. Notice that my ball position has to be back of center in order to square my shoulders.
When you find the ball position that squares your shoulders, again, rest your putter on your thigh and let your arms and hands hang under your shoulders. Notice that your arms and hands hang in neutral and your fingertips meet when you move your hands toward each other. This square shoulders/neutral arms and hands setup will impart the best roll on the golf ball._Ê
Are You A Candidate?
One thing I’ve learned is that golfers feel more comfortable when the ball is positioned forward in the stance. If, in the drill above, you had to move the ball back in your stance in order to achieve square shoulders, you likely felt awkward in your setup and probably felt as if you would push every putt to the right. That’s a perfectly natural feeling.
Your putting setup should be a comfortable setup. That’s why I recommend that, instead of moving your ball position back to set your shoulders square to the target line, you adopt a cross-handed putting grip. Need convincing? Try the following.
Assume your current setup. Note how open your shoulders are to your target line. Now, lower your right hand two inches below your left on the putter grip. Notice how doing so opens your shoulders even more, and how it drops your right shoulder and moves your weight to your back foot.
Go back to your current setup. This time, move your right hand up the shaft so that your hands are on the putter in the same position. Notice how your shoulders begin to square themselves to the target line.
Now, assume a left-hand-low (cross-handed) grip on your putter. Your shoulders should be square to the target line and level. Furthermore, more of your weight should transfer to your front foot.
If your shoulders are closed to the target line in this position, move your ball forward in quarter-turn intervals until your shoulders are square to the target line.
If your shoulders are still a little open to the target line, move your ball position back in quarter-turn intervals until your shoulders are square. Notice how subtle changes in your ball position create large changes in your shoulder lines.
From your new, cross-handed setup position, make a practice stroke. If the putter path is square to the target line, you’ve found the perfect, cross-handed setup.
If the putter path finishes inside or outside of the target line with your left-hand-low grip, fine-tune your setup by opening or closing your stance, depending on where you started. If you started with your stance square to the target line, open your stance a half-inch at a time. The majority of readers will need to move to a maximum of one inch open to find balance. This is due to the fact that in addition to your shoulders being open, your hips are open as well.
Pull your left foot straight back without flaring your toes to the target to open your stance, and be careful not to open your shoulders each time you open your stance a half-inch. As you open your stance more and more, it may appear that your ball position is moving back in your stance. This is an optical illusion. Continue to adjust your stance until the putter path moves down the target line.
Practice your setup in front of a mirror a few minutes each day so that it’s well-rehearsed and automatic when you get to the course. As you well know, thinking your way into your setup will cause missed putts regardless of how good it may be.
Most students adjust quickly to cross-handed putting for short putts, but they struggle with speed control on long putts. Here’s a drill that will give you good speed control on putts of all lengths.
Set up three feet from a hole. While keeping your head as still as possible, make a practice stroke and feel the path down the target line. Find a blade of grass in the back of the hole on your line. Stare at that blade of grass and take a deep breath. As you begin to slowly exhale, bring an image of that blade of grass back to the ball. Hold that image as you stroke your putt. Notice how good your speed is after 10 or 15 putts.
As you perform this drill, make an effort to use consistent grip pressure throughout the stroke. Changes in grip pressure will alter speed, path and face position. In your practice and play, hold the same pressure.
I’ve measured more than 1,000 amateurs, club professionals and Tour players through my golf schools. Only nine of theses players have both hips and shoulder lines that are totally square. These nine players reported an active stretching program, such as yoga or Pilates. Regardless, there’s no right or wrong hip or shoulder line. Just be aware of what your lines are and how they can affect your setup and stroke.
PGA teaching professional and psychologist Dr. David F. Wright instructs at Pelican Hill Golf Club and Ocean Trails Golf Club in Southern California. His Mind Under Par golf schools (www.mindunderpar.com)•__ are recognized as one of the top 25 learning programs in America.