A longtime student asked me at the end of last year's season, “Jim – if you had to pick one thing that would be the fastest way for most amateur golfers to achieve dramatic improvement in their putting, what would it be?” My answer – improve your Supershort putting ability (18” to 5 foot long putts) by switching to an special Short Putt grip that greatly reduces the chances of altering your putterface angle, either by flipping the wrists or rolling the forearms. This type of grip will also make it much more difficult to “yip” during your stroke. These Supershort putts are how you save par or bogey many times per round, and for the better player, can sometimes be birdie putts, especially on par 5's.
The Short Game of great players has traditionally featured many adjustments to stroke elements like ball position, grip pressure, amount of wrist cock, degree of shoulder turn, etc depending upon the type of shot the player intends to hit – trajectory, distance and spin are the main elements. Yet whenever golfers walk onto the putting surface, the assumption is that “OK, here I am on the green, so I have to use the same grip, stance, and stroke – no matter if I am facing an 18” putt or a 75 foot putt.” That just makes no sense to me. A Supershort putt of 18” to five feet has almost nothing in common with that 75 foot putt. The 75 footer is all about distance control – not line control, and the short putt is the exact opposite case, it is all about line control, and distance control is a side issue.
In other words, you generally miss a Supershort putt because of poor line control (caused by poor face angle control), not distance control. And you MUST make the three footer, or else you will rightly conclude that a miss is a complete waste of a stroke. That kind of internal emotional stress and pressure, of course, makes it more likely that you will “flinch” a little bit, usually by tightening your grip pressure or by changes to the muscle tension in your wrists and forearms, any of which will change your putter face angle from square to either open or closed, thus causing you to miss the putt.
I have been teaching this special grip for short putts now for over ten years and the feedback I am getting from students is truly amazing. Most will use it on all their putts from about 10 feet and in, and some have even found superb results out to as far as around twenty-five feet. There are many kinds of grips that can work: the Claw, the Paintbrush, Left Hand Low, Split Hand Left Hand Low are a few of the types you will see on the PGA Tour. (You can find photos and videos of these on the Web.)
Paddy Harrington's grip is a little bit Split Hand Left Hand Low with the left palm facing about on a 45 degree angle toward the sky, kind of “under” the shaft. This is the grip that I personally use, and I use it from 15 feet and in on average speed greens, about 18 feet and in on very fast greens.
The main features of all of those grips is that they isolate and weaken two common body parts that can wreck a short putting stroke: forearm rotation and wrist flipping. Bio-mechanically, these grips make it almost impossible to do either of those two common flaws. They also feature a firmer grip pressure than most amateurs employ in their traditional reverse overlap putting grip. That firmer pressure, about a six to seven on a one to ten scale, also reduces wrist flipping and forearm rotation. Be sure you don't grip so firmly however that you lose feel for the weight of the putter head, which is vitally important sensory feedback that your brain/mind needs in order to achieve proper distance control, i.e. length and speed of stroke.
The second Key to making more Supershort putts is better path control. If you are using the traditional arms/shoulder pendulum stroke (not a Belly Putter), then your path should be straight back and through on all Supershort putts. The putter head will not need to move inside on a slight arc as it will in a medium to long putt, IF you are setup properly with your hands directly underneath your shoulder girdle. If your path is poor, you indirectly suffer from poor face angle control since the face angle is dependent on the path. In other words, if your path is five degrees in to out (to the right of the target line) during Impact, and your face angle is square to the path (as it should be!), then your face angle relative to the target line is also five degrees in to out. Meaning you will miss that three footer to the right!
Since we teach that ALL golf shots – including short putts – should be 100% free of conscious hand-eye manipulation of the golf club (or “instrument”), we never want our students to “guide” or “steer” the putterhead on a straight back and through path. It should be ONLY the result of your proper posture at Setup, AND the proper shoulder girdle vertical rocking motion. BUT – there is one simple change you can make to your posture that makes that proper path much more likely on short putts. Simply bend over more from your hip sockets, i.e. increase your forward Spine Angle. You will instantly notice how the putterhead will naturally swing in a more straight back and through path on the short putts. This may require you to choke down an inch or two on the handle.
Try both of these simple changes and you will find dramatic improvement in your short putts! And if you want to really master all of the many elements of the Art and Science of Putting, consider attending one of full day Putting school “boot camps” at Quail Valley this summer.