How’s your putting? The more people I talk to about putting, the more I hear “don’t ask”. One of the easiest parts of the game of golf, putting is can also be one of the most frustrating. Perhaps it’s the style of putting that is causing some difficulty?
Some players on tour are putting cross-handed, or left-hand low for right-handed players (right-hand low for lefties). Some are using versions of the “claw”. But, there is another alternative that is once again growing in popularity:
It’s side-saddle. Standing next to the ball and facing the target gives you the best view of the line and distance of the putt, and the putting stroke doesn’t get any more simple than this.
According to Gary McCord, the generally accepted method of standing to the side and facing the ball with hands together is the worst way to putt. “I putted side-saddle some years ago. If you taught a 4-year-old to putt this way — just push the right hand toward the hole — he could be so good by the time he was old enough to play golf. He’d progress so much faster because it’s so natural to putt this way and so unnatural to putt the way the rest of us do. I would say that of all the possible putting stances, the way we do it is the worst.”
Side-saddle putting has been around for a very long time, but has been overshadowed by conventional and long anchored putting strokes. Perhaps the most accomplished player to use the side-saddle method was Sam Snead later in his career. He tried to do it ‘croquet’ style, straddling the line and stroking the ball like a croquet mallet, but the USGA decided that was not an appropriate stroke for the game.
Peter Kostis agrees with McCord. “If I had a downhill left-to-right three-footer for my life, I’d putt it side-saddle,” he says. “It works. I know that for a fact.”
Putting instruction and fundamentals have been focused on including mainly a conventional style, but this may not be the best way to putt for everyone.
Normally when players read a putt they look at it with a “binocular” method, or with the eyes level and looking down the line. When standing to the side of the ball and facing it, then looking back at the hole the eyes may look at it on a tilted angle or completely parallel to the target line. This can create a different look and feel to what we’ve already seen with regular vision, and provides less ability to read and relate to distance.
In addition the side-saddle stroke is pretty simple. The lower arm swings very much like tossing a ball underhand with the only hinge at the shoulder. Swing back, swing through…
Juan Elizondo is a side-saddle guru and has worked with several tour players, including Vijay Singh, KJ Choi, and Bryson Dechambeau. It was in fact Choi who spurred Elizondo on to start producing his own JUANPUTT side-saddle putting system seven years ago (juanputt.com). Some might know Elizondo from his other successful training product, the SpeedStik.
“I know it’s not for everybody,” says Elizondo, “but it’s a fun way to putt and a great way to putt. Our new putters are face balanced and have 1 degree of loft. They are very accurate, especially for the short putts, and for players who might have the yips.”
It was Choi who did some testing for Elizondo on tour, and also played in the British Open using the side-saddle method. His comment was he wished he had learned it sooner.
Weight is definitely a factor with side-saddle putting. Elizondo’s original putters are on the heavy side, which many believe in, but based on player feedback he is producing some lighter models as well.
Beginning golfers should be given every opportunity to try different types of putting strokes, and definitely should try a side-saddle style. Kids might just love it from the start. And, it just might jumpstart a new level of success in your game!
Bob Duncan is a PGA Life Member, a Master Clubfitter, and developer of the Golfer Positioning System.