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May 2014

Which putting grip improves the average golfer's alignments?
By Tom Stickney II

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I’ve found that the most damaging flaw within a golfer’s putting is the breakdown of the lead wrist through impact. This flaw causes many more problems than anything else for the average golfer’s putting such as adding loft to the putter through impact, poor impact points on the face, incorrect pace control, loss of feel, loss of confidence and faulty impact alignments and subsequent aim. If I had to point to one move that will cause your putting stroke, confidence and ability to hole putts consistently to implode it would be this move.

Within my putting academy, I use computer systems that can track motions of the body and putter. Advanced Motion Measurement’s 3D Motion Analysis System will track the motions of the wrists comparing them at address and impact, while the SAM Puttlab will track the motions of the putter head during impact.

Below, I have charted the performance characteristics in impact aim and the shaft angle at impact (which determines the impact alignments and the subsequent breakdown of the wrists) of 10 different grip. I’ve also tested players of each level and average their results within their handicap levels to give a general idea of what happens during the stroke. The handicap levels will be as follows: tour professional, scratch, 10, 18, 25 and 36.

The 10 Grips

  • A “normal” putting grip
  • The interlocking grip
  • The overlapping grip
  • The reverse-overlapping grip
  • The reverse-overlapping grip with index finger extended
  • The baseball grip
  • The split baseball grip
  • The left hand low grip
  • The claw grip
  • Bernhard Langer’s long left arm grip
  • Strong rear hand grip

Desired impact alignments and terminology

The Goal at Impact is as flat forward wrist, a bent rear wrist and a neutral to slightly forward-leaning club shaft.

The Goal of Dynamic Loft During Impact is to preserve the static loft of the putter at impact so that the shaft angle is “0.”

Impact Aim is the direction that the putter face is aiming at impact. This factor determines 83 percent of the ball’s direction and can either be either open (O) or closed (C). If you cannot control the putter’s alignments during impact, then you will never be able to begin the ball on your intended line consistently. That means you will have a hard time making putts.

Shaft Lean is the amount of positive or negative “lean” of the club shaft at impact. If the putter shaft is leaning forward at impact, it will deloft (D) the putter’s static loft. If it is leaning backward at impact, it will add (A) to the putter’s static loft. We would like the putter to be relatively neutral at impact or very close to it. When the wrists are too active, the lead wrist breaks down adding loft to the putter during impact. This causes the ball to hop and skip, making feel and distance control inconsistent.

The Test

CHART 01
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There is little change from address aim to impact aim in the tour professional.

One can derive several observations from the tour professional data above. Tour professionals, as you can imagine, aim the putter very close to where they are trying to at address, but not perfectly. At impact, any aiming deficiencies are accounted for. Thus, the ball leaves the blade on the chosen target line and this is the reason why these players are so good at controlling the ball’s starting direction. The putter’s shaft lean is basically neutral, helping the ball to leave the blade with the perfect roll characteristics using the loft designed into the putter naturally.

An impact alignment breakdown for the professional player does not happen too often. If anything, they ensure that they are not delofting the putter too actively during impact and do their best to make sure the loft of their putter remains relatively constant at the impact position. If they consistently deloft the putter through impact to a great degree, then they must add loft to their putters accordingly.

CHART 02

In regards to impact aim at the scratch level, there are not too many difference between each grip, however, when the “claw and Langer” grips are used, the shoulder rotation at impact seems to increase. When the shoulders are overactive during impact, it tends to cause the putter to close too rapidly. These players tend to move the ball back in their stance to accommodate this shoulder action.

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When the “claw or Langer” grips are used the shoulders can become too overactive rotationally as shown above shutting down the blade at impact; thus, the ball position should be moved slightly back in the stance to accommodate.

As we examine the impact alignments and their effect on the effective loft of the putter, you will see that the scratch players, just like the tour professionals, must make sure that they are not leaning the shaft too far forward during impact and driving the ball into the ground.

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When the putter shaft leans too far forward (as shown above) it can lead to the ball being driven into the ground through impact. Skidding and bouncing can result.

The only grip type that tends to consistently deloft the putter to an exaggerated degree on average is the split grip. This, in my opinion, is due to the shaft being set more forward at the address position, and why goflers such as Natalie Gulbis must make sure that they have more loft to their putters than most golfers. This added loft will correct for the extra shaft lean at impact and give these players a better chance for the ball to react favorably at impact.

CHART 03
CHART 04

As the level of handicap goes up, you will find that impact aim and impact alignments begin to suffer. This is why higher-handicap golfers are generally less consistent on the greens than the scratch players. These two factors cause a number of short birdie and par putts to be missed, driving up the scores of these players. From tee to green, the 10 handicap and the 18 handicap golfers are not too far off from one another, except for a few more loose shots by the 18-handicap player. But the number of missed up-and-downs goes up dramatically as these short putts are missed.

The impact aim of both levels of players shows that the “claw and the cross-handed grip” are the most accurate. This, in my opinion, is due to the fact that with the “claw” the rear forearm is more on-plane. That contributes to better putter face control since the path is usually better with this type of grip. When the rear forearm rides “high” or above the club shaft — as seen in the graphic below — the impact aim and the path are negatively affected. The “claw and cross-handed” place the rear forearm in a much more consistent position than the other normal putting grips, and this is what the data above shows in a number of players.

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When the rear forearm is too high as shown above the impact aim of the putter tends to be closed and the ball misses left as a result.

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From an impact alignment standpoint, these higher-handicap players are the ones who are just beginning to show some added hand action through impact, adding effective loft to their putters. When this occurs, the ball will tend to hop into the air at the start of its movement toward the hole, causing inconsistencies. This “jumping” causes many reactions of the ball to occur.

It is just this little bit of hand action and “skipping” of the ball that causes golfers to miss a number of very makeable putts: ones that the lower handicap players would tend to make. As you can see from the data, the best grip for reducing hand action in these players would be the Langer grip, with the left arm on the shaft itself. Golfers will find that if they have issues on short putts, they can very easily keep the putter shaft in a consistent position through impact with the Langer grip, allowing the ball to react the same way on putts of a certain length. I would suggest trying this grip on putts inside 12 feet if you have trouble maintaining a solid “rolling” of the ball off the start. The Langer grip is also good for golfers with the “yips,” which seem to affect this player grouping more than any other.

CHART 05

In my studies, the only real difference between the putting abilities of 25-handicap and 36-handicap golfers is the former group’s ability to monitor and control their hand action. These players have a slightly better time controlling their hand action than the 36-handicappers, thus any type of grip that allows them to monitor their hand action will work more effectively.

The two grip styles that control their impact aim are the two that allow them to monitor their hands more than any other:

  1. The reverse overlap with the rear index finger down the shaft
  2. The split grip.

The rear index finger is the most used finger on the human body, and its ability to sense and control what it is doing is one of the keys to putting at this level. As golfers extend this finger, they will find that the motions of the putter head are easily controlled. This is why the 25-handicap golfer has better success with this type of grip when it comes to impact aim. However, this rear finger grip can also lead to overuse. This is shown above by grip’s inability to help reduce impact alignment breakdown.

The reverse overlap grip with the rear finger down the shaft is one of the worst grips when it comes to preserving the static loft of the putter during impact. When the rear index finger is allowed to over control the motions of the putter, golfers will find that it will cause their impact alignment breakdown and add shaft lean at impact. When this occurs, golfers will not be able to control their speed and therefore will have little feel on the greens.

This explains why 25-handicap golfers can three-putt from just about any distance and at just about any time during the round. That said, it is easier for the 25 handicapper to reduce his number of three-putts in order to reduce his score than to work on making more short putts, the exact opposite case for lower-handicap golfers.

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The 25-handicap golfer is guilty of adding too much loft to his putter when the reverse overlap with the index finger is extended grip is used.

CHART 06

When you examine the data tendencies in the 36-handicap golfer, you will see one thing in both categories: random data. This shows that this level of player has virtually little feeling or consistency in making the same type of stroke. This explains the golfer’s inability to control his or her speed or line on any type of putt.

One thing of note from the data, however, is that the “overlapping” grip — the same one generally used in the full swing — produced slightly better numbers for 36-handicap golfers. This is because this type of player uses this grip most often on the course, and generally has developed more feel with the grip than any other. Whenever these players are asked to change to a different putting grip, their feel tends to implode. Any grip other than the one they use most often can cause more inconsistent results.

These golfers must understand that the forward hand controls the rotation of the putter face and its alignments, while the rear hand and the bending of the rear wrist controls the shaft lean at impact and their subsequent feel. Anything other than a flat forward wrist and a bent rear wrist at impact will cause impact alignments and impact aim to be compromised. This is the most important lesson for the beginning golfer to understand and learn. Putting drills that involve each hand individually will help these players better understand the role of each hand during the putting stroke in order to have the proper alignments.

Conclusion

As with the full swing, different problems arise in putting for each handicap level of golfer. The higher the handicap, the less ball control the player has and the more important the understanding of the necessary impact alignments is for success. The better the player, the more important the proper aim of the putter is at impact. This is where a proper putter fitting and and properly weighted putter can really make a difference.

Higher-handicap golfers seem to three-putt more often because a lack of consistent shaft lean, which leads to poor feel and pace control. Lower-handicap golfers tend to miss makeable putts for pars and birdies because of poor impact alignments and aiming. Tour professionals understand subconsciously how to hit the ball where they want, and are able to put the shaft in the correct position more than lesser-talented golfers. That’s the main reason why they are more consistent.

As the data shows, different putting grips will work best for golfers of different ability levels, and it is necessary for golfers and their instructors to analyze their misses so that they can choose the correct grip. Sometimes direction is a problem, while other times feel is a problem. There are some grips that are better for directional control while others are better in controlling a golfer’s impact alignments. It is up to you to determine your problems and pick the right grip style accordingly.

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