NEWS

Top players will do whatever it takes to get advantage on greens

By Tod Leonard
Published on

 
SAN DIEGO – Wherever Phil Mickelson keeps his old putters, he dived into that bin last week before the Cadillac Championship at Doral and retrieved the old Odyssey White Hot prototype blade that he's used sporadically for the last seven years.
 
He must have figured one more change couldn't hurt, since Mickelson also was putting into play a claw grip – at least on short putts. For longer rolls, he opted to still use the standard grip that has won him five majors.
 
Strange stuff, but Mickelson certainly didn't look out of place.
 
As the contenders charged down the stretch on Sunday, it seemed there were as many putting styles as shirt colors.
 
Adam Scott, whose prospects for this season seemed precarious because he had to abandon his anchored putter, won for the second straight week with a claw grip.
 
Apparently not satisfied with being No. 3 in the world, Rory McIlroy went cross-handed for the first time since 2008 and led going into the final round.
 
Dustin Johnson employed his usual standard grip, but maybe should consider something else. He was awful with the putter in his final round of 79.
 
It's clear that more of the game's top players are willing to take chances to get even the slightest advantage on the greens.
 
"All of a sudden you have all of these role models on tour," said PGA Professional James Sieckmann, who is among the game's most respected short-game teachers. "You've got Jordan Spieth looking at the hole while he's putting. You've got people putting cross-handed.
 
"The message is that the right way to putt is the one that helps you perform best. I don't care if you have to stand on one leg. That is what's changed. We've become more open-minded to what works best."
 
 
In his new book, "Your Putting Solution," Sieckmann – eight times a PGA Section teacher of the year and the owner of the Golf Academy at Shadow Ridge in Omaha, Neb. – emphasizes that acquiring the right putting skills is far more important than having the right technique. Those skills include green reading and being able to putt on the line you intend.
 
"Technique is not an end to itself," Sieckmann said. "It's a way to improve a required skill."
 
It is somewhat ironic, Sieckmann said, that putting approaches are so different in an era when like-minded instruction and the use of TrackMan launch monitors are making full swings so similar. (Bubba Watson being the entertaining exception, of course.)
 
Sieckmann notes that years ago, any putting style much more revolutionary than a forward press produced pity from other players. Going cross-handed meant you were desperate – similar to the attitude about anchored putting before younger players began having success with long putters.
 
When Ben Hogan got the yips, Sieckmann recalled, the legend had to oscillate his putter just to be able to take it back.
 
Putting troubles produce probably more "scar tissue" than any other aspect of the game, and Scott is a prime example.
 
Incredibly, the Australian ranked No. 1 in putting during the 2004 PGA Tour season. Then something went terribly wrong.
 
Over the next 11 seasons, Scott would crack the top 100 in putting only twice – most of the time finishing from 140th to 180th.
 
Despite Scott's breakthrough major victory in the 2013 Masters, the anchored putter was hardly a cure. Last season, while still using it, Scott ranked 157th in strokes gained putting.
 
What's made Scott's struggles so dismaying is to consider how many wins beyond his current 13 he might have if he'd been able to putt even decently. A superb ball striker, in four of the last six years he's ranked in the top five on tour in strokes gained from tee to green.
 
"Adam Scott obviously had the skill," Sieckmann said. "It's not like he lost that ability. He just got distracted and off track. When you have bad results over time it gets in your head.
 
"The savior for him was the long putter. It teaches you that you have to let the putter swing like a pendulum and to not try to over-control it. And now he's found a way to mimic it with the shorter putter. He's had some success and the scar tissue went away."
 
In a season in which he already has two wins and two runners-up, Scott is on pace for his best putting year since the sweet anomaly that was '04. He is 42nd in strokes gained putting.
 
This article was written by Tod Leonard from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
 

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