Is Phil's Putting Stance Holding Him Back?

Phil has played well so far in 2008, making 2nd on the world money list in just the first couple of months of the new year.

But, as we pointed out in another analysis, his swing is less efficient than it was last year.

When we turn our attention to his putting, we find problems there as well.

Here is Phil at address for a ten-foot putt.

Phil Mickelson Putting Stance Riviera 2008

We are not sure what compels Phil to set up this way for a putt. The ball is so far forward in his stance that we usually only see this ball placement with the driver.

His hands are held over the ball, which means he has to tense up his trunk and shoulder muscles to hold his arms in this position.

While his ball is very far forward in his stance, his weight is on his back leg. He is tilting his trunk to his left, which means that the muscles on the right side of his trunk have to tense up to prevent him from falling further to his right.

Finally, his stance is very narrow. The closer your feet are together, the less stable you are.

It would be very hard to imagine that anyone could make a putt when putting from this position. In fact, Phil missed this straightforward ten-foot putt.

Phil has missed quite a few putts this year. Last year he was 15th in putting average. This year he is 54th.

Is there a more efficient set-up for putting that would help Phil improve beyond his #54 ranking in tour putting average? Could he sink more putts with a different set-up?

We think so.

The Stance

We recommend setting the ball up in the middle of the stance. You don't need to have the ball far forward in your stance to get a good roll. Just one inch forward of center is plenty.

Here is K.J. Choi addressing his putt.

K. J. Choi Putting Stance Riviera 2008

Notice that Choi not only has his ball in the center of his stance, he also has a slightly wider stance than Phil.

When you are putting, you don't want any movement in your legs and hips. You only want movement in your upper body.

Are you more likely to be stable with a narrow stance, or a wide stance?

The answer is self-evident. You are more stable with a wider stance.

Padraig Harrington usually leads the money list in Europe. Here is his putting stance.

Padraig Harrington Putting Stance Riviera 2008

This may look extreme to most golfers, but keep in mind that Padraig is #10 in putting average and #1 in putts per round. It might just pay to mimic his stance. 'Drive for show--put for dough' as the saying goes.

We recommend to our golfers that they adopt the same stance-width for putting that they use with their driver. Whereas with the driver you want a wide stance to handle large amounts of torque, with the putter you want stability. A wide stance gives you that stability.

We even recommend a slight outward pressure on the legs to make the lower body impregnable to any kind of movement. Golfers with a martial arts background will recognize that we are talking about the ‘horse stance', the most stable position in karate.

Stability Test

Here is a simple stability test you can do at home, taken from our new book The Efficient Golfer.

Address the ball with your conventional narrow stance. Have a friend stand next to you and push your hips sideways with his fist, as you see here.

Stability Test for Conventional Narrow Stance

You and your friend will notice how easy it is to move your hips sideways, just what you don't want to happen when you are putting.

Now, adopt your driver stance. It will feel a little strange at first. Make sure your feet are turned out slightly. You also want to have a little outward pressure on your knees. It will look like this. Have your friend try to push your hips sideways with his fist. Your hips should be much more resistant to movement in this position.

Stability Test for Wide Putting Stance

Now practice putting with your wider stance. It will take a short time to get used to it, but you should see an improvement fairly quickly. Then, when you feel comfortable, go back to your conventional narrow stance and notice how unstable you feel.

Pendulum Putt

There is one movement that we do not see in putting on tour, and that is a pendulum putt.

Most golfers and instructors give lip service to the concept of a pendulum putt, but no one actually does it.

A pendulum swings the same distance away from the center to each side. The pendulum is symmetrical.

But all tour golfers take the putter back less than they take it through to finish. And most hold the putter at the finish, lifting up their head to watch their putt.

When was the last time you saw a real pendulum stop at one end of its swing?

The conventional putt is not really a pendulum, it is a putt. It relies on muscular force. Golfer estimate how much force they need to strike the ball and they hit the ball with that amount of force.

A real pendulum putt, however, is symmetrical. The pendulum golfer takes the putter back the same amount that it goes through to finish. And then, without looking up, lets the putter swing back to center. (Bobby Locke, considered the best putter ever, reportedly did not look up until he heard the ball drop in the hole.) The pendulum golfer does not use muscular force, he uses gravity. He takes the putter back far enough so that he can let it go at the top of the backswing, allowing the weight of the head to propel the ball to the hole. The head accelerates through the ball, then naturally slows down at the finish, and then falls back to the address position.

It looks like this.

Pendulum Putt Backswing                Pendulum Putt Follow-through

The Grip

To further facilitate a symmetrical pendulum, we recommend a symmetrical grip.

Symmetrical Putting Grip Front View      Symmetrical Putting Grip Side View

Again, this grip is unorthodox, but certainly does not look as weird as the ‘claw' grip that some golfers use.

The advantage of this grip is that you can more easily make a pendulum. With the typical right-hand low putter grip, it is actually harder to bring the putter back than through, which contributes to ‘putting' the putter, rather than ‘penduluming' the putter. The right-hand low grip contributes to a short backswing. When your backswing is short, you have to use your muscles to ‘putt' the putter.

Putter Length

Once you adopt a wide stance and a symmetrical grip, you quickly realize that the conventional putter is much too long. It was designed that way so that it was not so different from the rest of the clubs in the bag.

But it does not make putting any easier.

We recommend a putter that is short enough so that your arms can hang straight down at address. It looks like this.

Arms and Putter Hang for Relaxed Pendulum

In order for your arms to hang straight down, you need a putter that's somewhere around 28”, rather than the conventional 32”.

Lie Angle

The conventional putter has a lie angle of 72°, which you need when you use a conventionally long shaft. When you shorten the shaft, it makes sense to increase the lie angle to 78°. In this way, your arms and putter can hand down, with the putter extending in almost a straight line from your arms. The perfect recipe for a perfect pendulum.

You only need to add one more ingredient: a heavy head.

Head Weight

We recommend a head weighing about 500 grams. With a head this heavy, it is very easy to use gravity. It also facilitates the use of the stomach muscles in putting.

Stomach Muscles

Poor putters tend to use their wrists to putt, flicking the putter through the ball.

Golfers who are slightly better use their arms.

The best putters use their stomach muscles to rotate their rib cage. The rotate back, and then let their stomach muscles relax, letting gravity take the head through the ball.

The advantage of this approach is that very few people tense up their stomach muscles when they are under pressure. Most people tense up their shoulder muscles. If you are putting with your shoulder muscles, you will be very susceptible to pressure. If you use your relaxed stomach muscles, it won't matter if your shoulders are tense when you are under pressure.

We devote an entire chapter to the pendulum putt in our new book The Efficient Golfer.

Will Phil Change His Stance?

Will Phil change his set-up and improve his putting?

We don't think so. He will probably stick with what he is doing, hoping he gets better.

Would he putt better if he did?

We think he would.