There’s a hidden positive
behind the long-putter craze
Long-putter users such as Adam Scott utilize
their dominant hand to control the stroke, something many
instructors say is key to having success on the greens.
Traditionalists who bemoan tour pros’ use of long putters as a sign of the apocalypse should
take note. There is a long-term
positive consequence to the
proliferation of the long wands—
and their subsequent trickle-down
to recreational golfers—that even
some advocates may not realize.
Using the club promotes, if not
demands, that golfers putt with
their dominant hand, which many
bright golf minds consider essential
to being successful on the greens.
Whether it is your left or right,
your dominant hand offers you the
most natural feel for smaller chores.
It’s the one you use to thin-slice a soft
tomato, fit a key into a door knob in
the dark, hammer a nail into place. It
follows that this hand is best suited
to control the length of your putting
stroke, its path and the force applied.
Cross-handers excepted, the other
hand simply keeps the club stable. Added to the top of the
long putter stuck in the stomach or chest or chin, you get
an exceptionally well-steadied club (no snickering please).
But that’s not the hidden good. It is the dominant hand that
does the magic.
Old-time golf devotees will tell you everything about how
to play the game was thought up five minutes after its
invention. Not quite, but dominant-hand putting is not a
new idea, even if the term might be. According to my
research, in 1926 Joe Turnesa, a member of that famous
American golf family, won the Metropolitan PGA putting
with only his right hand. His left hand merely hung at his
side. Mike Hulbert, a journeyman tour pro in the 1980s and
1990s, played almost the entire 1995 season putting with
only his right hand. He didn’t win that year but said it was
one of the best overall seasons he ever had on the circuit.
Turnesa and Hulbert didn’t continue with the method. I
couldn’t get to Turnesa to say why he gave it up (he died in
1991), but Hulbert hinted that peer pressure put his other
hand back on the club.
Ben Hogan had little to say
about putting, which he
considered a game other than
golf, but in his 1948 instruction
book Power Golf, he has a
chapter on the subject. It’s
short and mostly boilerplate
stuff, but he does note that
while he kept both hands on the
club he used the reverse overlap
grip because all the fingers of
the right hand were on the shaft
and he did his putting with his
right hand—which was indeed
his dominant hand.
The last time I saw Tiger
Woods practice putting when
he was still on top of his game,
he spent at least a half hour
putting with only his right
hand. Jack Nicklaus has
described his own putting
stroke as “kind of pushing the
ball,” which he did of course
with his dominant right hand.
Sure, relying on a dominant hand isn’t the only popular
putting technique making the rounds. Another calls for
golfers to move the club with only the shoulders. It’s meant
to keep the hands (and wrists) out of the stroke on grounds
that they are so flexible they can’t consistently maintain the
intended stroke path or roll the ball at the proper pace. But
the long putter is a pretty heavy instrument, and just moving
it with good control using only the shoulders is a pretty
dodgy business. What’s more, shoulders cannot possibly
have the same sensitivity or touch as the hands because
they aren’t on the club. The hand is.
It is interesting to note when some pros go back to a
conventional putter, they putt well (Vijay Singh for example).
I’d argue it’s from the unintended consequence of being
reunited with their dominant hand.
What are the mechanics? Nothing very complicated. Be it
with a long (or standard length) putter, simply pull the club
back and push it forward with your dominant hand. Trust it,
just as you do when you go looking for that coin in your
pocket to mark your ball. Or, take the ball out of the hole. gw