You can build your putt from the ground up and make it better. And you can do it faster than you think.
September 13, 2022 by Steve Andrews in Instruction, Opinion with 0 comments
There is no right way to putt. Looking at the best putters in the world, there are a wide variety of forms and wildly different mechanics. The goal of putting is simple – get the disc in the basket, usually from within about 30 feet – but there is no consensus about the best way to do it. Players can succeed with all kinds of grips, stances, and weight shifts.
It should be the easiest part of the game. It doesn’t require long levers, fast twitch muscles, or incredible speed. It is the one part of the game that nearly every player can master, and yet few areas of the game produce more frustration. For almost every amateur player, making every putt inside the circle would boost their rating by 100 points.
And that’s not just for players struggling to get their rating to 900. Some of the best players in the world can agonize on the putting green. Time and time again, even top players can seem lost trying to get the disc in the basket. Some of it is the pressure of the big moment, of course, but nearly every player finds their putt breaking down at some point.
One way to get better at putting is to really think about your mechanics – how the parts of your putt work together to get your results. Changing your putting mechanics is simpler than changing your full throw. It’s much easier to take the elements of your putt apart and then assemble them the way you want.
You can build your putt from the ground up and make it better. And you can do it faster than you think.
Putting mechanics is all about tradeoffs, and your mechanical choices usually either make your putting stroke more powerful or more consistent. These aren’t always in opposition, but thinking of these tradeoffs is a good way to get a basic understanding of how your putt works.
The heart of your putt is the number of hinges you have in your stroke. The more hinges you have – and the wider their range of movement – determines how much power and spin you have in your putt. However, the cost of those multiple levers and greater movement is a loss of consistency and a difficulty in timing the movement under pressure. On the other side, limiting your hinges and their range of motion will produce a consistent putt that, at the extreme, is unable to move the disc further than 25 feet.
This is the core of the distinction often drawn between push and spin putts. The common wisdom is that spin putts go further and are better at long range while push putts are more accurate but have a limited range. But those distinctions are often less helpful because most players combine elements of both and are in some grey area of “spush” putting. The most successful players have mixed and matched their way to achieve a balance of power and consistency.
There are some “pure” spin putters – like Nate Doss and Matt Orum – who have a lot of bend in their wrists and elbows. While they clearly have a weight shift, most of their power comes from a very distinct uncurling action of the hinges in their upper body.
Look at Doss’s elbow and wrist hinge-heavy mechanics:
Compare that to players like Ricky Wysocki, Gregg Barsby, or Kevin Jones, who have much less bend in their elbow and use their bodies to supply the power to their putts.
The most important hinge is the wrist, and this is one of the biggest differences between spin putters and push putters. It is usually as simple as the placement of your pinch point (where your thumb and forefinger put pressure on the disc). Thinking of your disc as a clock face, if your thumb is around 2:30 or 3:00, then you are in a relatively low-spin position and your release will have less wrist action since your wrist is already much closer to a flat position. As your pinch point gets closer to 1:00 or noon, your wrist is cocked and will have to be released to get the disc on-line. A more extreme position, with your pinch point moving over to 10 or 11 is an extreme spin position that is going to require a lot of wrist action.
None of these positions are wrong, but they have different advantages. A more cocked wrist offers a lot more spin and power but will require timing the release correctly to be accurate. A more neutral wrist position — common in push putting — makes timing the release easier, since the wrist is more passive, but it generates much less power. If you are going to make putts from further out with a neutral wrist, you will need another power source.
One source of that power is the elbow. An elbow bend coupled with a cocked wrist can generate a lot of power but also can be hard to time consistently. However, many players who have a more passive wrist position depend on their elbow to help generate power. For example, look at Nate Sexton. In his straddle putt from close range, he has a more neutral wrist and a fairly straight arm, but as he moves further from the basket, he adds more elbow bend to help generate pace.
There are also players who minimize their elbow bend to add consistency. Ricky Wysocki has a wrist position that generates spin but a straight arm with relatively little flex at the elbow. Kevin Jones has a cocked wrist position, but he adds an element of control by minimizing the elbow hinge in his swing. He uses a very straight arm, which adds consistency, paired with an active wrist. Both players depend on the big movement of the shoulder to guide the putt to the release point.
By limiting their elbow action, these players have an “up-and-down” action in their putt rather than the “in-and-out” motion of players like Orum or Doss. There’s no doubt, however, that this straight arm position, which makes the release point easy to hit, does not add as much power as a bent elbow. So, again, that additional power needs to come from somewhere.
Weight Shift or Body Hinge
Some of that power comes from their bodies. All good putters have a weight shift, but that shift is absolutely necessary if a player has limited the hinging action of their elbow or wrist.
There are several ways to get your body more into the shot. One of the most common is by incorporating a strong lateral weight shift – accentuating the movement from the rear foot to the front foot. Ricky Wysocki, who uses a straighter elbow position, has a very long and powerful weight shift, which is clear from the way his front foot is toe up and his weight is settled deep into his back leg before he starts forward. This sets up a tremendous amount of power from his body, coupled with a quieter upper body action that adds consistency.
Compare that to a putter like Paul McBeth, who uses his weight shift for power but has more elbow action. While his weight is on his back leg (and he grinds his back foot to make sure), he does not rock back onto his front heel. He has other levers and does not need to get as much power from a large weight shift.
The other method to get your body into the shot is a hip hinge – a move that is very clear in the straddle putts of Jones and Barsby. Big muscles are easier to control than small ones. Fingers and wrists are capable of all kinds of small, nuanced movements — that’s great, but they can be harder to control under pressure. The hips and other big muscles are easier to depend on to do the same thing every time.
This combination of factors means Kevin Jones’ putt makes a lot of sense. He has his wrist in a cocked position but has nearly completely taken his elbow out of the equation. His straight arm and body hinge make finding his release point easy – he is depending on the big levers in his hips and shoulders and this makes him very accurate.
But it also means that he faces a power gap as he reaches the edge of the circle, one that disappears when he can jump putt. The jump putt adds power to his very consistent upper-body mechanics and seems to make him deadlier from 45 feet than he is from 30 feet. He can keep his arm and wrist action the same and just add power from fully exploding his hips.
Here’s a compilation of Jones making jump putts from everywhere:
Compare that to Calvin Heimburg, who uses a loaded wrist and a bent elbow. Even from long distance, Heimburg has a quieter lower body and relies on these powerful hinges (and a tremendous wingspan) to get the disc to the basket. When he gets out of the circle, he just adds more energy to his unhinging action rather than leaning into a big weight shift or jumping. His putt has plenty of potential power and, from 45 feet, his weight shift is more about timing than generating pace.
At the 2021 Las Vegas, Heimburg was making 60-foot putts with very little body action. This is totally different from the way Jones would putt from a similar distance.
Putting it Together
Most of these great players have incorporated some elements to produce power and others to add consistency. How can this help your game? First, you need to know your putt – do you have a very cocked hand position that is dependent on timing, do you have a lot of elbow action, or do you have a neutral wrist with only a bit of weight shift? How does your putt work and should you change it?
The answer is in your misses. If you are missing high-low, then you may need to add more power – and that can mean moving your thumb to the left to get more wrist action, adding more elbow bend, or adding a more powerful weight shift. If your misses are right-left, then you may need to dial those same things back. It may be as easy as moving your pinch point to a more neutral position or using your body (rather than your elbow) to generate pace. Think of Kevin Jones – if your putt is rock solid from 20 feet but you struggle from the edge of the circle, then it might be best to keep your upper-body mechanics the same and find a way to get more of a weight shift into your shot.
It also depends on what kind of player you are and how much time you have to practice. A putt with more hinges can be a deadly weapon, but it is harder to be consistent. Any putt that depends on timing a lot of levers requires more practice, so do you have the time and interest to keep your putt sharp? If you don’t, you will have good days and bad days, but that can be okay if you fine with missing some 20 footers and taking three putts in some rounds knowing you will make everything inside of 50 feet on other days. If that is frustrating, then dialing back the hinges and adding more consistency might be a better way to have a putt you can depend on every round even if the ceiling of your putting may not be as high.
The important thing is to understand your putt – both its advantages and limitations. I spent years developing a straddle putt with a neutral wrist that depended on body action to generate pace. It was a “safety-first” stroke designed to make every short putt and never three-putt, and I accepted that I would struggle from distance and in windy conditions. I knew why my putt worked and its limitations. Every person’s putt sacrifices some advantages for others. When you know why your putt works (and why it doesn’t), you can tune it to get different results.
Your natural putting motion – whatever seemed to make sense when you first picked up a disc – may not be serving you. Your game may have evolved, and your putt may be holding you back. You may also need different mechanics for different situations, changing your putt to take pace off as you get closer or adding more wrist, elbow, or body action as you get further out.
But you can improve quickly when you realize your putt is the sum of how your wrist, elbow, and body all work together. You can change each of those factors to get the power and consistency you want. If you are frustrated on the greens, don’t be afraid to experiment — you might find that your best putting is just a tweak away.