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The Impact Zone
Mastering Golf's Moment of Truth
By Bobby Clampett, Andy Brumer
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2007 Bobby Clampett and Andy Brumer
All rights reserved.
Putting: Dynamic #1 — The Flat Left Wrist at Impact
The teaching method used in this book mirrors the one employed by the late, legendary instructor Harvey Penick to teach his young student Ben Crenshaw how to play golf. Harvey taught Ben the game's short shots and small swings first, meaning putts, chip shots, and pitches, before moving his future hall of famer on to the irons and woods. In other words, Crenshaw, Tom Kite, and the countless other golfers Mr. Penick taught, learned the game from the green back to the tee, and not the other way around, as most golf pros teach the game today.
My first teacher was Lee Martin, who first taught me to play when I was ten. Lee didn't specifically start me off with the short game, but he did instill in me the importance of developing one as quickly as possible. He did this by giving me daily assignments, to work on my putting, chipping, pitching, and bunker play at the little chipping green that was located next to the first tee at our beautiful course, Carmel Valley Golf and Country Club, which is now called The Quail Lodge Golf Club, in Carmel Valley, California, just a few miles from Pebble Beach.
Soon, the better-playing members at my club, such as John Roberts, would stop by and join me in practice. It was not uncommon for Mr. Roberts (who had been a member of Sciota Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, and watched a promising young junior there named Jack Nicklaus grow up and develop his extraordinary skills) and I to practice for two or three hours on the short game alone. We had a running bet to see who could make a string of the longest running consecutive up and downs from the practice bunker. We would carry a separate bet onto the course and keep tabs on consecutive up and downs from the bunkers. I remember Mr. Roberts once telling me his tally reached the midthirties. Mine never made it past the teens, but I thought that was pretty good at that time.
When minitour players, such as Mark Rolfing, now a golf commentator for NBC Sports, and the now-well-known teaching pro, Jim McLean, came by, we all would have some fun practicing together. I can recall many contests Jim and I would have. I could handle Mr. Roberts pretty regularly by the time I reached fourteen years old, but Jim beat me like a drum. Yet, I gleaned much from watching good players like Jim and Mark. These types of positive relationships helped develop a joy and a purpose when practicing (both the long and the short shots) that I still feel today whenever I work on my game.
When I was fourteen and a freshman at the Robert Louis Stevenson School in Pebble Beach, California, the athletic director, Wally Goodwin (who later became the golf coach at Stanford, where he recruited a pretty good junior named Tiger Woods), asked me to be his partner in the Northern California Best-Ball Championship, played on one of our school's home courses, the legendary Spyglass Hill.
In the opening round I shot an even-par-72, while hitting only six greens in regulation. I couldn't even reach many of the par-4s, such as holes number six, nine, and thirteen, in two shots, though that round alone seemed to have developed my reputation as one of those players to watch on and around the greens. Those who knew me then were never surprised to see me in the top twenty on the PGA Tour money list in my first two years on tour, and my well-practiced short game as a youngster had a lot to do with my early success as a pro.
The reason our book begins with the short game strokes is that the fundamentals of the putt, chip, and pitch shots are the same as those of full swing shots with the irons, metalwood shots, and the driver. Yet, because of their abbreviated length and the relative slow speed at which they are executed, the short game swings are much simpler to learn. Mastering the short game shots forms a foundation on which golfers can build dynamically sound full swings.
We are beginning specifically with putting, because the putting stroke takes place exclusively through the impact zone, i.e., it doesn't require a full backswing, nor a through swing or body pivot. Learning a fundamentally sound golf swing by starting with putting, reflects my belief that the simpler we can make the game, the better off all golfers will be.
As we said in the introduction, The Impact Zone will also emphasize dynamics over style. So let's get started with putting, by introducing Dynamic Number One, the Flat Left Wrist at Impact, which will initiate our step-by-step, building block approach to learning each of golf's five dynamics, as they progress to chipping, pitching, and finally the full swing.
The first law of Dynamic Number One is, regardless of the length of shot you are playing, you must arrive at impact with a flat left wrist. Look at these photographs of me at impact, while hitting a wedge and a driver. Note in each picture how the left wrist is flat and how the club has a forward lean of the club shaft (though the angle of forward lean varies according to the shot).
Let's now turn your attention to putting, while keeping in mind that this chapter will not serve as an all-encompassing commentary on putting. Rather, it will focus on putting from the perspective of the first dynamic, which will set the tone for you to develop your whole golf game and swing, dynamic by dynamic. I could write a book on putting alone.
There have been many great putters throughout the history of the game and virtually all of them have exhibited widely different styles. Isao Aoki from Japan, for instance, simply hinges his wrists back and forth, picks the putter head up, and almost chops down into the ball with a putting stroke that resembles a chip shot. South African Bobby Locke used to, and countryman Gary Player still does putt with a closed stance. Locke aimed right, hooded his putter blade left, and imparted hook spin on his putts. Jack Nicklaus putts with an open stance and moves his right arm straight down the line of the putt, like a piston. Ben Crenshaw blends his shoulder, arm, and hand motions into a fluid and graceful stroke that gradually opens the putter's face on the backstroke then closes it after striking the ball.
Because the rules of golf allow for so many different putting methods, stroking the ball on the green into the hole has become a true art form. For example, the long putter, used today by Bernhard Langer and LPGA player Beth Daniel, among others, has golfers pinch the top of the putter grip with the thumb and forefinger of the left hand, which stays pinned in a stationary fashion against the chest. This allows them to stroke the putter shaft and head back and through the ball with the right hand alone, in a pendulum fashion. Conversely, the newly developed, so-called "claw" grip, employed effectively by Chris DiMarco, Mark Calcavecchia, and countless others, removes the right hand almost completely off the club, which means that the left hand plays a bigger role in stroking the putter back and through.
Let's not forget about the belly putter, also a relatively new method of putting, which roots a longer-than-standard putter into the golfer's navel in order to stabilize the stroke. Fred Couples, known for his folksy, no-nonsense approach to golf, has applied the cross-handed grip with the belly putter method, in a hybrid style that has improved his putting considerably. So, I'm conceding that any style of putting that gets the ball into the hole on the most consistent basis is the one you should adopt.
Now let's work on a three-foot putt.
Dynamic Number One, a Flat Left Wrist, assures (and requires) that your left arm, the back of your left wrist, and the putter shaft form a straight line when you contact the ball. Even on a short putt like this one, which obviously doesn't involve or require a great deal of club head speed, you still generate a significant amount of force when your putter head collides with the ball. Therefore, you need a structurally sound and solid impact position to absorb this blow and to impart energy into the ball in an efficient, consistent, and controlled manner. A flat left wrist at impact provides this for you, and, as I've said (and will repeatedly emphasize), it is the number-one, key alignment for hitting solid golf shots, from the putt to the drive.
Here's a little exercise that will let you both see and sense what a flat left wrist feels like: Take the back of your left hand and lay it flush against a wall. Notice how the back of the hand, wrist, and forearm create, or lie on, a flat, straight plane. Now, remove your arm from the wall and take your normal putting grip on your putter, keeping this straight line between your left arm, the back of your left wrist, and the putter shaft. Extend your arm directly in front of you, so that the club shaft is horizontal to the ground, and you will clearly see this arm/wrist/shaft straight-line configuration. Now simply lower the club to the ground and maneuver yourself into your normal, comfortable putting stance, and you will be in a solid putting setup position.
Because the length of the putting stroke is so short, you don't have time to release the club into a flat left wrist position through the impact zone, as you do on fuller or longer swings. That's why you want a flat left wrist in the impact position, right from the address when putting — again, with the left arm and club shaft forming a straight line down from the left shoulder. In other words, when putting, your impact and address positions are one and the same.
To assure that you indeed do have a flat left wrist alignment at address, I want your hands positioned slightly forward of the ball, which will tilt or lean the club shaft slightly forward as well. I've found that positioning the ball two or three inches behind my left heel comfortably creates both a flat left wrist alignment and a forward-leaning club shaft angle at address. You can go as far back with your ball position as the middle of your stance, but any farther forward than, say, two inches behind your left heel position will tend to bend, or cup, your left wrist backwards, as you swing the club head through to reach the ball at impact — and that's the opposite of what you are trying to achieve.
Here's another exercise that clearly illustrates the problem with an excessively forward ball position when putting. From a correct address and impact flat left wrist position, without moving your arms, swing your putter head forward toward your target with your wrists alone. You can see that, as the putter head moves forward, the shaft tilts back and your left wrist cups or bends as well. This kind of breakdown of the flat left wrist is the number-one error golfers make, not only with putting, but with chipping, pitching, and on the full swing. It is the principal culprit that destroys a dynamic impact position and a dynamic swing. I've asked you to do this little exercise, because feeling what is incorrect vis-a-vis proper technique can help us engrain in ourselves the proper golf fundamentals. Jack Nicklaus has written about how, on the practice range, he would at times purposely swing with faulty fundamentals, to more fully distinguish the feel of good mechanics from bad ones.
I think it's worth pointing out that two of the three styles of putting I mentioned above emphasize the important role of the flat left wrist at impact when putting, albeit in slightly disguised ways. The long putting method eliminates the possibility of the left wrist breaking down at impact by all but removing the left hand from the club. The claw grip adopts the complete opposite strategy to achieve the same goal. It takes the right hand off the club, which allows the left wrist to remain flat throughout the stroke, without any interference from an overly active right hand.
Let's return to making a dynamic putting stroke using the conventional putting grip, with the right hand below the left on the club (for right-handed putters, of course). Now, with your left wrist flat, and the putter shaft and your left wrist and arm all in a straight line, maintain this alignment as you gently rock your shoulders up and down, to make a short backstroke and an accelerating through stroke without moving your body. Think of your arms and shoulders as a triangle that must be kept intact as you rock your shoulders. When stroking the ball, make sure that you maintain the natural bend in the back of your right wrist, well into the follow-through of your stroke. In fact, a bent right wrist and a flat left wrist go hand in hand (no pun intended!).
Unfortunately, the converse is equally true, because, as soon as you begin to straighten or flatten your right wrist during the stroke, your left wrist loses its flatness and immediately begins to bend. Increasing the bend in the right wrist a little on the backstroke will facilitate being able to sustain a flat left wrist on the through stroke. This more sophisticated move in the putting stroke is one that Loren Roberts, "The Boss of the Moss," executes beautifully. He calls this part of his stroke "the little lag move," and, as we'll see, lag is our fourth swing dynamic.
Whether or not you increase the bend in your right wrist on the backstroke, the task in putting is to maintain a flat left wrist and a bent right wrist throughout the entire stroke.
Here's an important grip tip that will help you sustain a flat left wrist through the entire putting stroke, including, of course, the impact zone: Add a little extra pressure in the last three fingers of your left hand, and monitor that pressure, so that it remains constant through the entire stroke.
Your left wrist actually dictates the movement of the putter face and controls the face angle during the stroke, so keeping it flat through impact assures that you will strike the ball with the putter face squarely looking down your intended line. The golf swing functions as a simple machine, and the less moving parts in the machine, the less that can go wrong with your shots. By keeping a flat left wrist when putting, you reduce the number of the machine's moving parts.
Let's look a little more closely at what specifically goes wrong with the putting stroke when the flat left wrist at impact breaks down into a bent or cupped one. First of all, a left wrist that breaks down during the stroke changes the acceleration of the putter, just as it alters the pressure in your grip. A flat left wrist ensures that the putter head and face move at the same rate of speed as the left hand and arm. A cupped left wrist moves the bottom of your putter's swing rearward, and, as it does, it changes the alignment of the club face at impact. In other words, the act of breaking down the flat left wrist during the stroke automatically introduces elements of inconsistency in the stroke, each with its own problem, and each adding up to poor putting. So, let's get rid of all of these problems by establishing a flat left wrist at address, and maintaining it through the backstroke and through the impact zone.
Is there any complex technique or magical secret you should know that will insure that you maintain a flat left wrist throughout the stroke? Mechanically, the above-mentioned rocking motion of the shoulders does wonders in taking independent hand motion out of the stroke and sustaining the essential flat left wrist/bent right wrist combination. Mentally, I want you to simply think about keeping your left wrist flat throughout the stroke. It's amazing what a little mindfulness can do.
Remember, in the introduction I defined a swing dynamic as the efficient creation, storage, and application of power to the ball. The presence of a flat left wrist at impact in the putt, chip, pitch, and full swing allows this to happen efficiently, because it lessens if not eliminates any kind of uneven and erratic motion in the swing. In many ways, the flat left wrist at impact qualifies as golf's master dynamic.
Excerpted from The Impact Zone by Bobby Clampett, Andy Brumer. Copyright © 2007 Bobby Clampett and Andy Brumer. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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