Whether they realize it or not, most golfers utilize what's called an "arc" putting stroke. Think of it as a miniature version of the golf swing, where the club travels away from the ball on a curved or arched path, and moves past the ball in the same fashion. Another name for it is the "inside-square-inside" stroke.
The arc stroke is different from the "straight-back-straight-through" (SBST) stroke, where the path of the putter head follows the target line back and through. (Although technically, even an SBST stroke features a small amount of arc.)
The arc stroke is considered more natural than the SBST method because arching allows the forearms, wrists and hands to rotate with the movement of the shoulders. On the other hand, an arc stroke can easily go off track if your grip, ball position and other factors aren't in-sync. A slight miscue and you'll fail to square the blade at impact.
There are few if any absolutes in learning and maintaining an effective arc stroke. Some golfers open and close the face several degrees on the way back and through, while others keep it more closely aligned with the target line.
As a general rule, however, the putter face should remain perpendicular to the path of the putter (not the target line) at all times. In a pure or perfect SBST stroke, on the other hand, the face stays perpendicular to the target line from start to finish.
One key to mastering the arc stroke is to release the putter through impact. Again, this action is a mirror image of the full swing, with the arms rotating the face from open to square to closed during the through-stroke. A failure to release properly, called “blocking," causes pushed putts, while releasing too soon may result in pulls.
A good drill to ingrain a proper putting release is to simply hit putts with your dominant hand (right hand for a righty) while placing the lead hand behind your back. The right hand will automatically roll over, ever so slightly, as you stroke the ball.
One final note: Though the point is hotly debated, toe-weighted putters are generally considered to work best with arc-type strokes, while face-balanced putters are recommend for those using the SBST method.
Arc Putting Stroke May Be Your Natural Motion
The putting stroke is often overlooked in terms of golf technique, as most people spend the majority of their practice time working on their full swing. This is a mistake, of course, as the short game is incredibly important to your ability to score out on the course. In fact, it would be easy to make the argument that the short game is more important than the full swing. No matter how you decide to look at it, you are going to need to putt well in order to post good scores – and putting well starts with a solid, repeatable stroke.
Generally speaking, there are two 'camps' when it comes to the putting stroke – those who think you should swing the putter 'straight back and straight through', and those who think you should swing it along an arc. While this is a debate that can get rather heated between golfers on both sides, the truth of the matter is that it is possible to putt well while using either approach. There have been great putters who keep the face square to the line for as long as possible, and there are other players who putt at a high level while using an arc. If you have been using the straight back-straight through method and are not happy with your putting performance, it may be time to think about switching to the arc approach.
The first step in the process of improving your putting stroke is to determine exactly where you are today with your technique. Do you know what kind of path you are using during the stroke? If not, it will be worth the time and effort to head out to the putting green to do a bit of research on your technique. Make a few strokes and watch the putter head as it swings – are you swinging on an arc, or are you keeping the putter head as close to the target line as possible? It shouldn't take long to figure out which side of this equation you are landing on with your current technique. Armed with that knowledge, you will know have the opportunity to move forward while making smart decisions that can help you sink more putts.
In the end, the goal here should be simple – to pick out a putting stroke that is comfortable and fills you with confidence. It is hard to putt well when you don't feel confident in the stroke that you are making, so you have to be sure you fully believe in any technique that you use. Fortunately, you can spend as much time as you need on the practice green to work through the various options for your technique before settling on one that works for you. As long as you are willing to put in the time and effort required, you can look forward to a future of better performance on the greens.
All of the content below is written from the perspective of a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Benefits of Arc Putting
Before you make any change in your golf game, you have to have good reason to believe that the change is actually going to make you a better player. There are countless golfers around the world who continue to just spin in circles – they work on their games, but they don't actually get any better. Don't count yourself among that group. When you put in time on the practice range or the putting green, be sure that the time you spend is going to leave you a better player in the long run.
So, before you get started on making a change to your putting stroke, you should know what you stand to gain if you make this change successfully. Following is a list of points that are often considered to be benefits of the arc putting stroke.
- It mimics your golf swing. One of the biggest advantages to using an arcing putting stroke is the fact that you will be using the same general motion that you use for your full swing. When you hit any other kind of shot around the golf course, you swing the club in an arc around your body. So, why should things be any different when you step onto the putting green? Swinging the putter in a 'straight back, straight through' pattern is totally different than all of your other swings, which means it may be harder to master. By committing to the arc, you will be providing your game with some much-needed continuity.
- Free release. The ability to release the putter head through the ball is something that you should desire because it will help you to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible. People who swing the putter straight down the target line never manage to release the club, and the ball may skid off the putter face for the first couple of feet, or longer. It can take a bit of time to master the release that is required with an arc putting stroke, but it will feel great once you are comfortable. Players who release the putter nicely are able to achieve a beautiful roll, and they tend to be more successful at controlling the speed of their putts as well.
- Comfortable stance. Many players find the stance that they need to use for an arc putting stroke to be more comfortable and natural than the stance required to move the putter directly down the line. When trying to putt in a straight back-straight through manner, you need to bend significantly out over the ball in order to position your shoulders correctly. That is not going to be necessary when you allow the putter to arc. With this kind of stroke, you can stand in very much the same way you do when chipping, although your feet should be square to the target line. Avoiding the need to force your body into an unnatural position should mean that you can repeat this kind of putting stroke time after time with very little variation.
- Speed control. This point was mentioned briefly above, but it deserves its own point because it is so important to your success on the greens. Most players obsess about hitting the right line while putting, but it is actually even more important to get your speed correct. On longer putts, successfully rolling the ball the correct speed will leave you relatively close to the hold, even if you did miss your line by a bit. However, missing badly on speed will mean that you are going to have a lengthy second putt – and you may walk off the green with a three putt or worse. Generally speaking, players who use the arc stroke find it easier to control their speed properly, likely because they have a better feel for the putter head. If you could benefit from better speed control while putting, this is a method that is certainly worth a closer look.
As you can see, using an arc in your putting stroke is a method that has plenty of advantages. Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect technique within the game of golf, as everything you do on the course comes with pros and cons. Therefore, in the next section, we are going to look at some of the potential drawbacks that you may experience by trying this method for yourself.
Drawbacks of Arc Putting
Before reading through this section, it is important to understand that you won't necessarily experience all of these downsides within your own game when you try this stroke. For some people, the 'problems' listed below won't really be problems at all. However, they are common enough that they need to be highlighted in order for you to make up your own mind about this type of putting stroke. Once you know what the potential drawbacks of this style of putting are, you can compare those points to the positives list from above in order to decide how you are going to move forward.
- Hitting the line. The main reason that people use the straight back-straight through method of putting is that they feel it is easier to hit the intended target line time after time. Therefore, it only stands to reason that some people will feel they are unable to be accurate when using an arc stroke. Will you be able to hit your target with the arc method? Only time will tell – you will have to give this putting stroke a chance if you are going to know for sure. Some players adapt to it quite nicely, while others never quite get there. Hitting your line is always important, but it is especially key when talking about short putts. You have to make a majority of your short putts in order to shoot good scores, but that might not happen if you can't consistently hit your line with an arc stroke.
- Repeatability. Another benefit that some people see from swinging the putter along the target line is the ability to repeat the stroke time after time. The arc stroke is seen by some as being less consistent than the straight line method, meaning you may go through some hot and cold streaks on the greens when you putt this way. While this is a valid concern, the issue of repeatability can usually be addressed through practice time. If you put in the time needed to engrain the arc putting stroke into your game, you should be able to perform the stroke properly time and again with very little variance. The putting stroke is much smaller and slower than a full swing, so repeating your motion is far easier to achieve.
- Added complexity. For some golfers, it is the complexity of the arc putting stroke that causes them to look for a simpler option. There is something about the straight back-straight through method that just 'makes sense' to some players. If you would like to keep your game as simple as possible, you might want to go in the other direction away from an arc stroke. For example, if you are someone who never really has the time to practice your putting, it might be too much to expect yourself to learn the arc stroke. In reality, the arc putting stroke isn't much more complicated than the straight line stroke, but it still may be too much to take on for the occasional golfer.
The fact that the majority of professional golfers you see playing on TV use the arc putting stroke should tell you all you need to know about which method is capable of producing better results. Most golf instructors would agree that the arc putting stroke is the way to go if you want to perform at a high level. However, most would also agree that it is going to take a bit more work in order to have it succeed when you head out onto the course. So, now that you have all of the relevant information on this topic, you can decide whether or not you are going to spend some time learning how to putt with an arced stroke.
Giving It a Try
If you make the choice to go ahead and try the arc putting stroke for yourself, there will be nothing left to do other than head to the course and find a good place to practice. Pick out a spot on the practice green that features a mostly flat putting surface where you can hit putts without having to deal with too much break. There will be plenty of time to work on harder putts later on – make things as easy as you can for now in order to focus only on the stroke you are making.
As you are trying to make putting strokes that follow an arcing path rather than a straight line, keep the following tips in mind –
- Stand a bit farther from the ball. In order to encourage a proper arc in your stroke, you will want to stand a bit farther away from the ball than you would when trying to swing on a straight path. Standing back just a couple of extra inches will help the club to trace an arcing path, even without you having to make any other conscious adjustments. You still want to have some tilt in your hips in order to get your eyes out over the ball – although your eye line should stay a couple inches inside of the ball in order to help the putter arc properly. Experiment with a variety of different stance positions until you find one that seems to put your putter on the perfect path.
- Grip the putter in your fingers. Many players like to run the grip of the putter up their palms and into their wrists in order to quiet the hands in the stroke, but that isn't going to work very well if you want to arc the putter. Instead, try gripping the handle of the putter farther down into your fingers, much as you would do when making a full swing. By placing more of the control of the club into your hands and fingers, you will make it easier to arc the putter back and through.
- Focus on the left shoulder. It is the rotation of your left shoulder away from the hole that is going to allow you to trace an arc during your stroke. Rather than thinking about your hands or your arms when getting the stroke started, the best thing you can do is think about moving your left shoulder away from the hole. In doing so, you will encourage the putter to trace an arc away from the ball, and you will be on the right track for a beautifully arcing stroke. Just like in the full swing, it is the shoulders that should control the action in your putting stroke.
- Give it time. One of the keys to a successful arc putting stroke is making sure that the putter has time to complete the arc properly. If you cut this kind of stroke short, the timing of the release will be thrown off and your putt will not hit its target. Again, this is another way that the arc putting stroke can be compared to the full swing. You need to take your time during the transition of the full swing in order to be successful, and the story is the same with this kind of putting stroke.
The best way to learn how to putt with an arced stroke is simply to practice over and over again. There is no substitute for good old fashioned practice in this game, and that is certainly true when it comes to putting. Spend the time necessary on the practice green to get comfortable with an arc stroke and you should start to see progress sooner rather than later.
Troubleshooting the Arc
Even if you do well with your stroke in the first few practice sessions, you are still likely to run into at least a couple of problems along the way. To help you get through those problems as quickly as possible, we have assembled a few troubleshooting points below based on common issues with this technique.
- Missing to the right. This is easily the most common mistake that comes when players try to switch to the arc putting stroke. Most likely, you are going to miss many of your early putts to the right of the hole, especially from short range. The solution, fortunately, is simple – you need to release the putter head through the hitting area. When using a 'straight line' stroke, there is no release, so this action is a foreign concept to you at the beginning. Use your right shoulder to move the putter through the ball, and allow the toe to pass the heel as you make contact. There will be a bit of a learning curve on this important point, but it shouldn't take too long for you to get it figured out. Once you do get the feel for a proper release, you will love the way the ball comes off the face of the putter.
- Hitting your putts too hard. Another common mistake is hitting the ball too hard on short and medium length putts. This is a problem that usually pops up after the release has been figured out. Once you start releasing the putter correctly through impact, you will notice that the ball comes off the putter face much quicker – even if you are making a relatively small stroke. There is nothing that you need to do to correct this mistake outside of continuing to practice. With more practice time, you will start to get the feel for your new stroke and your speed control will come along naturally.
- Contacting the ball low on the putter face. You want to strike the ball as close to the sweet spot of the putter as possible, but you may find that you are hitting the ball a little too low on the face to get a good roll on a consistent basis. The likely cause of this mistake is premature head movement. You need to keep your head and eyes down on the ball all the way through impact in order to give yourself a good chance at making solid contact. Practice keeping your head as still as possible during the stroke and this contact problem will clear up shortly.
If you are committed to making the arc putting stroke work in your game, you are going to need to be committed to spending enough time on the practice green to learn the mechanics. It shouldn't take months to learn how to putt this way, but don't be surprised if it takes you a period of a few weeks before you gain confidence and comfort. Good luck!