The term “straight-back-straight-through putting stroke” is a bit of a misnomer. Virtually every golfers stroke features some arc away from the target line going away from and through the ball. Its simply a function of physics.
However, some golfers strokes deviate from a straight line less than others. Steve Stricker, for instance, is often cited as the best example of a straight-back-straight-through (SBST) putter. Watch Stricker putt and you'll notice very little opening of the blade on the back-stroke, and very little closing (or releasing) on the through-stroke.
As Stricker proves, the SBST method can be quite effective. The key lies in the grip – by holding the putter in an “un-cocked” or “un-hinged” position, you restrict wrist and forearm rotation, limiting the amount of arc in the stroke. Here's how to form an SBST grip a la Steve Stricker:
- Hold your left arm (for a right-handed golfer) directly in front of you, level with your shoulder.
- Point the index finger out and the thumb up, as a child would make an imaginary pistol.
- Now bend your wrist to point the index finger toward the ground. This is an un-cocked wrist position.
- Maintain this wrist angle and place the hand around your putter grip.
- The handle should run across the palm rather than the fingers.
- Place your right hand naturally on the grip below the left.
This grip technique effectively locks the club in place, allowing little to no wrist movement and, therefore, minimal opening and closing during the stroke. Gripping the putter this way can feel quite awkward at first. But it can be a highly effective means of taming a handsy stroke and getting your putts started on line.
One final note: While there's much debate on this point, many golfers and teachers believe a face-balanced putter works
best with an SBST stroke, while a toe-weighted putter is better suited to a conventional “arc” stroke.
Master the Greens with Better Putting Stroke Mechanics
If you are ever going to reach the ultimate goals that you have set for yourself on the golf course, you are going to have to putt at a high level. It is just that simple – you wont be able to play good golf on a consistent basis unless your putting stroke is able to deliver on a regular basis. Every experienced golfer know the mental and physical struggle that putting can be, so plenty of effort will need to be devoted to this important skill. While you will never make every single putt you look at, even rolling in one or two more per round can have a great impact on your average score. Not only does making putts save you strokes on the scorecard, it also gives you confidence that can spread to the rest of your clubs.
Good putting starts with solid mechanics. There are many other factors involved as well – including green reading, touch, the ability to handle pressure, etc. – but excellent mechanics will make rolling the ball into the hole much easier. It is hard enough to make putts under the best of circumstances, but it is especially difficult if you are fighting your mechanics the whole time. Get your stroke under control from a technical standpoint and watch the ball start to fall in the hole far more often.
Many golfers find it a little boring to work for very long on their putting stroke – so they head over to the driving range and neglect their short game. This is a mistake. Ideally, you will spend at least half of your allocated practice time on your short game, if not more. It is crucial that you get your technique right on the practice green so you are full of confidence when you step onto the course. putting is the one phase of the game where nerves are most-likely to show up, so having plenty of confidence from your time spent practicing is a great advantage. Only when you believe in yourself and your ability to make putts will the results really start to show up on the course.
Good putting stroke mechanics are incredibly simple. In fact, many golfers go wrong simply because they try to make their putting stroke mechanics too complicated. You don't need to create power or speed in your putting stroke like you do with your full swing, so you can afford to make your mechanics simple and repeatable. One of the most-valuable putting stroke tips you can ever receive is to make sure your stroke remains as simple as possible. Fewer moving parts means more consistent execution – and consistent execution means plenty of made putts.
All of the instruction contained below is written based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please be sure to reverse the directions as necessary.
The Absolute Basics
Just like in your full swing, there is some room for personality and individual style within the putting stroke. However, there are also a few fundamentals that are simply non-negotiable. If you want to putt to the best of your ability, you will need to make sure you are hitting the following points correctly. None of these three points are particularly difficult to accomplish, but you need to spend enough time on the practice green to engrain these habits into your putting stroke mechanics.
- Quiet wrists. There is plenty of wrist movement in a good full swing. There is no wrist movement in a good putting stroke. Why not? It all comes down to power – or rather, the fact that you dont need to create any power when putting. For the vast majority of the putts that you will face on the golf course, a gentle rocking motion with the putter back and through the stroke will be plenty to power the ball to the hole. Therefore, you don't need to use your wrists to hinge the club and generate speed. Since you don't need to use them, you don't want to use them, because any activity in your wrists will make it harder to square the putter face at impact. In order to make putts consistently, you need to get the putter face back to square with the target line at impact. Making a stroke that uses wrist action will make getting the putter face square nearly impossible. Keep your wrists quiet and put the control over your stroke up into your arms and shoulders.
- Steady head position. As mentioned above, getting the putter square at impact is crucial. Another way that you can make that task easier is to make sure your head remains steady throughout the putting stroke. Many amateur players allow their head to move around during the stroke – especially as the moment of impact approaches – and this movement can cause the putter face to open or close prematurely. Remember, simplicity is what putting is all about. There is no need to move your head around at all during the stroke, so keep it in place.
- Controlled backstroke distance. The backstroke portion of your putting stroke should not be any longer than it needs to be. That might sound like an obvious statement, but it is something that countless amateur players get wrong. You want to move your putter away from the ball until you have created enough distance to build the necessary speed in the forward stroke. When you go past that point, you will then need to artificially slow the putter down through impact to avoid hitting the ball too hard. This is a disaster as far as the quality of your putting stroke goes. You will have great difficulty controlling your pace on the greens, and you will probably miss more than your share of short putts. One of the key elements to all of your practice putting sessions should be monitoring the length of your backstroke to make sure it remains under control.
As long as you successfully use the three putting stroke tips above, you will be well on your way to rolling the ball right into the back of the hole. Of course there is more work to be done to refine your stroke, but just these three tips can go a long way toward getting you on the right track.
Two Types Square or Arc?
There are two general schools of thought when it comes to the right way to make a putting stroke – swinging the putter on an arc, or swinging it straight back and straight through. Plenty of golfers can be found on either side of this argument, and neither side can claim that they are right. It is a matter of personal preference, as it is possible to hit good putts using either option. The best choice for you is the one that will lead to the ball being rolled perfectly down your target line time after time.
While it doesn't necessarily matter which one you pick, it does matter that you pick one. It is important to know which style of putting stroke you are using because that choice will dictate some of the other mechanical changes that you might need to make. For instance, if you are trying to make a straight back straight through putting stroke but you are using mechanics more-consistent with an arc putting stroke, there will likely be trouble. All of your mechanics need to be working toward the same common goal, whether that is a straight back straight through putting stroke, or an arc putting stroke.
So which should you choose? Again, that will have to be up to you to decide. Following is a short description of each method so you can think about your own game and make the choice that feels right to you.
- Straight back and straight through. As the name would indicate, this style of putting stroke is one in which the putter face stays as square as possible to the target line throughout the stroke. It is pretty much impossible to literally swing the putter straight back and straight through, as there will always be at least a little arc to your stroke – but the idea is to remain as close to that straight line as you can. Golfers who use this method tend to be more analytical and meticulous about their games as it is something of a mechanical motion to move the putter back and through in this fashion. The biggest strength of putting with this method is the ability to become quite consistent from short range. With the putter face staying so square throughout the stroke, many golfers are able to get to a point where they are able to make their putts from five feet and in with incredible consistency. On the downside, however, is the fact that you may struggle to control the speed of your putts. While not a problem from short range, you could have trouble dialing in the right distance when rolling the ball from across the green.
- Arc putting stroke. Not surprisingly, the arc stroke is basically the opposite of the method listed above. With an arc stroke, you will allow the putter to turn to the inside during the backstroke and then trace that same arc going through the ball. In many ways, this kind of stroke mimics your full golf swing. There is far more feel involved with an arc stroke, as the forearms and even the hands play a larger role in moving the putter back and through. Since it is the opposite of the straight back straight through stroke, the strengths and weaknesses are reversed as well. Short putts can be a challenge for some players with this technique, but speed control is usually pretty easy.
The next time you visit the practice green at your local course, try making both types of putting strokes to see which is more comfortable for you. For most players, it only takes a short period of experimenting on the practice green before a clear winner is discovered. Since they can both be very effective when used correctly, don't fight your natural inclination. Whichever method feels natural to you – go with it. From there, it will be up to you to put in enough practice time and effort to refine the stroke so that it performs at a high level.
The Mechanics of Straight Back Straight Through
Should you decide to choose the straight back straight through style of putting, you will need to understand what kind of stroke fundamentals to use in order to facilitate that method of putting. As you are trying to figure out how to improve your putting stroke, one of the key elements is to make sure you are using mechanics that work well together. Mismatching techniques within the same stroke can create problems that you might not be able to overcome.
The first fundamental of using a straight back straight through putting stroke is standing close enough to the ball to enable the putter to swing on a (mostly) straight line. If you were to stand too far away from the ball, you would be forced to arc the putter back and through simply because of your body positioning. Step up to the ball and stand close enough so that you feel like you are looking directly down at the ball from above. You should feel like you are standing considerably closer than you do when hitting a full shot, for example. Your arms should be relaxed and hanging freely down under your shoulders.
In order to get the putter started moving away from the ball, focus on lifting up your left shoulder from its position at address. If you are going to use this method properly, it is important that your hands or arms don't get involved in moving the putter. Let the rocking motion of your shoulders do the work, and that starts with the upward motion of your right shoulder. Obviously, this move will pull your left shoulder down at the same time – which is perfect. After the putter completes its backstroke, you simply reverse the motions and move up with your left shoulder in order to bring the putter through the ball. When you think about it this way, the stroke is incredibly simple – lift the right shoulder in the back stroke, and the left shoulder in the forward stroke. Practice this basic motion over and over again on the practice green until it becomes natural to you.
Another element of this style of stroke that requires attention is your left wrist. While it is important in any kind of putting stroke to keep your wrists quiet and steady, that is especially true of the left wrist in a straight back straight through stroke. Any breakdown through impact of the left wrist will certainly cause the ball to miss to the left of the hole. You need to maintain your speed through impact and keep your hands moving so that the putter face can stay square to the target line. Any amount of cupping in your left wrist when the putter meets the ball is going to get the putter face off target and cause your putt to miss the mark.
One final point that needs to be made in reference to this style of putting is that plenty of practice will be required from long-distance in order to dial in your speed control.
Specifically, make sure you spend time on the practice green prior to playing a round so that you can get a good feel for the speed of the greens that day. That is good advice for any golfer, but it is important for players using a straight back straight through stroke because there isn't much feel in the hands when swinging the putter in this manner. That means that practice is going to be key if you are going to successfully control the roll of your ball from the first green through the last.
The Mechanics of an Arc Putting Stroke
For those of you that opt to go with the arc putting stroke, a different set of fundamentals are going to apply. Swinging on an arc with your putter, just as you do with your full clubs, has plenty of benefits. It can be, however, challenging to learn this technique at first. Many golfers start out with a stroke that more closely resembles a straight back straight through style, even if they aren't doing it on purpose. To make the change to an arc stroke could take some time, but the rewards may be worth it in the end.
To get started with an arc stroke, first work on taking a stance that is slightly further away from the ball. You need space between your body and the ball in order to arc the putter back and through, so you really cant make this type of stroke while standing right next the ball at address. Give yourself plenty of room, and even consider using a slightly longer putter if necessary to find a stance that is comfortable and promotes the arc shape in your stroke.
When you are ready to move the putter, you want to do so using your shoulders just like in the instructions for the straight back straight through method. However, in this case, you want to feel like your right shoulder is moving back and away from the ball, rather than up into the air. It is a subtle difference, but it will lead to a totally different type of putting stroke. Pulling your right shoulder away from the ball will naturally arc the putter head to the inside during the back stroke. When it is time to move the putter forward, start by pulling your left shoulder away from the ball. That action should arc the putter back toward the ball on the correct path to return to square and roll the ball beautifully along the target line.
Remember that while you are making this stroke using mostly your shoulders to move the putter, your head positions should be staying perfectly still. Many amateurs make the mistake of allowing their head to move along with the shoulders, which will lead to a wildly inconsistent stroke. Keeping your entire body as quiet as possible, except for your shoulders which are rocking the putter back and through, will make the whole stroke far easier to repeat time after time.
The biggest danger with the arc putting stroke that you need to watch out for is the lack of a release through the ball – which will send the putt to the right of your target. Some players get nervous right before impact and instead of letting the putter continue to release on its natural path, they hold on through impact and restrict the release using their hands. If you notice that you are missing your short putts to the right of the hole, your hands are likely getting in the way of the stroke. Try relaxing your grip pressure to avoid making this mistake. When you keep your hands quiet and let the rotation of your shoulders do the work, you should have no trouble bringing the putter back to square when it contacts the ball.