If you've ever seen a golfer putt with his body facing the hole and the ball to his right (or left), you're familiar with the “side-saddle” method. Also called “face-on” or “straight-forward” putting, the technique complies with golf's rules as long as the golfer does not straddle the putt's line.
Proponents of side-saddle putting note that the motion is similar to tossing a ball, making it more natural than the traditional stroke. Side-saddle also eliminates hand and wrist action to ensure a consistent, pendulum-like swing.
Putting side-saddle requires a long putter (45-55 inches depending on your height), preferably one with a very upright lie angle. Here's a basic primer for right-handers; simply reverse for lefties:
1. Stand facing the hole or your intended line.
2. The ball should be a few inches outside and in front of your right little toe.
3. Anchor the putter grip just inside the right shoulder with your left hand.
4. Bending forward, place your right hand on the shaft about halfway down. (Many long putters have a second grip in the proper spot.)
5. The shaft should be at a 90-degree angle to the ground.
6. Stroke the ball using your right hand, holding the top of the club against your body with the left.
7. Look for a golf putter model that has a beveled toe sole of about 10 degree. This will help with your set up options for a upright lie angle (like the AT 91 by Thomas Golf).
Thomas Golf Putters
Traditional, Mid-Length/Belly & Long Putters
Side Saddle Putting and Putters
Golfers will try just about anything to get the ball into the hole. As you already know, it is often the last few feet of any hole that are the most difficult to navigate, and nothing is quite as frustrating as hitting two beautiful shots to set up a birdie putt – only to three putt and walk away with bogey. Putting well isn't just important for your score at the end of the day, it is also important to ensure that you have a good time out on the course. Bad putting will drive up your score, and it could even drive you away from the game.
If you are struggling with your putting at the moment, and you have been struggling for quite some time, you may want to look at alternative ways to get the ball into the hole. For as long as golf has been played, golfers have been trying to crack the code on making more putts. Where some players are able to find success with the traditional method of putting the ball, others never can quite get comfortable with that setup. Putting well requires both proper technique and plenty of confidence – and it seems that the average amateur golfer is always missing at least one of those two components.
In years gone by, one of the most-popular ways to address putting woes was with an anchored putting stroke. Using either a belly putter or a long putter, the golfer would attach the butt end of the club to their body and then swing the putter head back and forth around that point. This was a great way to take the hands out of the stroke, and it helped many golfers get over the 'yips' once and for all. However, the USGA has now made that style of putting illegal, meaning you will need to track down another method in order to get your putting back on track.
With that in mind, you may wish to consider putting 'side saddle'. This is a style that has been used off and on by various golfers over the years, but it has never seen wide-spread acceptance into the game. To putt side saddle, you stand next to the ball with your toes pointed toward the target and your face looking directly at the hole. For a right handed golfer, the left hand will be at the top of the grip while the right hand is somewhere further down the shaft (making a split grip). Rather than swinging the putter as in a traditional stroke, a side saddle putting stroke is more of a pushing motion, with the right hand forcing the putter head down the line. This style of putting is a big departure from a typical stroke, but it could be a viable option to solve your putting woes.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play (or at least putt) left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
If you are going to make a change in your game as significant as this one, there need to be some major rewards potentially waiting for you at the end of the process. If the best case scenario is only putting slightly better, there really isn't any point in going through this process in the first place. Fortunately, you do stand to potentially putt vastly better than you do currently if you learn how to putt side saddle successfully. Not every golfer who takes on this idea is going to be successful – but those who are will be thrilled with the results. Assuming your putting is in bad shape currently, this is an option that it at least worth a closer look.
While the advantages (and disadvantages) of putting side saddle will vary from player to player, the following three points are the benefits which will most-commonly be experienced.
- Starting the ball on line. This is the main reason to consider putting side saddle. Thanks to the way your arms will be positioned at address, you should have a much easier time starting the ball on line than you do with your conventional stroke. Of course, that doesn't mean the putts will all go in – you still have to pick the right line and get the speed right as well. However, starting your putts on the line you have picked out is a big part of the putting equation, so you should see improved results based on this point alone. Specifically, getting the ball to start on line with regularity will mean that you should make most of your short putts, which eliminates the frustrating problem of three putting your way around the course.
- Seeing the line. Standing with your toes pointing toward the target will give you a great face-on look at the path that you need to take from the ball to the hole. This can be incredibly helpful in terms of building your confidence while you stand over the ball. When putting from a traditional stance, you can't look down the target line without moving your head to the side and tracing the line with your eyes. Looking down the line as you can do with a side saddle stance puts you in a position to get an excellent look without having to really move your head at all. If you have always felt like you really couldn't see the line accurately while standing over your putts, you might be able to solve that problem once and for all with the transition to a side saddle stance.
- Limited timing involved. The timing of the putting stroke is one of the underrated challenges that you have to get just right in order to hole out. Without good timing on a traditional putting stroke, you will have trouble striking the ball cleanly in the middle of the putter face. There is some element of release in all traditional putting strokes, just as there is in a golf swing. However, when you putt side saddle, you will mostly eliminate the need for that timing. Since you will be pushing the putter head down the line, you won't have to think about timing up the release – there won't be much of a release to speak of at all. As long as you have picked out the right line and you are able to push the putter down that line, you should have a good chance to make the putt.
As you can see, putting with a side saddle stroke can take away many of the common problems that are faced by the average golfer. For instance, if you feel like you usually have trouble hitting the line you have picked out on your short putts, the side saddle approach may help you to deal with that issue. Obviously, should you choose to go in this direction, you are going to need to spend plenty of time practicing your new stroke in order to build the confidence required to succeed on the course.
No golf method or technique is perfect, and the side saddle putting stroke is no exception. There is a lot to like about this method, and a lot of reasons why it can be successful – but there are drawbacks as well. As you go about the process of trying to learn this new stroke, you will likely run into a couple of the problems below. In the end, you will have to decide if the advantages outweigh the drawbacks when considering whether or not to make this your full time putting method.
- Speed control. This is easily the biggest hurdle you are going to have to get over when you try the side saddle putting method. When you putt conventionally, you are in a similar position to the one you use for hitting the rest of your shots – meaning your feel for the club head translates naturally. All of the chip and pitch shots you hit, for example, help you learn how much swing is required to hit the ball a certain distance. While putting is a different type of swing, some of that feel still transfers over. That will no longer be the case when putting side saddle. This is a completely unique motion from everything else you do on the course, meaning you are going to have to re-learn how to control your speed one day at a time. It is possible, to be sure, but don't expect to have great speed control right from the start.
- Self-confidence. On this point, there will be some people who are affected and some who don't care at all. In order to putt side saddle, you need to have the self-confidence to stand up on the green and do something that is completely different from what everyone else is doing on the course. This will be easy when playing or practicing by yourself, but it might cause some sense of self-doubt or even embarrassment when your friends or other golfers are around. To successfully put this style of putting into action, you have to believe in it enough to ignore the stares from other players and the good-natured jokes from your buddies.
- Long putts. It can be difficult to hit the ball hard enough on long putts to reach the target successfully. While your short putting will likely improve relatively quickly when trying out the side saddle method, it will take longer to learn how to use this style from long range. The way you are swinging the putter isn't going to help you develop very much speed, so a long, uphill putt on slow greens could be quite the challenge. As is the case with anything else, it is only dedicated practice that is going to help you learn how to hit the ball hard enough to get down in two on a long distance lag putt.
The only way to know which of these drawbacks will affect you is to get out and give the side saddle putting approach a try for yourself. You may find that all of these points become a problem, or you may find that none of them seem to be an issue. Either way, heading to the practice green for a little experimentation is the only way to know for sure.
Even if you do find that one or two of these points is a problem, you shouldn't necessarily give up on side saddle putting immediately. Any change you make in your golf game will take some time to become natural, so stick it out for at least a week or two to see if you can make any progress. If, after a period of practice time, you are not making any progress toward better performance, you may decide that reverting to your old style is in the best interest of your game.
A Practice Plan
It is one thing to head to the practice green in order to try out side saddle putting – but it is another thing to have a plan for how you are going to improve with this method. You never want to waste practice time, because every trip you make to the course or the range is a chance to get better. Have a specific plan for all of the time you spend practicing your golf game and you will start to shoot lower scores sooner rather than later.
The best way to get started with side saddle putting is to give yourself short, easy putts right off the bat so you can see a little bit of success. You want to build confidence in this method initially so that you will be encouraged to continue on. With that in mind, start your practice session by placing five golf balls down on the green just three feet from the hole. You should have picked out a three footer that is as flat as possible so that you don't need to concern yourself with any break. Knock each of the five balls into the back of the hole, and reset to do it again. Roll as many three foots as you wish with your new side saddle stroke, and make any adjustments to your technique that you feel are necessary as you go.
If you wish, you could limit your first practice session exclusively to short putts while saving the longer distance putts for another day. However, if you are feeling confident and you have time, go ahead and back up to roll the ball a slightly longer distance. At this point, you still shouldn't work on extremely long putts, as you probably don't have good enough control over your technique to succeed from long range. Instead, move back from three feet to around ten or fifteen feet. Of course, you aren't going to make as many of these putts as you will from three feet, but you should still be rolling accurately along your intended line.
As you go through your first few practice sessions, you are likely to notice some problems popping up in terms of miss patterns. If you find that you are missing a majority of your putts to one side or the other, try to use the following adjustments to get things on track -
- Missing left. When the ball is missing the hole to the left with regularity, you are likely releasing the putter head more like you would with a conventional stroke. Remember, you should be trying to move the putter head directly down the target line toward the hole, and there should be very little release involved. Try to think about taking your right hand straight to the target while making your forward stroke to work this problem out of your mechanics.
- Missing right. Looking up early is the likely cause of missing your side saddle putts to the right. Since the target is right there in front of you with a side saddle stance, it will be tempting to look up early to see where the ball is going. Obviously, you need to resist this temptation if you are going to regularly hole your putts. Keep your eyes trained on the top of the ball while hitting the putt, and only look up once contact has been made and the ball is well on its way. By simply controlling your eyes and your head through the stroke you should be able to correct the right side miss with your side saddle putting technique.
It is important to remember as you work on this style of putting that hitting the ball with the center of the putter face is the most important thing you can do in your quest to make more putts. Finding the sweet spot at impact will leave you with a better roll, it will make it easier to control the speed of your putts, and you will hit your target line more frequently. Just as it is important to hit the sweet spot when making a full swing, it is just as important to do the same while on the greens.
Finding a Putter
In order to putt side saddle, you have to have a putter in your bag that is up to the challenge. While you don't necessarily have to buy a putter that was designed specifically to be used side saddle, you should look for a couple of characteristics that will allow a putter to perform nicely in this role. If you have the wrong putter in your hands, it really won't matter how much you practice because the results will never live up to expectations.
The first element that you need to look for is a putter that is long enough to be comfortable as you stand over the ball. A conventional putter that is on the longer side – perhaps 35'' or 36'' - could do the job, as could an old belly putter or long putter. Remember, it isn't the length of the putter that has been banned, just the act of anchoring it to your body. So, you can still use that old belly putter or long putter than you had thrown in the garage, but you can't attach it to your body during the stroke. Therefore, those putters may make great choices for the side saddle method.
Along with having plenty of length, you also want to make sure the putter you choose has a relatively steep lie angle. Putters with a flat angle are great for making arcing strokes – but that is not what we are trying to do here. You want your stroke path to hold close to the target line when putting side saddle, meaning an upright lie angle is going to be best suited for the job. It might be possible to have an old putter adjusted to sit more upright (depending on the design of the putter), or you may need to purchase a different putter specifically for this purpose. Either way, before getting too far into the world of side saddle putting, be sure you have a club that is well-fitted to the job.
Is side saddle putting the long-awaited cure to your putting woes that you have been hoping to find? Only time will tell. It certainly is a viable option for rolling the ball into the hole, but it isn't going to work for everyone. In order to give this putting method the best possible chance at success, you will need to have enough patience to give it a chance on the practice green, and you may have to ride out some poor results on the course at first as well. Even though changes to your putting usually come around quicker than changes to your full swing, it will still take a bit of time. However, if you are willing to stick with it long enough to get comfortable and gain some confidence, the end result could be the best putting of your life.