My question concerns the desirability of using a forward press while setting up for the putting stroke. This has gotten a lot of attention recently due to Phil Mickelson’s work with Dave Stockton. I have read articles that the forward press facilitates getting the ball rolling with proper top spin. I seem to have a more consistent impact with a slight forward press, but I believe this has more to do with the forward leaning shaft angle helping to flatten and immobilize my left wrist.
Let me address Phil’s forward press when putting.
For those who are not familiar with this maneuver, let me describe it as a slight forward movement of the wrists and hands just before the start of the back stroke. The head of the putter is in position behind the ball but the loft of the putter is reduced slightly by this motion.
It is important that once this movement has been made that the putter, wrists, hands, arms and shoulders remain as one unit throughout the back and forward part of the stroke and for at least eight or more inches after impact. This will make a significant difference in building consistency into your putting stroke which is very important if you are to become a good or even a great putter.
As mentioned, the forward press will de-loft the putter by a degree or so but a well designed putter has a four degree loft, you will still have a positive loft at impact of two to three degrees. This is very important because the positive loft and the slight upward path of the head during impact will help in launching the ball out of the small depression in which it will inevitably sit. If this was not the case, and the ball is launched horizontally, it will pop-up out of the depression and do so differently each time, depending on the depth and size of the depression. This pop-up is often most noticeable on the longer putts, and adds to inconsistency on the green.
These small depressions, which we don’t often notice during the day, become very obvious in the evening when the sun is low and shining across the green surface and certainly after a lot of traffic.
We need to understand that every ball when struck correctly with a putter – with a positive loft – on or slightly below center of the ball will have some backspin (see what happens when a putt is hit). The amount of back-spin on the ball will be affected by the path of the putter head and it’s dynamic loft. The ball will also be launched, very slightly, off the green surface, and will then skid for short period followed by pure rolling.
People talk about getting the ball rolling with the proper top spin, which means rolling spin – not backspin or excessive forward spin. This is very difficult to do using a putter unless the loft is close to zero and path of the putter is upward by about 10 degrees above the horizontal, which is quite a feat because the ball is sitting on the green surface and not on a tee. Hitting the ball on the center with zero degrees of loft and a horizontal path will drive it into the edge of the depression and make it pop and/or skid.
If you have ever played pool you will notice the cushion is not at the height of the center of the ball but significantly above it. This is the same spot – i.e. opposite the percussion center – on the ball at which you need to strike the ball for it to have only rolling spin after impact. The only way this can happen is to hit the ball with significant negative loft, which will drive the ball into the ground.
Using the forward press is not very common on the tour but has helped a few players as a trigger to start the process of making the stroke – this is more psychological than mechanical in nature. In some cases – as you have mentioned, it will also set the position of the wrists to be held during the full stroke. In our putting studio – where we have seen and helped thousands of golfers of varying skills from beginners to pros – we recommend the forward press when a golfer is a little hesitant to start the stroke – i.e. as a trigger.
Hope this helps and provides a better understanding of the putting stroke and the forward press.
Frank Thomas, inventor of the graphite shaft, is founder of Frankly Golf. Thomas is chief technical advisor to GolfChannel.com. He served as technical director of the USGA for 26 years and directed the development of the GHIN system and introduced the Stimpmeter. To email a question for possible use in an upcoming Let's Be Frank column, please email firstname.lastname@example.org