“Necessity is the Mother of Invention”—Innovative Putting

by Doc Hox

It is unknown if Plato is the source of the above quote but any golfer, including the legendary Sam Snead, who has struggled with traditional putting certainly could have said those words. The recently proposed USGA ban on “anchored” putting has stimulated an interest in inventive putting methods.

When Snead found he could no longer be effective putting with a conventional stroke standing to the side of the golf ball, he adopted a croquet stroke method where he placed the ball in the middle of his stance and faced the hole. It is rumored that another Hall of Fame golfer did not like the “look” of this putting approach and influenced the USGA to ban Snead’s croquet-style stroke. Facing the necessity of having to change given the USGA ban on “straddling the line of the putt,” Snead innovated yet again by simply moving slightly to the side of the ball but continued to face the hole. This style of putting became known as sidesaddle and later as face-on or face-the-hole putting.

I attended the 1981 U.S. Senior Open and was fascinated watching both Snead putt sidesaddle and Tampa pro Charlie Owens swing the golf club cross-handed or left hand low. Two years later, Owens developed the long putter to ease the discomfort of bending over given his fused leg condition from an army paratrooper accident and to tame a twitching trail hand on the putter. Orville Moody adopted Owens’ long putting approach. Both players anchored the top of the long putter to their body and both won multiple senior tour events. Using the same putting method, Adam Scott won the 2013 Master’s Tournament.

However, all is not lost for those who currently anchor their putters if the proposed ban is adopted. For example, former Mesa resident Billy Bomar placed 7th in Dave Pelz’s 1996 World Putting Championship using a non-anchored sidesaddle stroke. Bomar went on to receive recognition as the Alaska Teacher of the Year by Golf Digest and win over 100 professional events. Today, his daughter Brittany also putts sidesaddle and plays professionally in the states and around the globe. Both use non-anchored custom putters designed and built by Arizona Golf Resort Head Pro Brad Butler. 

Butler and North Carolina-based Patrice Dionne (www.face-on-putting.com) both build USGA-conforming 79° lie angle sidesaddle putters with heavy heads that can be rocked into a vertical position and swung like a pendulum.

Butler also teaches a non-anchored “broom sweeping” stroke and builds a related “Sweeper” long putter that can be viewed on YouTube. He believes this stroke is more natural than an anchored stroke. Does it work? John Williams, a 49 year old golfer from New Delhi, India has a Butler Sweeper and states: “My handicap has gone from 15 to 2 since I started using the putter… it requires minimal practice.”  

Hopefully, the proposed ban on an anchored putting stroke has stimulated innovative responses that could even lead to better putting. The non-anchored sidesaddle and sweeper strokes are two inventive methods well worth considering. Coming next: innovative chipping.

Doc Hox (AKA Doug Hoxeng, Ph.D.) is a consultant and writer.