The biggest change in contemporary golf instruction has occurred in putting, not ballstriking.
Before the 21st century, most instructors taught the straight-back-and-straight-through putting technique. Sure, there was plenty of casual conversation about what informally became known as the Ben Crenshaw Method – opening the putter face on the backstroke and closing it on the through stroke so that the blade is square at impact – but practically nobody taught it.
The usual rap on the Crenshaw stroke was that it required exquisite and difficult-to-maintain timing, whereas the straight-line stroke generally was considered an easier concept for students to visualize and learn.
In 2001, a backlash was initiated by a training device called the Putting Arc (www.theputtingarc.com). The philosophy behind the Arc is simple: Its promoters claim that, because of the design of the human body, the putter head should travel on a slightly curved arc, not on a straight line.
Some prominent golfers, notably PGA Tour player Stan Utley, began questioning the slight closing and reopening of the putter blade often associated with keeping it square to the line.
Utley, although not associated with the Putting Arc, gained notoriety for teaching an arced stroke to his fellow touring pros. This set up a confrontation of sorts between Utley and short-game instructor Dave Pelz, the leading proponent of the straight-line stroke and inventor of a training tool called the Pelz Putting Track (www.pelzgolf.com).
With the Putting Track, the path of the putter is framed by two metal rails. The putter head is swung on a straight line between the two rails.
To use the Putting Arc, a golfer places the heel of the putter against the curved device. The heel must remain in contact with the Putting Arc throughout the stroke. Indicators show precisely where the face of the putter should be pointing at different points during the stroke.
Dr. Gary Wiren, listed on virtually all top-teacher lists, said flatly: “I am about to travel for the summer, and I guarantee you I will take the Putting Arc with me. My own particular preference is the Putting Arc rather than the Putting Track. In my view, it (the Putting Track) requires manipulation to keep the face on the target line all the time, back and through. It is a learned skill, but not natural. To my way of thinking, the Arc approach is more natural because that is what the club (putter) will do – it will swing on an arc.”
Wiren is not paid by the Putting Arc, although he does sell the product at his training-aids business (www.golfaroundtheworld.com).
V.J. Trolio, a teaching professional at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss., originated the concept of the Putting Arc. When Trolio showed up at the 2002 PGA Merchandise Show with his invention, noted British putting instructor Harold Swash scolded him by saying, “That’s all wrong.”
Trolio wasn’t about to turn back. Neither were his primary financial backers, engineers Dave Hamilton and Joey Hamilton of LHI Inc. in Shannon, Miss. The Hamiltons, builders of sophisticated saws and custom woodworking and metal working equipment, loved the science behind the Arc.
“It makes so much sense,” said Joey Hamilton. “We did a patent search, and were surprised there was nothing like it out there.”
So what exactly is this arc that has become the foundation of the Putting Arc?
“If you make a stroke in plane, as opposed to out of plane,” Trolio explained, “the putter head moves in an arc. It moves slightly inside (on the backstroke) to inside (on the through stroke). It opens a little (going back), and it closes a little (coming through).”
Emphasis on the word “little.”
“If you put too much curve in it (open or close it too much), you’re not on the plane any more,” Trolio said. “The best golfers today want to use a shoulder stroke. They want to avoid a bunch of moving parts. If you start moving and get out of plane, the stroke is no longer in the shoulders –
it could be in the wrists, or even the forearms.”
Now for Trolio’s biggest assertion: “The shaft goes straight back and straight through, yet the putter head moves inside to inside. This is the true straight-back-and-straight-through stroke.”
Many touring pros have adopted this stroke, and Putting Arcs often are seen on the practice greens at professional events. The Putting Arc is sold in three different models, priced from $35.95 to $89.95.
Jay Haas, using the stroke taught to him by Utley, has been on a Champions Tour rampage.
“It’s the right stroke for me,” Haas said. “I am very comfortable with it.”
On the other hand, acclaimed putter Loren Roberts is a straight-line advocate who does not use an arced stroke.
As the putting debate rages on, one fact is indisputable. Although the Putting Arc was alone in publicizing this curved stroke at the 2002 PGA Merchandise Show, it had plenty of company four years later at the 2006 Show.
At least a half-dozen training aids promised to ingrain the stroke. Even Utley now offers a putting aid called the Learning Curve, available through Eyeline Golf (www.eyelinegolf.com).