Want to putt like Zach Johnson? Here’s how
Sunday, January 23, 2011
In winning the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas on May 30, Zach Johnson sank more than 100 feet of putts during the final nine holes of the tournament. He made 24 birdies in 72 holes.
Here’s what Johnson’s putting instructor, Pat O’Brien, said about his pupil’s putting stroke:
“He’s kind of old school. He holds the putter in the palm of his left hand. I advocate holding it in the fingers, but there is no way I would try to change somebody like Zach.
“The accommodation we make for his grip is to cup the left wrist a little bit at setup. This locks him in, so nothing breaks down.
“I learned this from Payne Stewart. He was always a streaky putter until the last year of his life. He started cupping that wrist. He got a foundation and a system, and he became one of the best putters in the world.”
O’Brien’s simple philosophy: “The whole idea in putting is to return to square at impact without thinking about it. That’s true for everybody, not just Zach Johnson.
“Zach came to me with that grip. We met in 2000 at a Buy.com event in Richland, Washington. We started working together in 2001. Right away I asked him to cup that left wrist.”
Johnson has became a poster boy for addressing the ball with the putter shaft angled slightly backwards.
“Sometimes I have to get him more (straight) up and down (with the shaft),” O’Brien said, “but he does so many things so well. Success in putting is all about setup, about flow and proper fundamentals, about allowing the putter to go where it is supposed to go.
“With Zach and many good putters, the mechanics are there. Nothing is going to get away. It (making putts) happens because of the flow of things, the timing and the rhythm.”
O’Brien stresses a putting stroke without swing thoughts: “I teach golfers (mostly amateurs) all the time who focus endlessly on mechanics and positions and swing thoughts – all that garbage. You can’t play golf that way. Good putting is all about physically calming yourself down and allowing that freedom of motion.”
Johnson’s SeeMore FGP putter is 34 inches long with 2.5 degrees of loft. Johnson is so smooth and technically sound, according to O’Brien, the putter head is never manipulated during the stroke.
“The stroke just happens,” said O’Brien, who teaches at Lakewood Country Club in Dallas, Texas. “Zach allows it to happen. The putter is designed to swing (perfectly) on a plane.”
Besides O’Brien, the Johnson support team includes swing instructor Mike Bender, named 2009 National Teacher of the Year by the PGA of America, and sports psychologist Morris Pickens.
Speaking candidly, O’Brien said, “When it comes to putting, sports psychology will only work if you have an inherent belief that the putter will get back to square. This will happen only if you have the proper setup and fundamentals.”
Johnson has it, and O’Brien says you can, too.
“People can learn to putt,” O’Brien said. “I believe this with all my heart and soul. On my website (www.patobriengolf.com), I practically give all my information away. I am passionate about helping all golfers improve.
“Maybe most golfers can’t hit the ball as straight and far as Zach, but they can learn to putt like he does. I believe this. I really believe it.”