Matt Kuchar was second in putting last week at Muirfield Viillage. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
By Travis Fulton, Director of Instruction, PGA TOUR Academy
Make it two wins now for Matt Kuchar in 2013. The unspectacular -- but steady -- American just seems to be getting better with age. Since turning pro in 2000, the former U.S. Amateur champion has won six times on the PGA TOUR, with half of his victories coming in the last 13 months, including the 2012 PLAYERS and 2013 World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship.
After his Accenture Match Play win, I wrote about Kooch’s unique, yet effective, “flat” swing. This week, after an impressive two-shot win at The Memorial, it’s only fitting that we take a look at another uncharacteristic part of his game—his putting. You may have noticed over the weekend how Kuchar takes a belly-length putter and leans the shaft so far forward that it aligns itself with his lead forearm. This forward lean flattens out his left hand and creates a straight line from his left elbow to the putterhead. The advantage of this is it creates a de-lofting effect on the putter face, helping Kuchar roll the ball effectively. Since 2009, Kuchar has finished no worse than 26th in strokes gained-putting (he was second at The Memorial), and his strange but effective address is a big reason why.
Most TOUR players lean the shaft only slightly forward at address. This conservative lean to the shaft allows the left hand to be bent, rather than flat. The significance of this is that when the lead wrist is bent, the low point of the swing arc is opposite to the wrist. That is why you’ll see so many players position the ball slightly forward of center in their stance, directly below the lead wrist, so that they can catch the ball on a slightly ascending angle through impact. Although this approach doesn’t de-loft the putter face as much as Kuchar’s approach, it creates a solid roll through its ascending attack angle through impact.
What’s important here is that regardless of how much forward lean you have at address, that you return the shaft back to its original address position at impact. By doing this, you will be able to control the loft of the putter face and attack angle, resulting in a more predictable and consistent. If you return the shaft at a different angle, then it’s hard to control your starting line and distance control. To avoid losing your shaft angle, here are a couple things to consider:
1. Maintain the bend in your trail wrist. With the shaft so far forward at address, Kuchar has a lot of bend to his trail wrist -- similar to his impact position on the full swing. What Matt does so well is that he maintains the angle between the right forearm and the shaft through impact, which keeps the forward lean to the shaft consistent. One of the most common mistakes you see with amateurs is that they lose this angle early because they scoop the trail wrist. This causes the handle and the shaft to drop back, leading to poor contact. If this is you, try leaning the shaft more forward at address, like Kuchar. It should help you eliminate the scoop, resulting in a better impact position.
2. Use your shoulders. The putting stroke, in many ways, is a miniature golf swing. Even in the smallest of motions, you need to use your shoulders through impact. If you don’t, then you’re more likely to overuse the hands through impact. You will flip or scoop the putterhead into the ball and disrupt the lean of the shaft. Although it’s minor, Kuchar moves his lead shoulder slightly up and back, relative to the target line, through impact. This allows the hands and putter to follow. This shoulder movement is critical to support the hands and ensure a consistent putter shaft angle at impact.
Travis Fulton is the Director of Instruction at the TOUR Academies at TPC Sawgrass and the World Golf Village. For more information on the TOUR Academy, click here.