History has shown us repeatedly that there is no one best way to putt. The styles of past and present golf champions confirm that the only important thing in putting is getting the ball into the hole in the fewest strokes.
This indisputable fact, however, has not prevented experts from advocating a preference for a certain way to putt.
Harry Vardon may have been tongue in cheek when he said "There are many ways of performing the operations successfully. I can claim, however, to be in a position to explain how not to putt. I think I know as well as anybody how not to do it".
In the first half of the twentieth century the greens were slow and bumpy. When Byron Nelson achieved his streak of 11 consecutive tournaments in 1945, the rules didn’t even allow you to repair pitch marks or clean your ball on the greens.
Most golfers had a wristy putting stroke and used a putter with more loft than the recent models. You needed a putter that could get the ball airborne out of the shaggy grass and the occasional cupped lie on the green.
In reviewing those times I cannot find a single reference to a golfer putting his or her ball off the green. Today it is a real possibility with built-for-speed surfaces, especially as they now cut the holes close to the edge of the green.
Some of you may remember Tiger Woods in the first round of the 2005 Masters putting his ball from the back of the 13th green into Rae’s creek.
In the mid 1950s Billy Casper was regarded as one of the finest putters on the professional tour. Chi Chi Rodriguez once said that he "could make a 40-foot putt just by winking at it". His career as a three time Major winner speaks for his success.
Old film footage shows Casper with his trademark pigeon-toed stance breaking his wrists and striking the ball with sharp tap. This was the recommended way to putt. This is how the great Bobby Jones putted.
George Low, a teacher, club professional, and an excellent putter described his own putting stroke in his book The Master of Putting as "wristy, but not flippy".
He gave Arnold Palmer the one putting lesson he ever had. Palmer’s style was to adopt a knock-kneed stance to eliminate any risk of swaying and then give the ball a firm wristy rap.
In his book A Golfer’s Life Palmer describes George Low’s advice on his putting. "Listen to me, Arnie. There’s not a damm thing wrong with the way you putt. You putt great".
Even Dave Stockton, as late as 1996, was advocating that the putter be taken back with a slight cock of the wrists. He also advocated placing the putter in the fingers of each hand as he felt they give you "the best sense of the weight of the clubhead and where it travels during the stroke".
Most golfers of that time felt that using the finger grip was the correct way to putt as the palms of the hands lacked sensitivity. The analogy was that safe crackers and pick pockets use their fingers, and not their palms, for feel and deft touch.
The biggest influence on a change of style in putting has been the speed and smoothness of today’s greens. This has been made possible by better mowing equipment and new grasses that can withstand closer shaves.
The modern professional now putts with dead hands and a shoulder-activated pendulum-like stroke. There is very little wrist involved in the stroke and the putter shaft is placed in the palms rather than the fingers.
The stance and alignment is parallel to the aimline and the posture is more upright. Early golfers tended to stand more open with legs splayed wide, crouching over the ball, some to such an extent that their right elbow rested lightly on their knee.
Leo Diegel, back-to-back winner of the US PGA in 1928 and 1929, would push both elbows outwards parallel to the target line as he hunched low over the ball with the end of the putter grip almost touching his chin. His style of putting became known as 'diegeling'.
Walter Hagan, an excellent putter, flamboyant personality, and contemporary of Gene Sarazen, best represented what golf is all about. His famous quote reminds us that. "You're only here for a short visit. Don't hurry, don't worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way".
His putting stroke was described as a masterpiece of rhythm, of natural ease and supreme confidence. There was never the slightest sign of hurry on the back swing, never the slightest sign of jabbing or stabbing on the forward blow.
In an article in The American Golfer in 1923 he explains his approach to putting.
"In the first place I walk up, look over the line of the putt, decide how keen or slow the green is, and then decide definitely just how hard and on what line I must hit the ball. Once I have made this decision it is fixed and I no longer give it a thought".
He goes on to add "The main point here is never to hurry the back swing, to make it a matter of rhythm, to keep it at even speed, and not to come back too far. The same is true of the forward stroke in the way of timing - don't be in too big a hurry to tap the ball".
This advice is still true today as poor putting is often the result of quick and jerky movements. As the distance between the ball and the hole gets shorter, your muscles tense up and the anxiety of missing the putt increases.
Brad Faxon advises that you should throw away fear. He explains that great putters lack fear as they don’t expect to miss.
All golfers could benefit from learning how to putt in a relaxed manner. They need to experience first hand the same smooth unhurried stroke that Hagan used so successfully.
There are two training aids available that can help you to do this. They are the Rhythmiser by Harold Swash and the Whippy TempoMaster putter. Both putters are designed to develop a smooth, deliberate and repeatable stroke.
It pays to remember, when thinking about the best way to putt, that there are no good putters with bad fundamentals. The consensus among teaching professionals is that you should minimise body movement, place the shaft in the palms, and avoid any wrist break.
However, there is no right or wrong way to putt. Putting is all about feeling comfortable. The best way to putt is the way you putt best.