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The Big Gap

by Geoff Mangum

Geoff Mangum's PuttingZone™ Instruction

ZipTip: Stroke: The Big Gap

You should play the ball forward of the middle of your stance (which is the bottom of your stroke arc), but maybe you should place the putterhead down not behind the ball but in the middle of the stance -- and this Big Gap can be useful.


Traditionally, golfers place the putterhead directly behind the ball at address, with just a tiny gap between the putterface and the back of the ball. But that conflicts with the sound advice to play the ball forward in your putting stance so that the stroke gets back to the bottom of its arc before making contact. The bottom of the arc is in the middle of the stance, but the ball is forward -- usually about two inches, or opposite the heart or lung and not the sternum. Placing the putterhead also forward of the bottom of the arc creates a problem -- either the putter's sole has to be a little higher off the turf than otherwise (because farther forward in the up-going part of the arc of the stroke) or the backstroke will start into the turf. If the latter, you will have to make some mid-stroke adjustments with your body (probably the wrists and elbows) to get a smooth takeaway. One common trick is the forward press, which reorients the stroke's takeaway before it starts so it goes flat back and not downward back from this forward starting position.

Since in my book a forward press is not a good trade (rhythm by giving up putterface orientation security), I'd just as soon forget the forward press, but I want the ball forward. So, I just place the putterhead down at the bottom of the arc in the center of my stance. This creates a BIG gap (about two inches, or three fingers wide) between the putterface and the back of the ball!

Not to worry though -- make lemonade instead! The GAP shifts the emphasis from the moment of impact at the back of the ball to a more spread-out focus on the stroke-in-time as it moves through the ball on line. The Gap, in other words, shows you the line of the stroke more than it does the point of impact. And, as it happens, that's better!

Plus, by starting the putterhead at the point where the stroke ought to return to vertical at the bottom of the stroke arc, you have a better chance of having your stroke actually return to vertical as planned. This is true for a number of reasons.

  • First, your pivot in the neck-head area relates to the bottom of the arc more clearly than some other point because of gravity and body symmetry.
  • Second, this setup makes you more conscious of getting to the bottom before impact, and the very best putters in history know how important this is (e.g., Billy Casper).
  • Third, this setup encourages a still head in the stroke. "Nuff said there.
  • Fourth, the Gap gives you a nice margin of error just in case you're late getting back to the bottom, as sometimes happens with any targetward sway in the stroke or unrecognized folding of the wrists going to the top of the backstroke. This margin of error also reduces the likelihood that you will unconsciously flip the wrists forward as impact nears -- as this is usually done to overcome a lateness in getting back to vertical.
  • And fifth, as an added bonus, this Gap setup encourages a very slight upstroking through the ball that my favorite putters and putting teachers recommend for the quality and consistency of the roll. To me, this slight uptick is also very important to making sure the putt starts out square on the intended line.

    So, give this a try on the practice green at least. You may not like it at first. You might feel a little like Happy Gilmore running up to slapshot his tee ball! But you will learn something useful from trying it out. And if it sticks and you take it onto the course, then you can tell your sceptical friends you learned it in the PuttingZone!

For more tips and information on putting, including a free 10,000+ database of putting lore and the Web's only newsletter on putting (also free), visit Geoff's website at, or email him directly at

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