Breaking down one of the biggest questions in putting
There’s no doubt that greens play will make or break your round. The best putters get themselves out of more jams than I can count. Fewer strokes on the green can save a round on the brink, or take you into the red for the best round of your life. So, naturally, a lot of time, effort and words are spilled on behalf of the shortest grass on the course.
As such, it makes sense that in addition to the equipment we use, our mental approach, reads, break and hole location, we can and should take into account our stroke. And the shape of that stroke is one of the hottest contested subjects in golf today.
By that we mean straight back/straight through (SBST) or Arc. SBST is exactly what it sounds like — instead of the putter following your natural, twisting body motion as you bring the club back, you intentionally extend your hands/arms forward to better form a straight club path — hence the straight back and straight through moniker.
The arc stroke follows your natural body motion so that when you pull the club back and your body naturally twists away from the ball, the club follows suit and forms more of an arc as it comes back and then strikes the ball through into your followthrough.
Other, believe it or not, advocate a hybrid approach. The putting pro Cody Hale features in a video for The Hacker Paradise where he uses some crazy gadgets to better illustrate the differences between the two, before advocating for his favorite approach (spoiler alert: he’s a fan of the hybrid approach).
It’s easy to see why someone might prefer the SBST approach — if you’re able to master it, it produces the fewest possible variables in your swing. If the putter is only moving along two planes — forward/back and up/down — it reduces the number of ways you can screw that swing (and the resulting shot) up. On the flip side, it’s not as natural a movement because you have to contort your hands/arms in order to achieve that putter path as it deviates from the motion your body naturally instills in the club as you rotate. As such, that can make it harder to actually achieve a SBST swing plane.
The arc makes sense because, unlike SBST, it follows the natural movement of your body. That means you have fewer swing thoughts, and go with the flow more. On the flip side, though, you’re now introducing movement on the a third axis, with forward/back, up/down and out/in. By introducing a z-axis where SBST only has the x- and y-, you complicate the club path; which, by definition, complicates the contact point and impulse (how long the club and ball are in contact) of your stroke. Even though it’s more natural, there are more variables. As such, there’s more to consider.
Either way, Hale does a good job of explaining the differences, and his preference for a hybrid approach makes good sense. No matter what you choose, it’s worth taking time to consider the options and make a conscious choice in how you approach putting, instead of simply doing what you’ve always done.