Natural Golf and how its principles apply to putting
Recently a friend of mine started playing with the new method of swinging called "Natural Golf." I am wondering what you think of it and whether it can be applied to putting.
My Dear Mr./Ms. J.K.:
The system works because it does simplify the swing. Dr. Putt has tried the system in the past year, and with only a few practice sessions he was able to transfer it to the course and score as well as he was with the traditional swing. Within a month he was saving a few strokes. However, it is not a cure-all. The most dramatic results will likely occur for the player who has trouble breaking 100. To achieve scores in the 70s will still require considerable practice and concentration.
The problem the company faces in convincing more players to adopt the swing is that it does look unorthadox, especially when one addresses the ball. Golfers have a herd instinct to follow the leader and not stand out, lest they call attention to their own less than stellar performances. Until some leaders use the method to win major tournaments on television, the method, even though technically sound, will likely remain a subcult within the game of golf. In Dr. Putt's opinion, a breakthrough will come when some young player with talent and a secure ego learns the method, probably as a youth, and wins some major tournaments. That day will come because the company does significant advertising and is slowly winning adhearants. However, all their effort is but a drop in the ocean of advertising and instruction in the more traditional method. Till then most of us will try to be like Tiger and all the other professionals, even though we would be better advised to adopt this sound apporach to the swing. Dr. Putt would encourage you to be different and try their method. It is well worth the $80 price tag for the basic package, which you can learn about at naturalgolf.com. By the way, this is an unsolicited endorsement.
Now, let Dr. Putt turn to the second part of your question. How does natural golf apply to putting? Chances are that you already apply some of the method to putting. The traditional putting grip is quite close to the putting grip advocated by the Natural Golf company. The traditional grip is a palm grip with opposing palms and the right palm facing the target. Presumably, aiming is "naturally" done with the right hand. There is nothing really dramatically different here than what you will find in much conventional putting instruction. The great innovation was applying this conventional putting wisdom to the full swing. In their instructional package, putting is almost an afterthought that seems tacked on at the end. And Moe Norman, while perhaps the greatest ball striker of all time, was not a great putter. So we can't really learn much from him about putting.
Dr. Putt would argue that aiming needs to be more precise in putting than in the full swing. Simple geometry bears this out. A one degree error in the path of the swing in a 100 yard wedge shot yields a 1.2 yard error in where the ball lands. That is still a very acceptable shot, to say the least. However, on a 10 foot putt a one degree error yields a 2.09 inch error. The golf hole is 4.25 inches in diameter, which allows a maximum error of 2.125 inches on either side of the center of the hole. Our 10 foot putt may fall in the side of the hole if it is not moving too fast. At 11 or 12 feet you will most likely miss. The point is that small errors are less acceptable in putting than they are in a full swing. So counting on your right palm to precisely aim, as the Natural Golf Company advocates, may not be good enough in putting. Moreover, concentrating on the right hand encourages a swing that is dominated by the small muscles in the hands. These are the muscles that are most prone to error when under pressure.
Perhaps one should consider how one naturally aims when one needs to be precise. How does one aim a pool cue stick? How does one aim a firearm? How does one aim a free throw in basketball? When in need of precision, one does not stand to the side and aim with the palm of the hand. One stands behind the target and points: with the cue stick in pool, with the gun barrel in target shooting, and with the index finger in basketball (on the follow-through the player is supposed to visually put his index finger in the basket). Harvey Penick advised that we aim from the rear. So aiming from the rear is the natural way of precisely aiming.
Dr. Putt would argue that the EOB method and grip is closer to the principles of natural golf than the method proposed by the Natural Golf Company. The EOB 5 step method aligns the putter face to the ball while standing behind the ball. It connects three dots, the hole (or secondary target on breaking putts), the ball, and the EOB sphere. It places the putter head a little farther behind the ball than conventional putting (just as natural golf places the club head somewhat behind the ball). It places the player's head slightly behind the ball at address. This head placement is easier if one employs the EOB putting grip, which truly makes the putter shaft an extension of the left arm (for right handed players) and also has opposing palms with the right palm facing the target. You also get the sighting benefits of having ones eyes directly over the line of the putt, something nearly all teachers advocate. The Natural Golf Company advocates this as well, but the putter they sell has no way of helping you accomplish this.
So, dear reader, if you are interested in the natural golf method, by all means give it a try. Dr. Putt is confident that you will like the results if you make a little time investment and overcome feelings self-consciousness in looking unorthadox on the first tee. But you should also consider the EOB system, which in Dr. Putt's humble opinion, is a more natural way of putting than the Natural Golf putting method. It is also far cheaper! Enough plugs for one letter.