Origin of arm-lock putting
While Matt Kuchar – the current FedExCup points leader -- is the man behind the recent resurgence in the arm-lock putting method, a couple of amateurs named Spider and the Ace Man also deserve a little credit.
Little did those two beer distributors know that a casual round in Florida could help create the PGA TOUR’s latest putting trend.
Kuchar started running a putter shaft up his left arm back in 2011. He switched despite finishing second in the previous year’s FedExCup standings.
His first exposure to the arm-lock came more than a decade earlier, though. That was at the 1999 Walker Cup, when he was amateur golf’s golden boy. His teammate, John “Spider” Miller, used a putter with a ski pole for a shaft. It was so long that it ran under his armpit. He had to unscrew the shaft so it could fit in his travel bag.
Miller used the unique method for three decades, including his two U.S. Mid-Amateur victories and subsequent appearances at the Masters.
Miller got the putter from his friend, Azy “Ace Man” Stephens, who found the extra-long club during his desperate quest to cure the yips.
Its length prevented the left wrist from breaking down -- the same reason that golfers today are using putters whose shafts rest against their left arms.
“The putter was made to go outside your arm, and you wrapped your arm around it. The Ace Man didn’t last long with it and he gave it to me,” Miller said. “I instinctively put it under my arm and ran it up my left arm.
“Of course, all my friends laughed at me. … I would stand on my head to putt if I could make them. The making fun never bothered me. That was part of the fun of it. It would go from, ‘What’s that thing?’ to ‘Let me see that.’ I’m sure Kuch got the same reaction when he started using it.”
Peer pressure may explain why the arm-lock method experienced slow growth in its early years. Most professional golfers are traditionalists by nature.
But the method’s recent success has been too strong to ignore.
Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley used it to end lengthy victory droughts last season, while Bryson DeChambeau won four PGA TOUR titles with it in 2018. They combined to win three of the four FedExCup Playoffs events and THE PLAYERS Championship. Several more players – including Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Lucas Glover and Jason Dufner – have been spotted tinkering with the method this season.
Two World Golf Hall of Famers who famously battled the yips, Johnny Miller and Bernhard Langer, experimented with a similar method decades ago. Miller used a putter with an extended grip in the 1980s. Langer used his right hand to brace his putter against his left arm. He putted that way in his second Masters victory, in 1993. A few golfers copied Langer’s grip, but it didn’t gain much traction.
When Kuchar started tinkering with the new method, he called Miller for advice.
“I always thought it was important to hold it firmly against your (left) arm,” Miller said. “It takes your wrist out of the stroke.”
Kuchar has won six times since making the switch, including the 2012 PLAYERS Championship and 2013 World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play. For many years, it was simply called “the Kuchar method” because he was the only player using it. This year, he’s used it for two TOUR victories.
Kuchar currently sits atop the FedExCup standings with 2,030 points, leading Xander Schauffele by 468 points. He has six top-10s in 13 starts, including victories at the Mayakoba Golf Classic and Sony Open in Hawaii. Those were his first wins since 2014.
His success – and a change in the Rules of Golf – have helped the arm-lock spread.
Simpson, Bradley and DeChambeau all switched to the arm-lock after their previous methods were declared illegal. Simpson and Bradley both won majors with the belly putter, before the USGA’s anchoring ban took effect on Jan. 1, 2016. DeChambeau’s side-saddle method was declared illegal in early 2017.
Simpson’s improvement may have been the most dramatic. He was 177th in Strokes Gained: Putting in 2016. He finished fifth last season. Simpson gained 9.4 strokes on the greens during his record-setting performance in winning the 2018 PLAYERS.
“I would have never done this as a junior golfer because you wanted to appear a certain way, but at this level I think guys are smart enough to try whatever gets it in the hole,” said Simpson, who switched in 2016. He added a claw grip at the 2017 PLAYERS, one year before he won at TPC Sawgrass.
Bradley, who called Simpson “my idol”, started using the method after seeing Simpson’s success. Bradley won last season’s BMW Championship, his first win in six years.
Kuchar had a significant forward-press in his putting stroke during his stellar amateur career, which included a win at the 1997 U.S. Amateur and top-25s in two majors.