Step 3: HINGE AND POP FOR A PURER ROLL
Now for the good stuff! Here’s my step-by-step guide to making my pop stroke. Before I tell you what to do, here’s what not to do: Don’t lock your arms and wrists in an effort to control the club by rocking your shoulders. I know that this is the method most people are taught, but it adds a lot of tension to your body and your stroke. A good pop stroke nixes these errors, and a lot more.
Takeaway: As you start back, actively hinge your wrists, as though you’re flipping the putterhead away from the target. No need to overdo it. It can be subtle. But the pop stroke requires some wrist flex right from the start of your stroke.
Backstroke: Keep your arms loose and swing them in response to the momentum created by your wrist hinge. The photos above show that I get the putterhead fairly deep in my backstroke without much shoulder or arm movement. You don’t want to rigidly control the club with your shoulders, like you’ve probably been taught.
Forward-stroke: Once you transition from backstroke to forward-stroke, smoothly unhinge your wrists while swinging your arms down the target line. You want to feel that the putterhead is moving more than the handle, sort of like it does when you release one of your irons through impact. Swing the putterhead into the ball, not the grip.
Impact: It’s critical that you strike the ball with a neutral putterface. Never add or subtract loft from the putterhead at impact -- either mistake can cause the ball to hop, skid or otherwise roll inconsistently. That’s why I don’t rehinge my wrists after contact. If you’re going to miss, miss by hitting slightly up on the ball. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than hitting down on it.
Throughstroke: My pop stroke pretty much stops at impact. All that talk about matching the length of your throughstroke to the length of your backstroke? Forget it! To vary distance, vary the length of your backstroke and see how far the ball rolls. My eyes tell me how far I want the ball to travel; then I simply take the putter back as far as needed. Your backstroke determines distance. Your throughstroke is an afterthought.
BONUS! A Drill for Smooth Pops
To get the proper feel for the pop stroke, try my favorite drill. Place your left hand on your right biceps and hit putts with only your right hand and arm. To do it, you’ll need to flex your right wrist to get enough power on the ball, and you’ll have to swing the clubhead more than you swing the handle. Use your left hand to make sure your right elbow doesn’t fly out as you make your stroke. Keep your right elbow in. This helps you to move the putterhead straight down the line and contact the ball with the putterface in a neutral position, without adding or decreasing loft.
At first, you’ll feel like the ball is coming off too fast. That’s okay, especially if you miss putts on the low side, which is what most weekend players do. Those misses seem like green-reading errors, but it happens when you don’t give the ball enough pace. A slow roll is more susceptible to break, and putts that reach the hole with pace are less likely to lose their line and more likely drop!
Finally, I strongly recommend that you practice three-, four-, and five-footers. I work on these constantly. If you build up your confidence on the short ones, you’ll feel comfortable and confident on the longer putts. In fact, a key to my success is never having to worry about three-putting. I take dead aim and try to make every putt I look at, and I deal with the comebacker -- if there is one -- afterward.