Orlando, Fla.— Brian Tennyson remembers the last round of the 2019 British Amateur Championship at Scotland’s fabled North Berwick Links. He hit every par 5 in two, drove one par-4 green and had birdie putts inside 10 feet on 14 of the 18 holes. He shot even par.
“I just wanted to jump in the ocean,” said Tennyson, a former PGA Tour player who had regained his amateur status by then. “I finished 42nd and I should’ve won by ten. I came home and said, ‘I have to find a way to putt better.’ Golf was no fun.”
Less than three years later, Tennyson is back at the PGA Merchandise Show here with his answer. He took the arm-lock putting method made popular by Matt Kuchar, turned it on its head, added a pinch of Jack Nicklaus and — voila! Meet the Lean Lock putter and putting system, devised by Tennyson.
Tennyson’s Lean Lock putters, which he puts together in Fernandina Beach, Fla., come in lengths between 39 and 44 inches with either a blade or mallet head. His innovation is how the Lean Lock putter is used.
Arm-lock putters (for righthanders) usually rest against the inside of the left forearm or left elbow. Tennyson’s putter is designed with 13 degrees of forward lean (well below the USGA limit of 20 degrees) so the user can line up with the grip resting on the outside of the left forearm. It sounds complicated but it’s not. In my search to putter better, which may involve the use of the word “desperate,” I gave regular arm-lock putting a try but found it awkward and unhelpful. Tennyson had me up and running with Lean Lock in less than two minutes.
“With regular arm-lock, my wrists can still break down,” Tennyson said. “The only way to avoid breaking the wrists is to have a tremendous amount of tension on the left side but in putting, we’re trying to eliminate tension.”
The Lean Lock system takes breaking the wrists out of the equation. With the putter shaft outside the left forearm, any attempt to break the wrists actually makes the locking effect stronger. Once the fear of breakdown is gone, a golfer is more confident and freed up to use the dominant hand and natural hand-eye coordination to guide the stroke.
“A lot of instructors teach us to use our big muscles for putting but that was all about the fear that the dominant hand would take over and make the wrists break down,” Tennyson said. “We’ve eliminated the wrists from breaking down. I get people in the right setup position and they just naturally know how to do it, they just look up and roll the ball to the hole with their dominant hand.”
The pinch of Nicklaus came in when Tennyson tried to get me in the correct setup position. When he told me to pretend I was Nicklaus about to putt, I knew what to do. I crouched slightly, bent at the knees, had my right shoulder lower than my left, which caused my stance to open and bent my left elbow so it was nearly touching my hip. Then I simply rotated my body as I started a stroke. The putter stayed online remarkably well. I needed to hit only two putts like that to realize Tennyson was definitely onto something.
The Lean Lock putter has a plumber’s neck and its milled face has 3 degrees of loft. Due to the shaft lean, it felt at first as if I was set up way with the ball way forward in stance. Upon further review, my hands were set well forward in my stance, maybe six or eight inches ahead of the ball, which was actually directly under my eyes.
My first two putts from 18 feet were sent a little left of target. I’d been concentrating too much on the setup and not on the aim as I was learning Lean Lock. I also sent them well past the cup. That’s common for new Lean Lockers, Tennyson said.
“One thing we find with people is they say, Gee, I’m hitting it too hard,” he said. “That’s because they’re finally hitting it solid. They didn’t know they’d been mis-hitting every putt.”
Mis-hitting every putt? Welcome to my world. This all sounds simple now but Tennyson spent many months learning the mechanics of what makes a good putt, why, and how to develop a club with which to do that.
He determined there were three keys to successful putting. One, the putter must be aimed dead-on at the target line just before and at the moment of impact. Two, the putter must swing along the intended target line. Three, the putter needs a slight upward angle of attack at impact. Tennyson calls this APA — Aim, Path and Angle of attack.
“If you do all three, you hit pure putts,” he said. “We created a method and a system and a unique putter to make that more likely.
“By anchoring the club outside the arm, the wrists can’t break down. By setting up in an open position, the body naturally rotates around a bit but during the first six inches of the stroke, the putter travels very straight and straight through. And by setting up in what we call a reverse-K position (like Nicklaus), with hips shifted forward and the right side set underneath, that helps the putter go back low on the backstroke and leads to an ascending angle of attack.”
Most average golfers, Tennyson said, have a 20-degree angle rotation in their putting strokes. The clubface opens 20 degrees on the backstroke, a large amount that makes it very difficult to consistently deliver the putter face back to square at impact. The best average tour putters, he said, have a 3- to 6-inch degree angle of rotation. The Lean Lock method, if done correctly, leads to much less rotation angle.
Lean Lock putters come with a 21-inch Winn grip and are available for $275 at LeanLockPutting.com. Each purchase includes a user’s manual written by Tennyson, and a free virtual lesson with Tennyson. His website also features an assortment of videos showing buyers how to use the putter.
Of course, he wishes he’d figured all this out sooner. Tennyson is 59 and though he’s putting better, “Now I’m running a business and working all the time,” he said with a laugh. He launched Lean Lock last fall.
But at least golf is fun again when he does play. Last year, he shot three 63s and a 62. Tennyson never won a PGA Tour event but he did have a couple of runner-up finishes. His most memorable moment came in the 1991 Masters. He was paired with Greg Norman in the second round, he didn’t have a good first round and after 12 straight pars, he needed something good to happen just to make the cut.
He played the last six holes in 5 under par… with a bogey. He eagled the 13th, three-putted 14 for bogey, then birdied the last four holes to shoot 31 on the back nine and post 67.
“Norman shot something like 74 and was trunk-slamming,” Tennyson recalled. “Bruce Edwards caddied for him then and told me it was the best back nine he’d ever seen anyone play at Augusta. Norman actually mentioned the same thing in some golf magazine interview a few years later. That was a lot of fun.”
With the Lean Lock putter, Tennyson expects the fun to continue.