Nine holes, six putts--that's a PGA Tour record even Tiger Woods
isn't likely to break, but it's not held by Ben Crenshaw, Brad
Faxon, Loren Roberts or any of the other players known for their
silky putting strokes. The record was set at the 2002 Air Canada
Championship by Stan Utley, a journeyman pro who bounces between
the PGA and the Nationwide tours. ¬∂ Utley, 41, has a secret: He's
the guy the other Tour pros go to for advice when they need help
on the greens. Since joining the Tour in 1988, he has worked
closely with about 60 players, most of them in recent years. His
client list includes Greater Hartford Open winner Peter
Jacobsen; Jay Haas, who at 49 is enjoying one of the finest
seasons of his long career; Buick Classic champion Jonathan
Kaye; and Craig Stadler, who recently won the B.C. Open on the
regular Tour a week after his victory at the Senior Players
Utley's name may sound vaguely familiar. He won the now-defunct
Chattanooga Classic in 1989 and still plays about 23 PGA or
Nationwide tour events a year. A soft-spoken, contemplative man,
Utley says he isn't ready to give up playing despite a slew of
lean years. But so many players have been asking Utley for
advice, he has officially hung out his shingle and now charges
$150 an hour for lessons. He still can't find the time to work
with everyone who wants to see him. "I have credibility from
capability," says Utley, who is averaging 27.13 putts a round
this year--half a stroke better than the Tour leader--but hasn't
played enough to be included in the stats. "The other players
know I wouldn't be out here if not for my chipping and putting. I
don't hit the ball as well as most of them."
Utley's stock as a teacher skyrocketed in the wake of Haas's
surprisingly strong play this year. (Haas has had six top 10s.)
They got together by accident two years ago when a Nationwide
tour event was held in Greenville, S.C., where Haas lives. Utley
was staying with Haas's brother-in-law, Dillard Pruitt, a former
player who is now a PGA Tour rules official. One night Pruitt
invited Haas over for dinner. When the conversation turned to
putting, Utley confided that while his own play was inconsistent,
he thought he had a gift for teaching the short game. "Then I'm
your first student," Haas said.
Within minutes the two men were out in the darkened driveway
using a six-iron (believe it or not, they couldn't find a putter)
to work on Haas's putting grip and stroke. "Who in the world
would have thought that I'd have dinner with Jay Haas at Dillard
Pruitt's house and he'd ask me about putting?" Utley says. "And I
could've helped 100 guys who wouldn't have said a word about it,
but Jay has been screaming my name. I couldn't be more grateful.
I was already teaching a bunch of guys I hang out with, but now
it has snowballed."
August 10, 2003
Utley's putting philosophy is based on the swinging-gate method,
in which the clubhead traces an arc with the clubhead opening
slightly on the backswing and closing after impact. Crenshaw and
Faxon are swinging-gate-style putters. Dave Pelz, the most widely
known short-game coach, swears by a different putting style, the
square-to-square method, during which the putter head remains
square with the target throughout the stroke. Roberts is a
"I believe the putter travels on an arc and the putter face
should stay square to that arc," Utley says. "People ask, 'How am
I going to hit the putt straight if the club face doesn't aim at
the hole?' I say, 'The same way your club face aims at the sky at
the top of your full swing, yet the shot goes straight down the
middle because it's square to the arc you're swinging on."
In June, Utley was hanging around the range at the U.S. Open when
Butch Harmon approached him. "He said, 'Way to go. You've done a
great job helping people with their putting,'" says Utley. "That
meant the world to me."
Utley grew up in Thayer, a town of 2,200 in southern Missouri
that didn't have a golf course. His father, Frank, was a brakeman
and a conductor for the Burlington Northern railroad. It was only
when the family moved 25 miles to West Plains so that Stan's
mother, Ruby, could enroll in Southwest Missouri State to study
to become a teacher, that Frank and 12-year-old Stan took up the
game. A year later Stan was taking lessons from Ken Lanning, a
selfless scratch player devoted to helping young golfers. Utley
was one of those kids who could always make putts, but Lanning,
along with St. Louis amateur Jim Tom Blair, made sure that he was
making them the right way. Utley was a two-time second-team
All-America at Missouri, then played his way onto the PGA Tour in
1988. After competing in only two Tour events in 1989, he landed
a sponsor's exemption for the Chattanooga Classic, which,
surprisingly, he won. His status as a past champion has allowed
him to stay on Tour during the down years that followed.
Last November, Utley moved his family from Columbia, Mo., to
Scottsdale, Ariz., and got serious about teaching. He travels
with his wife, Elayna, and their two children, Tatum, 8, and
Jake, 6, because, he says, "Not being together doesn't work for
Life is good and getting better. "I'm on a roll at the moment,"
Utley says. "If I had worked for anybody but myself, I'd have
been fired four or five years in a row on Tour. But I wouldn't
change a thing. This whole ordeal has been a blessing. I feel as
if God has a plan for me and I'm simply letting it happen."
WHY I LOVE TIGER'S STROKE
BY STAN UTLEY
At first I had reservations about dissecting Tiger's putting
stroke because some of my clients on Tour said that the last
thing they need is my helping a guy they already have a hard time
beating. But as it turned out, there's very little I would change
about Tiger's action because his stroke is based on the same
technique that I use and teach. I believe in the swinging-gate
method of putting, in which the putter travels on a slight arc,
or curve, during the stroke, instead of straight back and forth.
Think of the swinging gate this way: During the backswing and
again on the follow-through, the putter head moves a bit to the
inside of the target line while remaining square to the arc of
the stroke. The arc is created by rotating the shoulders, which
move perpendicular to the spine tilt.
In 1B Tiger has perfect posture at address. He tilts forward from
the hips, and his back is virtually straight. (Slouching the back
makes it difficult to turn around the spine, which is the most
efficient and accurate way to putt.) Woods's elbows point at his
hips, his eyes are slightly inside the ball, and the shaft and
his forearms are on the same angle. If you drew a line up his
shaft beginning at the putter head, the line would go straight
through his forearm. Tiger's shoulders are relaxed and down in
1A. Tension in the shoulders hinders a free-flowing stroke. See
how the ball is in the center of the putter head at address in 1B
but on the toe in 2B? That's because Woods's putter is traveling
on an arc, with the toe sweeping back and open. In 3B Woods's
shoulders are still almost on the same level they were on at
address, but they've swung around a little more to his right.
That's because he is rotating his shoulders around his spine. His
shoulders will move perpendicular to his spine tilt throughout
the stroke. In 3A Tiger's putter head is farther back than his
hands and slightly open as it moves away from the ball. The
clubhead should always move farther, proportionately, than the
hands, elbows and shoulders. At impact in 5B Woods looks exactly
the same as he did at address, with one key exception: His putter
is slightly off the ground. The putter must be in the air at
impact so that the sweet spot can hit the center of the ball.
After impact in 7B the ball appears to be on the toe of the
putter, and if you look below Tiger's right forearm you can see
the bottom of his left forearm. These are signs that his stroke
is still moving on the curve, with the putter head now traveling
inside the target line. During the follow-through in 9A the toe
has swung well past the heel, indicating that the putter head is
still moving on the curve. Also, Woods's right arm is lengthening
like a piston as the stroke progresses, while his left arm,
especially the elbow, stays fairly stable and acts like a shock
absorber. Tiger's shoulders are still almost parallel to the
target line in 9B and in about the same position as they were at
address and during the backswing. Woods's stroke finishes pretty
low and compact in 10A, indicating that Tiger has driven the
putter down and through the ball.
HERE'S HOW I DO IT
AT ADDRESS (1) I have a little forward press, my eyes are
slightly inside the ball, and my shoulders are relaxed. I often
get off balance by placing too much weight on my left foot, so I
have to constantly remind myself to lean a little to the right.
The man who taught me how to play and to putt was Ken Lanning.
Now in his 70s and still living in his hometown of Rolla, Mo.,
Mr. Lanning earned a living in real estate and was a scratch
amateur who devoted his life to teaching golf to kids. He used to
tell me, "The stroke begins with an inclination of the left
shoulder going toward your chin." As a teenager I didn't
understand what Mr. Lanning meant, but I do now--the shoulders
must pivot perpendicular to the spine tilt. To help keep the
putter moving on an arc throughout the stroke (4) and not
straight back and through along the target line, I imagine that
I'm rotating my forearms to the right in the backswing and to the
left during the through stroke. I'm also very conscious of
swinging the putter head. My elbows remain relaxed and pointed at
my hips all the way back and all the way through to the finish.
It doesn't look as if my putter is opening very much on the
backswing or closing on the follow-through, but it feels as if
it's opening and closing a ton. At impact (8) I hit down on the
ball and try to make contact with a little forward lean (i.e.,
hands ahead of the clubhead) in the shaft, with the head just
above the turf at its lowest point in the swing. I always pay
attention to what a solid stroke sounds like, and I strive for
that sound on every shot. Once you feel and hear a solid putt,
you always want to repeat it.
MY TAKE ON THE NUMBERS
A LOT OF MY PEERS like to pore over the Tour stats, especially
putting stats, but I don't put too much stock in them for one
simple reason: They rarely tell the whole story. For example, I'm
one of the Tour's best putters according to the stats, but I
don't take many putts partly because I miss so many greens. This
discrepancy between the stats and reality was demonstrated at
last year's Air Canada Championship, during which I set the Tour
record with six putts in nine holes. I set the record not because
I putted well, but because I chipped well. I holed two bunker
shots and rolled in a 35-footer from the fringe, while most of my
six official putts were from less than four feet. Here's a
detailed statistical look at Woods's short game, using data from
the Tour's new Shotlink system.
CATEGORY WOODS'S WOODS'S TOUR TOUR LEADER
RANK STATS AVG.
Putts per GIR 9th 1.717 1.773 Justin Leonard, 1.697
Putts per round 15th 28.17 28.99 Aaron Baddeley, 27.68
One-putt % 86th 38.5% 37.2% Baddeley, 45.3%
One-putt streak T10th 10 NA Three tied with 12
Streak without 104th 127 NA Tim Herron, 342
3 feet 36th 99.6% 99.2% Eight tied at 100%
4 to 8 feet 46th 72.3% 69.0% Brian Henninger, 85.1%
10 to 15 feet 3rd 40.6% 31.1% Carl Pettersson, 41.1%
15 to 20 feet 27th 25.0% 19.5% Angel Cabrera, 34.5%
20 to 25 feet 25th 18.8% 13.3% David Frost, 37.0%
Over 25 feet 195th 1.9% 6.2% Ben Crane, 12.2%
CATEGORY WOODS'S WOODS'S TOUR TOUR LEADER
RANK STATS AVG.
Sand saves 57th 53.3% 50.0% Paul Stankowski, 68.2%
Proximity to T7th 7'8" 9'10" Justin Leonard, 6'10"
hole from sand
Scrambling 16th 63.8% 58.8% Two tied at 67.5%
From the fringe T4th 94.6% 84.5% Angel Cabrera, 97.8%
From the rough 36th 58.6% 52.8% Chris Riley, 70.3%
Under 30 yards 15th 39.1% 27.2% Dicky Pride, 50.0%
20 to 30 yards T6th 66.7% 49.6% Retief Goosen, 81.3%
10 to 20 yards 67th 65.1% 62.9% Andrew Magee, 77.5%
CATEGORY WOODS'S WOODS'S TOUR TOUR LEADER
RANK STATS AVG.
Greens in regulation 36th 68.1% 65.3% Dan Forsman, 72.8%
Proximity to hole 63rd 38'6" 40'11" Retief Goosen, 31'2"
Under 125 yards 9th 19'7" 24'7" John Huston, 18'2"
125 to 150 yards 122nd 32'10" 32'1" Chris Riley, 22'7"
150 to 175 yards 62nd 36'7" 40'7" Goosen, 27'7"
175 to 200 yards 122nd 50'2" 49'5" Craig Parry, 33'6"
Over 200 yards 25th 47'4" 60'5" Robert Allenby, 37'1"
MY FAVORITE DRILLS
Practice while holding the putter with only one arm. Take the
free arm and hold it across your chest, grabbing your shoulder.
Practice with each arm, striving to keep the shoulder you are
holding still while that arm swings the putter. Then grip the
club with both hands and learn to blend a little arm swing into
CIRCLE THE BALL
An easy way to find out how true you roll the ball on the greens
is to draw a line around your ball with a felt-tip pen. Then aim
the line on the ball at your target and stroke the putt. If the
line wobbles, you still have room for improvement. After doing
this drill for several months, Jay Haas is close to perfecting