ON A SLEEPLESS night about 30 years ago John Pfannerstill, a municipal judge in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa, came up with a quick fix for his putting woes--a new grip, one that would ultimately save Chris DiMarco's career.
Pfannerstill had seen his scores balloon from the low 70s to 80 and above, and he had tried everything to regain his putting stroke: hitting it lefthanded and cross-handed and, he says, "buying more putters than you'd find in a pro shop." Then one night in the early 1970s, before a match at his club, a restless Pfannerstill tiptoed to the family room where, while practicing his putting, he had a eureka moment. Pfannerstill tried gripping the putter with his right hand as if he were holding a pencil. "It felt good right away," recalls Pfannerstill. "I made a lot of confident strokes on the carpet and felt so peaceful that I was able to fall asleep."
The next day Pfannerstill was a changed man, draining 30-footers and calmly knocking very short putts into the center of the cup while easily defeating Durward Baker, who was so impressed that by the 14th hole he was using Pfannerstill's unusual grip. "The grip prevents you from jerking and twitching," says Pfannerstill, now 79 and a 28 handicap. "It keeps the right hand passive and takes all the wrist, hand and finger movement out of the stroke. You can simply go straight back and straight forward with no fear."
A few years later Baker was playing at Brown Deer, the public course in Milwaukee that hosts the PGA Tour's U.S. Bank Championship, when he showed the grip to a young teenager named Skip Kendall. By 1995 Kendall was playing on the PGA Tour, and late that year fellow pro Chris DiMarco told Kendall that the yips were driving him off the Tour. Kendall had never used the pencil grip, but he showed it to DiMarco. A year went by before DiMarco got his Tour card back, but he stuck with what became known as the claw grip and started climbing the earnings list. Now more than a dozen Tour pros--including Mark Calcavecchia, Tom Kite, Bernhard Langer, Peter Lonard, Mark O'Meara, Jeff Sluman and Craig Stadler--use a variation of Pfannerstill's original pencil grip. --Rick Lipsey