News & Opinion

‘Claw’ grip adds to legacy of alternative strokes

You probably missed this at the recent Masters: Sergio Garcia became the first player to win a major championship using the “claw” putting grip. The claw would’ve been a winner even if Garcia had lost the playoff because his opponent, Justin Rose, also clawed it on the Augusta National greens.

During recent decades, revolutionary changes in golf equipment – especially in drivers, shafts and golf balls – have been introduced. Putting has evolved dramatically, too. We’ve seen the rise of belly- and long-shafted putters, followed by their fall when golf’s governing bodies banned them starting in 2016. 

The revolution isn’t over. Seven of the past 21 major champions did not putt with a conventional method. Since the Tiger Woods era began at the 1997 Masters, 14 of 81 major winners putted non-conventionally.

Here’s your scorecard for the majors dating to ’97:

n Cross-handed/left-hand-low: 9 (Padraig Harrington 3, Vijay Singh 2, Jordan Spieth 2, Jim Furyk and Danny Willett).

n Belly putter: 3 (Keegan Bradley, Ernie Els and Angel Cabrera, who used a belly-length putter to win the 2009 Masters but did not anchor it).

n Long putter: 1 (Adam Scott).

n The claw: 1 (Garcia).

Almost anything goes these days. Stewart Hagestad wielded a long putter while earning the low-amateur honor at the Masters. He just didn’t rest the shaft against his chest.

Sidesaddle putting, made famous by Sam Snead in the 1960s, made an appearance on the PGA Tour. Bryson DeChambeau, a known nonconformist for his unique set of iron shafts that are the same length, brought out his version of face-on putting last winter. He faced the hole with most of his weight on his right foot and then swung the putter with the back of his right hand on top of the grip, pulling the shaft toward the target instead of pushing it. The U.S. Golf Association ruled one of his putters to be non-conforming, however, and a miffed DeChambeau gave up putting that way for now.

I, too, have tinkered with sidesaddle, the last putting style that carries a stigma for its users. I have written several stories on sidesaddle, and my conclusion echoes what golf instructor Peter Kostis told me: It’s a better way to putt for short ones inside 5 feet. “If I had a downhill left-to-right 3-footer for my life, I’d putt it sidesaddle,” Kostis said. “It works.”

With some coaching (there are few experts; I guess I’m one now, by default), sidesaddle from short range is surprisingly easy. Distance control on long putts is a big challenge, however, and that combined with its awkward appearance makes it a non-starter for most golfers. For the record, I still rely on a claw grip, something I’ve used for a decade.

Putting expert Dave Pelz did a putting study for Golf Magazine in 2011. His tests showed that belly-putting (body-putting, as he called it) was the most effective way to putt. Cross-handed or lead-hand-low was second, followed by long-shafted putting and the claw. The worst way to putt? Conventional-style.

With the anchoring ban taking out belly- and long-putters, maybe it’s not a coincidence that Spieth, a cross-hander, is the world’s best putter. In contrast, the claw grip is an easy switch, with very little learning curve. All you do if you’re a right-handed golfer is flip your right hand over so that your thumb and forefinger are touching your left hand while your right pinky finger is at the bottom of the grip. The stroke is similar, just without the hand manipulation of conventional-style putting.

With anchoring out, the claw moves up to being the second-best way to putt, in Pelz’s study, behind cross-handed. Even would-be scientist Phil Mickelson utilizes the claw.

Garcia, at age 37, finally won a major with the grip. Tip your cap to the man. Then maybe you should check out the claw grip.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal.; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle