U.S. AMATEUR FOUR-BALL
Haag Not Backtracking From Sidesaddle Putting Style
May 22, 2016 | MAMARONECK, N.Y.
By Bill Fields
At 57, Randy Haag is one of the oldest players in the field of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Winged Foot Golf Club. His age, though, isn’t what makes Haag stand out.
Haag is the rare golfer who putts sidesaddle. And if you think Haag went to face-on putting recently – anchoring was prohibited through Rule 14-1b on Jan. 1, 2016 – think again.
A six-time North California Golf Association Player of the Year and eight-time Olympic Club champion, Haag has used a sidesaddle method for two decades.
“I went sidesaddle right after the 1996 U.S. Amateur,” said Haag, who has made it to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Mid-Amateur five times. “Traditional putting was officially over for me.”
Haag had battled putting woes before that crossroad, utilizing self-hypnosis in an attempt to calm his stroke. “It’s crazy what you go through in this game,” he said, “but everybody has their issues.”
Going sidesaddle made a big difference in Haag’s putting, and he is mystified that more golfers don’t adopt it, particularly those who formerly anchored. “I’m shocked,” Haag said. “They try all this crazy stuff, when you can just be looking right down the line.”
Sam Snead, the most famous sidesaddle devotee, certainly felt that way. Although Snead remained a fantastic ball-striker in his early 50s, he got yippy on the greens. During the 1966 PGA Championship, Snead adopted a croquet style and finished in the top 10 that week and in the Masters the following spring. When standing astride the putting line was outlawed in 1968, Snead improvised his face-on approach and used it effectively the rest of his career, tying for third in the 1974 PGA Championship at age 62.
Few elite golfers have followed in Snead’s footsteps. K.J. Choi experimented with sidesaddle on the PGA Tour but soon abandoned it. The physics of a face-on stroke make sense, many putting experts insist, but the fact that it is a visually dramatic departure from tradition keeps more golfers from using it.
Haag said he encounters plenty of folks curious about sidesaddle.
“Everybody asks, but nobody does it right,” Haag said. “Your top hand can’t move. People grab it with their whole hand and the putter goes all over.”
To Haag, the key is resting the butt of the putter very gingerly between left forefinger and thumb, the latter on top of the handle pointing toward the hole. “The grip is the whole key,” said Haag, who then lets his right hand maneuver the 42-inch club.
Another proponent of face-on putting, sports psychologist and golf instructor David Cook, compares a proper sidesaddle stroke with another discipline. “Painters don’t paint with two hands,” Cook told Sports Illustrated’s Gary Van Sickle last year. “Can you imagine Monet with two hands on the brush?”
Haag’s technique has only one downside. He doesn’t crouch as much as Snead did, which makes certain conditions a challenge. “I stand up a good bit, so I’m more affected by wind,” he said. “I hope it’s never blowing 30. That can be tough on me.”
Unlike his distinctive putting method, which has been very good to him.
Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who contributes regularly to USGA websites.