Why Phil Mickelson's Fat Putter Grip Could Be an Advantage at Augusta National

Kathy BissellCorrespondent IApril 3, 2013

Phil Mickelson with the oversized putter grip at the Shell Houston Open
Phil Mickelson with the oversized putter grip at the Shell Houston OpenScott Halleran/Getty Images

In golf there are two really bad words. Words that are unspeakable.  Not curse words. Regular, ordinary words that make professional golfers quake in their soft spikes or nubs.  One starts with an S and one starts with a Y.  And with those clues, you know it’s Shank and Yip.

Some golfers are so superstitious that if they see anyone hit an S-word, they turn away, fearful they’ll catch it. However, the S-word can be overcome. The Y-word, which leads to muttering, moaning, a lot of missed putts and sometimes a new life off the PGA Tour, is, according to medical experts, incurable.  That’s what makes it the worst word in golf.

With Phil Mickelson’s latest Rubik’s Cube of strokes and putters, you have to ask, does he or doesn’t he have it? Or is this revolving door of weapons something else entirely?   

Mickelson’s experimentation may just be Phil being Phil. What he is on record saying as recently as last week is that using the claw grip is more to do with his forward press.

“I'll go back and forth because, again the claw grip, what it does is gets me in a better address position where I get rid of too much forward press.  I want a little bit but not as much as I've been getting,” he explained. 

The claw grip he said also keeps his hands higher while keeping his forward press minimized. Those are his two bad habits with putting, he said.   

He didn’t say why he went to the fat grip.  But here’s what the fat grip does:

According to experts who make them, it removes some of the wristy twitches.   

And it lessens excess and unwanted movement in a putting stroke.  

At a course as severe as Augusta National that could reduce a tendency to pull or push a putt.  If it saves a golfer a stoke a day, four strokes over the week, that may be the difference between planning a champions dinner or eating a menu served by someone else.  And let’s face it, most golfers would putt with anything short of a nuclear missile if it shaved strokes.     

Now, here’s the thing about the Y-word.  People used to say it was in a golfer’s head.  And it can be.  But it’s also a medical condition. It is called a dystonia, specifically a focal dystonia.  

Focal dystonia is an overuse condition that, according to the Mayo Clinic, causes involuntary muscle contractions during a specific task, like putting.

Mayo even singles out who typically gets it:

Golfers who are of an older age, who have more experience playing golf and who have a lower handicap.

And guess what, stress aggravates it.  Like the constant stress of making putts to make a cut or making putts to win a tournament or making putts to win a match. 

It’s not just a condition of golfers.  Anyone who makes repetitive movements can be affected.  Musicians are most often cited, certainly more often than golfers.  Instrumental musicians typically complain of poor coordination in the fingers or hand.  Woodwind or brass musicians get stiffness, cramping or fatigue in the muscles of the tongue, lips or jaw.  You may remember joking about writer’s cramp?  That’s actually the same condition, where someone’s hand cramps up from writing.  

For musicians, treatments using Botox shots in the hands and arms have been used. But with golfers, how do you paralyze a set of muscles for one stroke, like putting and then expect them to work properly for the full swing? 

Golfers are left with work-around treatments, prescriptions, as it were, suggested by the Mayo Clinic.  Their advice:

Change your grip. This technique works for many golfers because it changes the muscles you use to make your putting stroke. However, if you have the type of yips related to performance anxiety, changing your grip likely won't make much difference.

“Use a different putter. A longer putter allows you to use more of your arms and shoulders and less of your hands and wrists while putting. Other putters are designed with a special grip to help stabilize the hands and wrists.”

Mayo even has a photograph demonstrating the Bernhard Langer “blood pressure cuff” style of putting on their web site as an alternative method.  http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/medical/IM00864 

( See the entire article at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/yips/DS00969)

Answering the Mayo suggestion is the oversized SuperStroke grip used by Jason Dufner and K.J. Choi and by Mickelson at the Shell Houston Open. It fits the Rx of a putter with a special grip to help stabilize the hands and wrists.  

According to the company that makes them, the large grips “take away the tendency to squeeze too tightly; at the same time, most unnecessary wrist action is eliminated.”   They also say  it creates a “more consistent putting stroke, a more-square putter face at impact, and a better feel for distance.”

Their grips were tested with golfers at the Milwaukee School of Engineering.  The results showed a 32% reduction in grip tension with the oversized grip compared to a conventional size grip.  Does that translate to more holed putts?

K.J. Choi proved it works in competition.  He switched to the Tri-Hot2/ SuperStroke combo grip, with a 1.67 inch diameter–about twice the size of a regular gripand won The Players in 2011.  Choi bought the grip himself after watching an infomercial.  

Jason Dufner, who recently became famous for his ability to strike a pose, also uses the SuperStroke in an oversized model.  He is the only player who is a paid endorser and so his is the only name the company can use.

Andy North, who has endorsed the SuperStroke, has said in the past that it can help any golfer have a better putting stroke.  The reason is that having the larger grip somehow eliminates a lot of the wrist action, the small muscles that have been overused for years, the ones that cause the problems for many golfers over 40.   (www.supersstrokeusa.com)

It’s makes a person wonder.  What is the value of an oversized grip that calms the hands and wrists at a tournament when golfers are most prone to be tense, putting on greens that are likely the most treacherous they face all year? 

Forget supersizing the soft drink.  It may be time to supersize the putter grip.   

Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.



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