Putting for dough
Sky Sports catches up with Phil Kenyon, one of the game's most highly-acclaimed putting coaches.
By Mark Kendall - Twitter: @SkySportsMK
Last Updated: 23/04/13 5:47pm
With the advance of equipment technology and the ever-increasing importance attached to physical conditioning amongst professional players, the once leisurely pursuit of golf has become a noticeably more scientific art in recent years.
And it is no longer just the swing that is relentlessly dissected by pros and their coaches, every aspect of the game is now investigated in microscopic detail as players look to gain an edge - and that includes the art of putting.
Having long been considered a 'game within a game', putting often seemed rather overlooked with the relentless quest for power and distance seemingly at the forefront of players' thoughts.
But that has changed and one of those at the cutting edge of putting instruction is Phil Kenyon, a former Tour player who has now developed a reputation as one of the most forward-thinking putting coaches in the game.
Having completed a degree in sports science before turning professional, Kenyon always had one eye on coaching having worked under the guidance of Harold Swash - a renowned coach (notably to Padraig Harrington) and designer of putters and training aids.
Now director of the Harold Swash Putting School of Excellence based at Formby Hall Golf Club in Southport, Kenyon works both at home and on the road to cater for an enviable client list that has included the likes of Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Thomas Bjorn, Thorbjorn Olesen, Ross Fisher and Eduardo Molinari to name but a few.
Kenyon applies an in-depth scientific approach to every aspect of his coaching methods, from video capture and detailed analysis of the stroke, ball speed, clubhead and any other category you'd care to mention, to discussion of results and individually-tailored drills.
And it's an approach that has gained notable results, chief amongst them Clarke's success at the 2011 Open Championship.
"Every win, when you see a player that you work with go on and achieve one of their lifetime goals, they're all meaningful in different ways," Kenyon told Sky Sports. "It's nice to see their hard work pay off and also see some of your work come to fruition.
"The first win I had was with Henrik Stenson when he won the Players Championship a few years ago, which was obviously quite special. When Darren Clarke won the Open, that was the first time I'd ever been involved with a player that had won a major.
"When I grew up playing golf, the likes of Darren Clarke, Thomas Bjorn and Lee Westwood were obviously at the peak of the game and you looked up to them and respected them. So to have the opportunity to work with them gives you a massive buzz.
"With all three of them, when I was working with them they went on to win tournaments so it was a huge buzz to share in their success in some way - that's the good part about the job."
The case of Westwood and his putting is a particularly interesting one and perhaps one of the most discussed in the game, with the Englishman's fragility on the greens having long been cited as the reason for his failure to win a major championship.
Kenyon spent six months working alongside Westwood and felt the signs of progress were clear before a poor display at the 2012 Masters (where the Englishman took 128 putts for the week) led to a parting of the ways after a rethink from the player and his manager Chubby Chandler, who questioned the impact of their partnership.
"We worked together for a six-month period, it was October '11 to just after the Masters last year and I thought we had a reasonable amount of success together.
"He won a few times, his putting stats improved over that period of time, but I think maybe the disappointment of his performance in the Masters led to him thinking he needed to go down a different path which is fair enough. I was quite confident of the work we had done and felt like he had seen some improvement in that period of time, but opinions differ.
"I know Chubby well, he's a good bloke. I think it was an emotional response; he wanted Lee to do well and probably felt the disappointment as much as Lee did. But obviously I disagreed with what he said.
"One of the ways in which I work is to try and quantify performance in different ways so statistically I could show him the difference in performance over a period of time. But that was Chubby's view and you move on and there are no hard feelings between us."
But Kenyon remains convinced Westwood's problems were as much mental as technical.
Having made a fresh start this season and relocated to America with his family, Westwood did not have a single three-putt during this year's renewal at Augusta and Kenyon insists sometimes it can be the smallest of details that see things click for elite-level players.
Technical and mental
"I think with any player it's not just technical it's mental as well," he said. "When there are highs in performance it's about pinpointing why it's good and conversely when there are lows, why it's bad.
"It's always a combination of technical and mental; it's an upward or downward spiral in that sense and I don't think Lee's any different, there are probably a few different factors involved."
Citing the case of Tiger Woods' putting improvement this season, which supposedly came on the back of an impromptu 45-minute tutorial with Steve Stricker, Kenyon continued: "It can be sometimes as simple as that. When a player of that skill taps into something that feels relevant to him and starts to get a good feeling with it and some confidence, it can be that quick and simple.
"Obviously the key for Tiger is to keep putting at that level now for a period of time, a few years ago it used to seem like the norm. I think he probably struggled over the past couple of years with his putting, and some other areas of his game, but in the last few weeks it's been like the Tiger of old and if he putts like that every week it's going to be very tough for the other guys to get near him."
And so what of the issue that is currently threatening to cause a deep and very damaging split in the professional game - the use of anchored putters?
From a coach's perspective does the long club provide an undeniable and unpalatable advantage that goes against the ideals of the most noble and genteel of games?
Kenyon - who has both long and short-putter advocates in his stable - is not totally convinced either way and regards the skill of getting that little white ball in the hole under the most severe of pressure as one that still remains at the whim of the unquantifiable, regardless of the length of the handle.
"It's a tough one, it's a very debatable subject. I can't say I side with one camp or the other. Over the years having collected data from different players, all players have certain traits that are characteristic of their stroke and when you test with a belly putter it doesn't change those traits.
"They'll have a signature in their stroke that tends to remain strong through different styles of putter, so you theorise that it (the belly putter) shouldn't really make that much difference as you've still got to aim the putter, control the speed of the stroke and read the green.
"But there's one thing about the belly putter and that is that it gives you a fixed fulcrum, it's anchored to the body and that means there are certain technical things it can help a player with. If a player has quite a lot of independent wrist movement which under pressure is magnified, it can clearly be an advantage as it gives you more stability.
"But it's the same thing; you can test things in practice, but once you get out there under the gun, how do you respond? That's the unquantifiable aspect of the belly putter, does it give guys an unfair advantage in competitive play? You can debate all day about it, but the governing body have made a decision and as professionals we should support the decision they've made."