Necessity is the mother of invention and everyone – including Ben Crenshaw and Loren Roberts – finds it necessary to make more putts. This is where Dr. Lanny Johnson comes in.
Johnson is an orthopedic surgeon, who was a pioneer in arthroscopic surgery. He has 40 patents for surgical instruments and has operated on Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, Willie Stargell and Barbara Nicklaus, Jack’s wife, so it’s clear he knows what he’s doing.
So, now he’s an expert on putting – or at least he has written a 550-page book on the subject. And while that seems a bit excessive on a single subject, consider that he has published four textbooks on arthroscopic and orthopedic surgery that span as much as 1,500 pages.
Comparatively speaking, the putting book – “There’s More To Putting Than Meets The Eye” – is a mere pamphlet.
The story picks up in 2004 when Johnson was attending a Michigan State basketball game. He slipped on the ice outside the arena and fell, injuring his shoulder badly enough that he required rotator cuff surgery. While he was healing, there was, of course, no golf, but he is, after all, a scientist, and became as busy as a one-armed man could, turning his considerable attention to putting.
He started tinkering with putter designs, thinking he could apply the same science to putters that he did with surgical instruments. “I thought I had designed the best putter in the world, but it turns out there were already 1,000 best putters in the world, so mine was 1,001st,” Johnson said.
While at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando trying to hawk his putters, Johnson discovered the Science and Motion booth, where the SAM Putt Lab machines were on display. The SAM uses ultrasound – as in medicine – to determine putting alignment, backswing, acceleration and follow through. He was intrigued and bought one of the machines and headed out to the men’s professional Tours.
For the next five years, he measured more than 200 players on the PGA Tour, Nationwide Tour and Champions Tour. The results of that research are the bulk of the putting book. In fact, if you don’t know what you are looking at, you won’t be able to make sense of the graphs and charts.
“I realize that the charts look like an MRI or an airport scanner,” Johnson said. “But I like to document things scientifically. I need a way to prove my ideas.”
Johnson is enough of iconoclast to go somewhat against the grain in putting theory, preferring to couch what happens during the putt in medical terms. So, follow along closely:
First, he refers to proprioception, which means that the body knows where it is in space, even if the eye does not. Ergo, there is more to putting than meets the eye. It’s your ability to close your eyes and touch your nose. Or close your eyes and put your hand behind your back. Your body knows where your hand is even if you can’t see it.
So, if you line up to the right on your putts, the body knows it has to make a compensatory move to close the putter face or pull the putt to get it back on line. And the body does this through psychomotor skills, which means that the body sends messages to the brain about its place in space. The brain processes the information and then tells the body which way to move.
So, based on his SAM Putt Lab research, Johnson coined the phrase “psychomotor burdens,” which simply means the aspects of the putting stroke that place the body in a bad position from which it has to make compensatory moves to get the ball toward the target.
Those include, but are not limited to, misalignment at address, excessive face rotation and changing face angles, looping backswing, changing shaft angle, high velocity and what he says are most important – changes in acceleration.
Johnson’s quest to find putting’s answers led to long hours on practice putting greens. He was virtually an unknown and was introduced to PGA Tour players by Lee Janzen and Champions Tour players by Roberts. The Nationwide Tour players, Johnson said, were the most receptive because they had the most to gain.
“I told them, ‘You are the best lab animals I could find,’” Johnson said.
The line laid on the players was, “I don’t charge and I don’t pay.” Johnson doesn’t name players in his book and told of one world-class player with whom he worked after the PGA Championship in 2008.
“He wanted to hire me but I didn’t want a job,” he said. Johnson worked for two-and-a-half hours with this player, who went on to win a tournament in the playoffs and called himself, “the best putter in the world.”
“I told him that the word around the Tour about me was that I didn’t charge people unless their net worth was greater than mine,” he said. “I put my hand on his shoulder and said, ‘I think you qualify.’ ”
This quest has been a labor of love for Johnson, who has spent $250,000 of his own money to this point. The book is self-published and will be available on his website – www.rxputting.com.
And, by the way, Johnson says he’s a great putter and he should be. After all, he has the touch of a surgeon.