Back when style points were worth something, anyone who resorted to putting cross-handed did so, it was assumed, purely out of desperation. Putting cross-handed—for a righthander, that means placing the left hand below, rather than above, the right on the grip—carried such a stigma that Ben Hogan wouldn't even consider doing it when, late in his career, he was having difficulty just starting the putter back. "When I tried to suggest he give it a try, Ben wouldn't have it," remembers Freddie Haas Jr., who in the late 1940s became the first prominent player to putt cross-handed regularly. "If he ever did try it, it would have been behind some trees out at Shady Oaks, where no one could see him."
In the last few years, though, cross-handed putting has become as accepted on the PGA Tour as the long putter is on the Senior circuit. Some 20 Tour pros have gone cross-handed, including major championship winners Nick Faldo, Fred Couples, Paul Azinger, Payne Stewart and Tom Kite.
Having the left hand lower can help with alignment because it lowers the left shoulder from a high position that points to the left of the target to one that is lower and more parallel to the line. Perhaps more important is that the cross-handed grip can be an effective safeguard against the left wrist—the brace of most good putting strokes—breaking down.
"My data show most Tour players miss pressure putts to the left," says Dave Pelz, a putting expert who advocates the cross-handed grip. "When golfers pull it, they often say they choked. Players miss fewer putts to the left when putting with the left hand low."
Primary validation for the cross-handed style came from two players. The first was Kite, who switched to cross-handed in 1991 after employing it in practice for years and won the 1992 U.S. Open. Then, in late '92, Couples switched, and his conversion seemed to open the eyes and minds of other players.
Faldo began competing cross-handed in September. Azinger tried it in Jamaica in December and shot a 62. Stewart, who over the years has addressed his putts with a cross-handed grip to help with his alignment, switched after a dismal performance in the Skins Game in December.
"The stigma that went with it is gone," says Azinger.
Well, not completely. Tom Watson, whose suffering on the greens is approaching Hoganesque proportions, has resisted. And Davis Love III, whose putting is troublesome on very fast greens, is also of the old school.
"I hope they all go cross-handed," Love says, "because it means they all have a little doubt in their minds."
But putting is about minimizing doubt, not eliminating it. And at the moment, that's what more and more Tour players are doing—the cross-handed way.
Stewart took up cross-handed putting after falling from sixth to 123rd on the money list in '94.