top of page

Paul Runyan -great short game teachers 2

Continuing the series on players who became popular teachers after their careers as a player came to a close.

Born 1908 in Arkansas

Among the world's best players in the mid-1930s, he won two PGA Championships and is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

The 1938 PGA professional championship will remain a talking point for as long as the game exists. It is a legendary story that some see as golfing`s equivalent of David and Goliath.

Paul Runyan (nicknamed "Little Poison" because of his awesome short game) started out as a caddie and then an apprentice at a golf course in his hometown Hot Springs, before turning pro at just 17 years old. He would famously go on to win both of his PGA`s while working as a club Professional in New York.

With a slide to the right and a heave of the shoulders Paul Runyan started his backswing. The result was one of the biggest sways ever seen in a top professionals golf swing.

Click on the picture to expand The young Runyan's game had been built on short-game prowess. At just 5ft. 7 inches and 130 pounds Runyan had learned as a caddy to beat the bigger kids with a wicked self-taught short game. Starting his game plan for the rest of his life at such an early age meant the Paul Runyan of the future would be a pure magician around the greens ( Sam Snead would describe his PGA beating as competing against "some kind of magic").

Sam Snead will be remembered for a silky smooth swing and being one of the longest hitters of his generation. Snead was not only long off the tee, but also technically perfect. Only in this way could his length be formidable, (although not for a cocky young Paul Runyan).

The famous `38 final, when the tournament was still being decided by matchplay simply summarized the advantages an excellent short game can have over power and length. This was especially so in match play. With Snead sometimes outdriving his opponent by 60 plus yards it is hard to find a greater example in golfing history.

Snead was exasperated as he experienced Runyan chip and putt him off the golf course. He lost by 8 and 7!

" By the time Runyan was finished with me, I couldn`t sink a putt in a bathtub."

Sam Snead

Runyan the teacher

The famous Runyan putting grip has helped many players improve both their putting and chipping

The cut-up shot. Although Paul Runyan was more famous for his chipping ability and method he was also an expert pitcher of the ball, albeit using more conventional mechanics.

Like all great educators in control of their subject, Runyan simplified. The skill of an educationist is to reduce the words while at the same time making the subject matter crystal clear. Runyan did this brilliantly and his seminars are legendary.

His book "The Short Way to Lower Scoring" is a masterpiece.

Every golf teacher needs a copy in his library.

Of course, not just golf teachers will benefit from the invaluable information this book has to offer, but everyone who is interested in getting better. As always, an open mind is required to accept some of the less orthodox information or understand the ideas behind them. It is not an easy publication to obtain so you might need to check out the library.


Just taking a short trip through the book reveals so much self-taught knowledge. In fact, it was, as he explains, mostly all learned when he was a thirteen-year-old caddy.

It is rare that playing professionals are able to explain their knowledge in an eloquent form.

Paul Runyan's experience as a successful teacher gives the book the best of both worlds, the subjective feel of a great player, and the objective approach of a lecturer.

The book is nicely broken up into parts, with a large section devoted to understanding ball flight effects and their causes using clear diagrams. The illustrator Anthony Ravielli, famous for his work in Hogan`s books, converts the Runyan/Aultman text into a clear visual form.

For me, the book hits a nerve as soon as Runyan prefers to call the short shots the part shots. He goes on to explain how your full swing will become better if you ensure your technique around the green area is both flexible and accurate.

The most interesting section for the students of the game is the chip shot. You will be required to develop a specialized grip(see diagram above) and use a one-lever wrist action that is more akin to putting.

Although some readers might find the ideas out of date and too unconventional it could be interesting to know that the Runyan chipping method has been recommended by many great teachers, both past and present. It was being used as a teaching system by the German PGA only a few years ago. It does work.

Golf Magazine wrote: "... since the late 1930s, Runyan has probably been the most influential short game instructor. Untold thousands have been taught his methods for putting and chipping."

Click on image to expand

One of the things I wanted to check is if Runyan swayed off-center in the same way when making a short swing(see prior sketch). On studying his motion when playing out of a trap I was pleased to see that he held a perfect center. Positioning his body over the right knee he revolved around the same axis set in the beginning-a sound approach.

On Putting

Here are Paul Runyan`s thoughts on putting directly from his book:

Runyan then goes on to say how putting is simplified by not needing any thoughts about club selection and only requiring that two elements need to be right.

Direction and distance.

Runyan felt the comment "never up, never in" was very wrong. He said it depended on the length of the putt. Close to the hole, all focus should be on the direction, while putts over twenty feet should already be viewed with a lag approach.

Click on image to expand

Recommendations from Paul Runyan:

The direction of a putt is a result of sound mechanics. Standing perfectly aligned with both putter face and body at right angles to the target line. Runyan preferred a split grip on shorter putts whereby the left hand should act as the fulcrum while the right hand is set at the "bottom of the leather."

Once you are set up for the putt about 60% of your weight should be on the left side( This applies to chipping as well). Concerning speed control, which Runyan said was imperative to putts over 10 feet, he advised focusing on lagging the ball close to the hole rather than the three-foot circle which is generally quoted by most teachers. Runyan then recommended a more generous circle for longer distances. For twenty feet from the hole, you should look to finish within a two-foot radius, thirty feet 3 feet, forty feet would mean 4 feet, and so on.

Horton Smith is credited with being the first professional to truly study the putting stroke to gain an advantage on opponents.

Runyan admired a few colleagues for their putting skills and would say, Horton Smith, Denny Shute, and Johnny Revolta were the best he had ever seen.

Denny Shute putting

Some final advice from the master:

The tough matchplay winner had a sound message for success.

"Don`t let the bad shots get to you. Don`t let yourself become angry. True scramblers are thick-skinned and they will always beat the whiners."

Runyan was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1990. In addition, he is a member of the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Hall of Fame. He received the Harvey Penick Lifetime Teaching Award and the PGA of America Distinguished Service Award and in 1991 was honored by the Met PGA with their Sam Snead Award. Runyan died at the grand old age of 91 in 2002.

To see Johnny Revolta's short game article click on the image

833 views3 comments

Recent Posts

See All


John Mule'
John Mule'
Sep 15, 2022

I have Mr. Runyan's wonderful book and - for a while - was sort of obsessed with his techniques. So much so that I attended a golf school taught by Phil Rodgers - one of his star pupils and a Tour winner (he also lost a playoff to Bob Charles for the '63 Open...). When I've had trouble (in the past) with my chipping I always seem to revert back to his chipping technique. It actually works! Don't know why I don't just stick with it. Sometimes, I'm a little too curious about other techniques for my own good.

John Mule'
John Mule'
Sep 25, 2022
Replying to

Bill - Phil was very much a Paul Runyan disciple and spoke highly of Mr. Runyan's influence upon his golf (not just the short game...). There were many similarities between what Phil was teaching us in 1986 and Mr. Runyan's short game book. He seemed impressed that I read the book before coming to his school.

In his own game, Phil did use 2 grips when putting. His hands were turned in the manner suggested in your article above. He used a split hand grip for short putts and bent over the ball quite a bit. Don't think I've ever seen a professional (Michelle Wie maybe?) bend over the ball quite that much. He told me for putts inside 10…

bottom of page