Putters

I'm almost sorry I opened this can of worms, because preferences in putters are so personal. Putter designs vary wildly, and you can find a pro having success with any of them. But I did bring it up, so here are some of the variants in putter design:

  • The debate between high-moment heel-toe weighted putters and centrally weighted putters is anything but settled. Consider:
    • The Ping putters revolutionized the industry -- for a while -- with the heel-toe concept.
    • For a few years in the late 1980s, Jack Nicklaus used a MacGregor putter with a huge aluminum head that had an enormous moment of inertia. He putted very well with it, but he very seldom uses it these days.
    • A few years ago Paul Azinger had a hot streak putting with "The Thing", an oval-shaped blade that was the epitome of central weighting, and quite the opposite of peripheral weighting.
    • Ben Crenshaw and Phil Mickelson, two of the acknowledged putting masters, use blade putters in the style of 30 years ago.
    • To add variety (and confusion) to this rogues gallery, Nick Price uses a high-tech aluminum mallet-head putter and Corey Pavin an old "Bullseye" model. Neither of them has ever been accused of being a slouch at putting.

  • The term "Face Balanced" has been used lately in connection with putters. What it means is that, if you rest the shaft of the putter on a table with the head hanging off the end, the club will come to balance with the face lying horizontal. In other words, the CG of the clubhead is in the plane of the shaft. The reason this is considered desirable is that, when you transition the clubhead from backswing to downswing, there will be no dynamic forces on the club trying to either open or close the face angle; the face has no dynamic reason not to remain square.

    Note that few putters are face-balanced, though the number is increasing in the last few years. Blade-style putters, such as those used by Crenshaw and Mickelson, are as far from face-balanced as it is possible to be; they hang with the face almost vertical, not horizontal. I find that, for my putting, face-balancing seems not to make much difference. But other's feel it's important; my wife's favorite putter is also her only face-balanced putter. Your mileage may vary.

  • Putting grips come in a variety of styles. Lately, I've tried (on my putter and some I've made for friends) a larger-than-normal grip, either midsize or jumbo. The idea is to keep the hands steadier. Much teaching of putting today holds that the wrists and hands should be taken out of the swing, and the large grip helps achieve that goal. On the down side, it also seems to reduce feel. You won't like it if you're a "feel" putter, or if you like your "handsy" putting stroke. Another problem with the large grips is that they don't fit in the tubes some golfers use to organize their bags. I hang my putter on a clip outside the bag, for this reason.

  • You may find that you like a softer, lower-frequency "feel" than is provided by a steel putter shaft. Graphite will provide this, as will aluminum. There are quite a few inexpensive "alloy" putter shafts on the market that accomplish this goal quite handily.

Before I leave this subject, I'd like to point those who are interested in learning more toward a series of articles that appeared in Golfsmith's "Clubmaker" magazine in 1992. The series is "Golf Putters and Technology" by Frank Werner and Richard Grieg, a couple of PhD Aeronautical Engineers who founded the Tech-Line company to make putters to their design theories. Here are some of the highlights of what they thought were important to putters:

  • Extreme heel-toe weighting, to enlarge the sweet spot. (Their putter has a considerably larger measured sweet spot than others of the time.)

  • Fairly heavy. All their models are between 320 and 330 grams of head weight, compared with 295 to 320 grams for most putter heads on the market.

  • Face-balanced, to prevent any dynamic tendency of the putter to twist during the swing. (I find that this is probably a help with such a heavy head, though it seems not to matter to me with lighter heads.)

  • A perfectly flat face; milling is the way they recommend. (Their studies showed "face waviness" in popular putters, sufficient to cause errors of .5" to 2.5" in a 10-foot putt.)

  • A V-sole or single rail on the bottom, to immunize the putter to lie angle errors. They used a low-friction polyethylene rail rather than a V-sole, to simultaneously minimize the distance loss due to a scuff. (Their studies showed that minute, distance-affecting scuffs were much more common than imagined or felt by golfers, at all skill levels.)

  • A well-designed "aim line". It should be perpendicular to the face (including the small face loft of the putter), long enough to be a real aid in aiming the putter (not just an indicator of where the sweet spot is), and prominent enough to leave a visual "trail" while swinging.

The Tech-Line putter never sold well, though that may be more due to inept marketing and sales than inherent merit of the product. However, some of their innovations have since been adopted by the market leading putters: milled-flat faces, face balancing, and sole-center rails or V-soles. I've tried out one of their models, and it was the most accurate putter within 10 feet that I've ever used.

Ultimately, it's a matter of what the golfer feels comfortable with. There's no universal "right answer" for every golfer, and the variety is greater and less objective with putter than other clubs.


Last modified Dec 4, 1998