This article appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of LINKS.
If you’re like most golfers, the putter is the most wondrous and heinous club in your bag. Since we use it more than any other, it can make or break a round. Our love-hate relationship with it can drive us batty, causing many of us to change models and methods as often as we cut our hair. We eye new putters in shops and magazines as beautiful mates who can finally bring us true happiness, projecting all kinds of magical attributes on them.
But with so many different models and styles on the market, how do you know what’s right for you? Unlike woods and irons, which really don’t differ all that much from company to company, putters come in all shapes and sizes. And while there are many Rules governing woods and irons, the USGA allows much more leeway in designing putters.
“The Rules of what you can do in designing a putter are so much more open than with woods and irons,” says Austie Rollinson, the principal designer at Odyssey. “There’s much more freedom in terms of the shape. It’s all over the map.”
It’s not just black and white, in other words, unless you’re talking about Odyssey’s new Oreo-esque Versa putters, which feature stark lateral contrasts to help align the putter face at address and impact. “The eye uses contrast to pick out edges of objects,” explains Rollinson, noting that the vertical lines are different from the typical horizontal alignment-aiding lines. “They work really well on mallets, but on blade-style putters that distance is very short, so we just turned it 90 degrees. The eye has a really good ability to pick out lines that are perpendicular and it wants to form a perfect right angle. It’s like when the eye sees a picture that’s crooked.”
Ping’s new Scottsdale TR putters also employ a black-and-white scheme for easy alignment, but their principal feature is the variable-depth grooves. Interestingly, the company doesn’t claim its grooves cause the ball to skid less and roll sooner off the face as most other companies do (the loft of the putter supersedes any effect grooves have, they found). What they discovered was that different-size grooves provide more consistent ball speed across the insert: The deeper the groove the slower the ball speed, so the grooves get shallower toward the perimeter of the aluminum insert.
“It’s pretty revolutionary,” says Brad Schweigert, Ping’s director of engineering. “Karsten Solheim started the company based on the concept of heel-toe weighting. The idea was to increase inertia of the putter so you lose less ball speed on mishits because the putter doesn’t twist as much. These grooves do a lot of the same thing but to an even higher degree. It turns a blade putter into one that’s better than the highest inertia putter we’ve ever made, and we have some extremely high-inertia designs. It’s a huge breakthrough.”
So no matter where you hit the putt on the face of the Scottsdale TR, the ball should go the same distance, a vital component in putting where speed is more important than line.
If you really want to learn about speed, take an AimPoint class as I did with Carol Preisinger at Kiawah Island Club and you’ll discover just how crucial it is. “For a ball to have the best chance of going in,” she says, “it shouldn’t be going any faster at the hole than what would take it 6–12 inches past the hole if it missed.”
“My speed has gotten better because I realize that every putt, no matter the distance, has to go in the hole at the same speed,” says AimPoint disciple and LPGA superstar Stacy Lewis. “I found myself making a lot of 20- to 30-footers that I didn’t make before. When your speed is off, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve read a green correctly or not. If you have good speed, you can hit a 10-footer on three different lines and all three can go in. With good speed, you don’t have to have the perfect read or line.”
Lewis uses an Anser-style TaylorMade model because it just feels and looks right. “It’s really what fits in your hands the best,” she says. “I think you’ve got to find a putter that sets up to you, instead of you setting up to a putter.”
In the end, go with what fits your eye best. Ping conducted tests where they asked golfers to choose the model they thought they aligned best then used lasers to measure the results. “And you know what? Their perception was correct: the putter that they thought they would align best was the one they did,” says Schweigert. “That was a big takeaway for me because I was like, ‘All you have to do is ask people which one they like?’”
Like other art forms, it turns out beauty—not to mention performance—is in the eye of the beholder.