Like a lot of golfers, my game usually feels "this close" to coming together. But there's always something holding me back—when I'm driving it well, my short game stinks, or vice versa. In the case of this summer, after finally starting to hit some greens in regulation, my putter, of course, completely abandoned me. After one particularly embarrassing, rock-bottom round of 43 putts, a friend cruelly gave me what I can only hope will be a temporary nickname—"Dubya," after our 43rd president. No one rubs salt in the wound more gleefully than a golf buddy…
Needless to say, this is the kind of state that can find a guy willing to try just about anything. Well, a few weeks ago, while waiting for a device to be repaired at the local Apple store, I spotted the iPing putter cradle on the wall and simply couldn't resist. (iPing was released last year, so we're admittedly somewhat late to the party in terms of covering the product, but I've since enjoyed the gadget more than enough to warrant a review.)
Here's how iPing works, in a nutshell: The golfer downloads Ping's app (available for free at Apple's App Store), then clips the iPhone into a cradle attached to the shaft of his or her putter, just below the grip. The cradle itself costs $30—and this is where the company seeks to recoup some of its undoubtedly considerable software development costs.
It's definitely strange to look down at address and see your phone, and the contraption does change the overall weight of the putter, but it's not that hard to get used to these things in a practice green setting. Once installed, the player paces off 10 feet from the hole and begins rolling putts. The app "pings" (or buzzes in silent mode, for use in busy areas) to let you know the device has recorded the putt. iPing takes advantage of the iPhone's built-in gyroscope and accelerometer* to measure five aspects of one's putting stroke:
1. Tempo (expressed as a ratio between back and through swing)
2. Impact Angle (the degree to which the club face is open or closed at impact)
3. Stroke Type (Slight Arc, Strong Arc or Straight—for those who think they're "straight-back, straight-through" types, the results might prove surprising.)
4. Shaft Lean (A measure of how much loft is added or removed at impact)
5. Lie Angle (Mostly useful for fitting purposes)
Here's where it gets fun, though. An iPing "session" consists of five strokes. After those putts have been rolled, the app instantly compares the strokes to one another and assigns the golfer a putting handicap (pHCP) based on how consistent he or she has been across the five metrics. This number goes up and down just like a USGA index as sessions accrue. While one can isolate and attempt to improve upon any of the above factors, this is really the app's number one goal—to improve consistency. We can compare our putting stroke's DNA to the stats of pre-loaded Ping staffers like Bubba Watson, Hunter Mahan and Angela Stanford, but iPing doesn't really care if we're 8-degrees closed at impact—only that this angle is achieved every single time.
Ping would be missing a marketing opportunity if the app didn't also make recommendations for the ideal putter from the company's line to match one's stroke, and this feature is present. Rather than go shopping, however, I used it to test almost a dozen putters from my basement in a kind of battle royal. Despite having been through elaborate fitting processes with a couple of these flatsticks, the "winner" was an off-the-rack Scotty Cameron mallet that hasn't been in my bag for nearly a decade.
The jury is out as to whether changing putters and practicing with iPing will cure my three-jack-itis, but one thing's certain—the app has made my trips to the practice green more enjoyable. There's an addictive, video-game-like quality to trying to lower my "pHCP", which helps make putting in those essential hours a lot less tedious. I'm getting a much better sense of the tempo that produces a pretty, end-over-end roll, versus the one that often feels good but leads to a pull. You can go way down the rabbit hole when it comes to studying putting, and iPing won't help if you can't aim or read a green. But for what it is—a tool to help build a consistent stroke—this app earns top marks.
Post-script: Turns out my aforementioned golf buddy has had iPing for months without mentioning it. Using the app's online Skins Game feature, we're now midway through a competition from our practice greens some 1,500 miles apart. I have every intention of beating him. After all, the victorious text message I'll send practically writes itself: "Mission Accomplished."
*Androids and related devices aren't equipped with these features, which is why iPing is only offered for Apple products.