2002: Golfweek Preferred - The plentiful particulars of putting

Before addressing the mystery of face-balanced putters, let’s examine the importance of tour players to putter manufacturers. Putter companies often live and die with success or failure on the professional tours, so it was with great pleasure that the slightly compromised folks at Never Compromise were able to watch Fuzzy Zoeller and Se Ri Pak win recent major championships on the same weekend.

Zoeller won the Senior PGA Championship, Pak won the MacDonald’s LPGA Championship, and each carried a Never Compromise putter. Officially the company was unable to use their names – thus the somewhat compromised nature of the celebration for Never Compromise – because neither player is paid by the putter manufacturer.

Oh well. I can use their names, for it is a simple matter to observe professional stars and their club choices.

After Vijay Singh captured the 2000 Masters using a Dandy putter, the largely unknown company was overwhelmed with orders. The same was true for Yes! Golf after Retief Goosen prevailed in the 2001 U.S. Open with a C-Groove putter. The best example occurred in 1999 when Payne Stewart scored a dramatic and popular victory in the U.S. Open with a SeeMore putter. Overnight, SeeMore became a brand that was internationally acclaimed.

Scotty Cameron, who creates putters for Titleist and has become the best-known putter designer in the world, regularly tops the putter counts at the major championships. At the 2002 U.S. Open, Cameron was No. 1 with 71 putters in the field, while No. 2 Odyssey trailed substantially with 34.

Cameron, whose putter found the winner’s circle at Bethpage Black in the hands of Tiger Woods, doesn’t really need another victory to sell putters. For a small putter manufacturer, however, winning a major championship can be the difference between survival and extinction. The competition among putter makers – there are hundreds of them – has become intense.

What does all this mean for you and me, the golfers of the world who want to make more putts? It means that all these putter companies, in an attempt to gain recognition, are producing the most diverse collection of putters in the history of golf.

Now let’s turn our attention to putter fitting and face-balancing.

Fitting is a word that frequently has been used for irons, less frequently for woods and almost never for putters. But that is changing. In Vista, Calif., Cameron has a putter studio for touring pros, where he fits some of the world’s best golfers for putters as a renowned tailor would fit you for a suit. Down the road in Carlsbad, Calif., TaylorMade has taken the same concept and created a high-tech putter studio that measures everything from grip pressure to putter path. Ping and Odyssey essentially have been doing the same thing for several years.

It is dangerous to make generalizations about putter fitting, but here I go:

If you often pull putts, you might try a putter with less offset, an onset putter, or any putter with more weight in the toe.

If you push putts, you might experiment with a putter with more offset, a toe-down putter.

If you seem to exhibit little consistency, you might try a face-balanced putter or a center-shafted putter. Ideal candidates for these putters seem to be golfers who are more mechanical in their approach to the stroke and may be obsessed with keeping the blade perfectly square to the line at all times.

Almost all putters are either face-balanced or toe-down. The way to determine this is simple: Balance the putter shaft on one finger. If the putter face remains horizontal, pointing toward the sky, it is face-balanced. If the toe hangs down – either partially or entirely – it is a toe-down putter. A few putters, such as those made by Positive Putter, are toe-up.

If we isolate tendencies among average golfers, face-balanced putters tend to open slightly on the backswing while toe-heavy putters tend to close slightly on the backswing.

A distinction also needs to be made between offset and onset putters. In an offset putter, the shaft is positioned in front of the face. In an onset putter, the face is in front of the shaft. PGA Tour players Scott McCarron and Tom Lehman both use long STX putters that are onset.

Face-balancing has become popular among women on the LPGA, and top-ranked Annika Sorenstam uses a face-balanced Odyssey 2-Ball putter. Most of the world’s top male golfers, however, do not use face-balanced putters.

The Titleist putter carried by Woods (a Cameron prototype) at the 2002 Masters and U.S. Open was not face-balanced. The Never Compromise putters used by Zoeller (Sub 30 D3 model) and Pak (TPD 4.2 model) to win majors were not face-balanced. And how about the greatest putting display of the year? In the U.S. Senior Open, neither winner Don Pooley (Ping My Day model) nor runner-up Tom Watson (Ping Pal model) was putting with a face-balanced magic wand.

Putters are wonderful instruments. Heel and toe weighting, pioneered by Ping founder Karsten Solheim, has made putters more reliable. Never Compromise, with its black-gray-black configuration, has just 10 percent of the head weight in the center gray section and 45 percent on each end. Odyssey, with its 2-Ball putter, has further enhanced stability by extending the putter mass behind the ball.

How about putting instruction? My friend Jerry Mowlds, who teaches at the Jim McLean School at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., says the best putting instructors are the ones who have experienced the putting heebie-jeebies and were forced to overcome the curse of bad putting. “Guys who always seem to putt well usually don’t know what they are doing,” Mowlds said. “They just do it.”

This reminds me of innate differences in putting styles. Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods are on opposite sides of the spectrum in putting – Mickelson a touchy-feely golfer with a longer stroke, Woods more analytical-mechanical with a shorter stroke. Both are skilled putters, and both probably would be ruined by switching styles.

Not only do golfers need to identify their own putting strokes, but they also need to identify which kinds of putters are best for their individual methods.

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