Club-fitting series: Stick with the right putter

Bob Charles has advice to everyone searching for a putter: "...find a putter that feels right and keep using it. Over a period of time, you can develop the proper touch - something you can depend on."

Machrihanish, Scotland - It seemed a long way to go for a tip on golf club selection, but the sun was shining, the wind was down, and it was a glorious day in western Scotland.

The golf tip, coming from a major champion, was just a bonus.

Walking briskly around the corner of the clubhouse at Machrihanish Golf Club, there he was, Bob Charles, the 1963 British Open champion. Thrown over his shoulder was a carry golf bag.

“Let’s go,” he said, quietly. “Let’s make some birdies.”

Charles, 74 at the time, would carry that bag for 18 holes and never whimper. He has aged well and looks remarkably like the young man who won the Open nearly 50 years ago. Oh yes, he would make five birdies and easily best his age on this day.

One of those clubs was the Bulls Eye putter closely identified with Charles for virtually his entire career. He began using a Bulls Eye as a young touring pro, and he never switched.

The putter was the source of the tip from Charles: “I would tell any golfer to find a putter that feels right and keep using it. Over a period of time, you can develop the proper touch – something you can depend on. This is very important when you are playing in an important match. Really, the putter can be your best friend.”

Charles gave away a couple of his best friends, replacing them with other Bulls Eyes. After winning the Open, he donated the Bulls Eye to the R&A. After winning the World Match Play Championship in 1969, he gave a similar putter to host Wentworth Club. The Bulls Eye in his bag today is more than 20 years old.

What does Charles think of golfers who change putters frequently?

“Not very intelligent,” he said. “Golf is a difficult game. Why make it even more difficult by using a putter that doesn’t have your complete trust.”

And off Charles went, bag on his shoulder, Bulls Eye securely in tow.

“Don’t change putters,” he admonished, looking back one last time.

But how does a player find the perfect putter?

Blair Philip, director of product development for Yes! Golf, provides an overview.

“The first thing is finding a putter that is the correct length and lie. It all starts there,” he says.

“A wrist-to-floor measurement doesn’t really help because there are so many different types of setups. In general, many golfers use putters that are too long. They are not doing themselves any favors.”

Tip No. 1: Find the shortest putter that can be used comfortably.

The next consideration is aiming the putter. Philip says skilled golfers, relying on instinct, tend to gravitate toward putters that help them aim better.

“In general, the more somebody has a tendency to aim to the right, the more offset you give them. That offset gets them setting up more to the left.

“There are no absolutes, but many golfers have a tendency to aim to the right.”

Tip No. 2: It can benefit all golfers to figure out how they aim their putters.

“Some people are distracted by (aiming) lines,” Philip says.

Other aiming methods include the use of the top line, or the face, or even the back of the putter.

Tip No. 3: Find the right grip. Larger putter grips are extremely popular in today’s marketplace.

“Of all the golfers I fit for putters, 45 to 50 percent choose midsize grips.,” Philip says. “That includes a lot of women.”

Understanding the arc of the putting stroke can be very important. This is the theory behind Ping’s new putter app, called iPing, in which the arc of a golfer’s putting stroke is measured and then matched with a particular putter.

Tip No. 4: A straight-back, straight-through stroke is best suited to a face-balanced putter, while a stroke with a pronounced arc (opening on the backstroke, then closing on the throughstroke) often requires a toe-down putter.

To determine whether a putter is face-balanced or toe-down, simply balance the putter shaft on one finger. If the face remains parallel to the ground, it is face-balanced. If the toe hangs down, it is of the toe-down variety.

Toe-down putters have varying degrees of toe-down angles, depending on the putter construction and the weight of the toe.

Tip No. 5: Think about putter feel.

“There are a lot of golfers who like to feel they are releasing the putter, and they often like to see extra mass out there on the toe,” Philip says. “That appeals to their eye and their feel.”

Feel is difficult to define, although some golfers like the feel of solid metal putter faces while others prefer the feel of inserts in the faces.

Other putter tips:

Grooves in the putter faces are another variable. Yes!, for example, touts its C-grooves as providing a smoother, more consistent roll.

Finally, it should be noted that mallet putters, despite their popularity, are not for everybody. Golfers who have trouble with the pace of longer putts often prefer mallet putters, or high MOI putters.

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