Hot Stuff: Good putting comes in smaller packages

Ping

Hot Stuff: Good putting comes in smaller packages

PGA Tour

Hot Stuff: Good putting comes in smaller packages

Mention the Ping DOC 17 putter and a wry smile crosses the face of nearly everyone who remembers it. First released in 2004, it was massive. Shaped like a half-circle, the DOC 17 measured 6.7 inches across. Made from aluminum to keep its weight down, the DOC 17 was – at that time – the ultimate expression of stability and forgiveness.

“On our pendulum test, you could hit the DOC putter an inch toward the toe or the heel and the drop in ball speed was really small compared to the drop in ball speed on a regular mallet or a blade,” said Paul Wood, Ping’s vice president of engineering.

It was exactly what a lot of golfers needed, but most couldn’t get past the DOC 17’s looks, and long putts proved to be challenging for many players trying it.

Today, the hottest trend in putters is to use geometry, multiple materials and face inserts to make smaller mallets that perform more like big putters.

The catalyst for the movement came two years ago when Jason Day switched to a TaylorMade Spider Tour Red putter, a small mallet with weights designed in a pair of wings behind the heel and toe, along with a grooved face insert.

Using that putter, Day set the record for the best strokes gained putting average for a PGA Tour season, 1.13, which means he was more than four and-a-half shots better than the average Tour player over 72 holes based solely on his putting. Through the U.S. Open this year, Day is leading the Tour in strokes gained putting again with an average of 1.086.

Seeing Day’s success, Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and several other pros soon tried Spider Tour putters, then Justin Thomas won the 2017 PGA Championship using a Scotty Cameron Futura X5 prototype, another small mallet that plays bigger than it looks.

“We have gotten better at understanding mass properties and improving the mass properties that we have,” said Bill Price, TaylorMade’s senior director of putters and wedges. “Once you have a footprint of something that is successful, like the Spider, then we know the mass properties, and you try to get it in a small package.”

To that end, TaylorMade recently released the Spider Tour Mini, a wingless version of the Spider Tour that is 15 percent smaller than its predecessor but retains all the stability and forgiveness of the original.

“One of the issues that we are finding is, how big does the sweet spot have to be,” said Scotty Cameron, Titleist’s master craftsman for putters. “You really don’t hit it (farther) off than say, half a dime’s width on either side. So the bigger we get it and the further back we go, the MOI goes up, but really, how far off-center are you going to hit a putt, within reason?”

The retail Futura 5W, as with Thomas’ putter, is milled from 303 stainless steel, which is heavier than the 6061 aluminum used to create its center sole plate. That pushes more weight to the heel and toe extensions, which boosts MOI but allows the size to remain relatively small.

Advancements in face inserts also help smaller mallets protect ball speed on off-center hits, much like oversized mallets.

Odyssey designed the EXO line of putters by milling the red 6061 aluminum center sections, then opting to make the perimeter sections from 17-4 stainless steel, which is heavier, to enhance MOI. But Odyssey also updated the Microhinge face insert found in all the EXO putters. The insert is designed to grab the ball, reduce skidding and get it rolling more quickly, and the updated versions are also designed to sound better. Hard-hit putts that golfers want to roll farther are now louder, matching the player’s expectation, but the bigger benefit is that mis-hit putts roll out nearly as far as putts hit in the sweetspot.

Ping offers several mallet putters that are designed to enhance stability, but a lot of the forgiveness benefits in putters such as the Sigma G Tyne come from the True Roll face insert. The grooves are deeper in the middle and
shallower near the heel and toe because Ping engineers learned deep grooves absorb energy.

By slightly slowing the pace of putts hit in the middle of the hitting area, and allowing putts hit toward the heel and toe to roll out more, Ping says that it effectively has normalized the speed of the face, making it easier to roll a ball the desired distance.

Over the years, many of golf’s best putters used a heel-toe weighted blade, and there was a stigma attached to using a mallet. Thankfully it’s gone, because the benefits that midsize mallets can offer make them compelling for a lot of golfers. As manufacturers have become more skilled at manipulating weight and how the ball comes off the face, taking the mallet plunge could be just what you need to improve your performance on the greens. Gwk

(Note: This story appeared in the July 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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