I believe Ben Hogan’s answer when he was asked the question, “How can I become a better Putter?” was “hit your irons closer”. Pretty good as far as simple advice goes. Unfortunately, if you are like most golfers, it is not likely that you are going to be inside 6-8 feet from the pin on most of your approach shots. Most are just happy to hit the green. So for the average person, Ben Hogan’s simple advice is difficult to achieve. Ultimately, I think working on your putting stroke, practicing your putting stroke and most importantly, having your putter fitted to you are essential to becoming a better putter. It is the club that can take the most strokes off your game. But it is the one that most often gets the least attention.
It astounds me that people are willing to pay $500-600 and even more for an off the rack driver, which at best would be used 12-14 times per round. These same people are reluctant to spend $200-300 on a putter. This is the club that may be used at least 36 times, allowing two putts on every green. In this article I will deal with some of the reasons you should absolutely have your putter fitted. There is an abundance of putters on the market today and every manufacturer has their technological buzz word that defines their product, but without a proper fitting the average golfer has no way of knowing if the design features of any given putter are correct for his putting stroke.
Let’s examine some of the parameters of putting, which include loft, lie, and quality of the roll, weight etc. First, let’s look at length. The proper length for a putter is not determined solely by how tall you are. It is more determined by what your preferred putting stance is. If you have a very upright posture it would require a putter that is longer than if you have a more bent over putting stance. By using a variable length putter in a fitting, it is quite easy to get the golfer in his/her address position and adjust the length of the “fitting” putter to suit the individual golfer.
Next, let’s look at loft/lie. These are two extremely important parameters when fitting for a putter. First we will look at the ramifications of an incorrect lie. If the toe of the putter is too upright, there is a danger of the heel catching the ground during the stroke causing the face to close. This may not even be perceptible to the golfer, but even if your putter face closes by 1 degree on a 10 foot putt, you can be certain you will miss the putt. The same is true if the toe is down, only this time the putter face will open and you will miss the putt to the right. During a putter fitting, the correct lie angle is determined and the putter adjusted to that spec. A simple adjustment can save you a world of hurt. Now we will address the issue of loft. Most putters come with a loft of between 2-4 degrees. So how do you know if the loft on the putter is correct for your stroke? The short answer is that “you don’t”. Unless you have a fitting for loft, there is no way of knowing. I use the Tomi system and a dew board to determine correct loft. The loft that is most important is not the static loft on the putter but the dynamic loft or actual loft at impact. This loft is a combination of the static loft plus the amount of shaft lean forward or backward. The putter is then adjusted to produce the dynamic loft that gives the best roll characteristics to the ball.
We will now consider the Weight of the putter. This is a fitting parameter that generally is very golfer specific, but for golfers with a pendulum type of stroke, i.e., a linear stroke, a heavier putter is usually a better choice. The extra weight of the putter tends to smooth out the pendulum stroke. Placing more weight in the butt of the shaft, which also puts it in the golfer’s hands, helps most golfers maintain a smooth tempo. For the rotational putter, weight in the butt end is not generally beneficial to their stroke. Heavier putters do not generally feel good for this type of golfer, i.e., a rotational putting stroke.
Finally, we will look at roll characteristics. When I have fitted a putter and made all the proper adjustments, I want the golfer’s putter to feel good and for the putter to produce the optimal roll. To determine this, it is necessary to know two things. One is when does the ball start to roll during its movement toward the hole and second, is the ball making contact with the ground from start to finish. (assuming a good quality green.) I can determine ball to ground contact by using a dew board which mimics the dew on a green. By rolling the ball on the dew board, a picture is painted. It is possible to see exactly how the ball is rolling, whether it is maintaining contact with the ground from the start or whether it is skipping and hopping. A further tool has been added to putter fitting. The Trackman IV Launch Monitor is now able to capture the exact moment when the ball begins to roll, providing invaluable data for the fitter that only was available through hi-speed video. As Trackman develops this technology, fitters will have more and more date to give golfers the perfect fit.
I would highly recommend that every golfer have a putter fitting. Putting really is the best place to take strokes off your score, so why not have a tool that is perfectly suited to you and the task at hand.
/ Don Irving, Master Club Fitter, Artisan Golf