By Don Irving, Artisan Golf
In terms of fitting golf equipment, the most overlooked club in the bag continues to be the putter. A lot of golfers rely solely on how the putter feels to them and how visually pleasing it is to their eye. While feel and optics are important in choosing a putter, there is a lot more that needs to be looked at to ensure that you the golfer are being fitted to the best putter possible for your swing.
If we think for a moment how the game of golf is set up, it quickly becomes crystal clear why having an optimized putter is so critical. In every sport, the athlete is rewarded and praised for how much he can do for his sport, in terms of higher numbers. The more yards a running back in football gains the more he is revered. The more goals a hockey player scores, you can bet his value goes higher and higher. What about golf? Golf is different. You are rewarded for doing less than everyone else! The lower your score is the better. Golf is structured around the premise that a good golfer should be able to get around a course by taking 72 shots (Par). As well, it is set up so that if we hit a Par 3 green in one stroke, a par 4 green in two strokes and a Par 5 green in three strokes, we are doing pretty darn good and we are well on our way to shooting a 72 (Par). But if we hit all the greens in regulation, that only accounts for 36 strokes. We still have 36 strokes left and these are, of course, meant to be putts. If half the strokes taken in a par round of golf are meant to putts, it stands to reason, in my opinion, that the putter is the most important club in the bag. It is the club that is the most likely to lower your score, whatever your handicap. If you shoot a 95 instead of a 72, putts in regulation still account for 38 percent of strokes taken. (36 strokes)
In this article, I want to examine some of the parameters that the Trackman Launch Monitor captures in its putting module. To date, it captures 17 different parameters. For this article, I will focus on a few key parameters and explain why these pieces of information are important and how they factor into a putter fitting.
First, let’s look at the “initial launch direction”. This means exactly what it states. It is the direction that the ball starts right or left in relation to the target line. By hitting a series of putts, it becomes quite clear what the golfer’s tendencies are. If they are consistently launching the ball off the intended line, why is that happening? It may be a swing issue, or it may be that the putter is too light or too heavy for the golfer to make a smooth putt. It could be it is too much or not enough offset in the putter hosel. It could also be that the lie is not correct for the golfer. During the fitting, the flaw must be looked at closely to determine what equipment parameter needs to change.
Another parameter that Trackman captures is “skid distance”. Skid distance is the distance after impact that the ball slides or bounces before it starts to roll. Clearly, it is better to have the ball start to roll as soon as possible so that it is less likely for the ball to drift offline. If the data captured indicates excessive skid distance it could be an indicator that there is too much effective or dynamic loft on the putter to get a good initial roll with a minimum skid distance. I have fitted many golfers where their putting stroke requires the static loft on the putter to be zero and sometimes a minus number. This adjustment is necessary for some golfers to get their actual or dynamic loft at impact down to a more reasonable loft that stops them from getting the ball airborne.
The Trackman parameters currently offer six pieces of data on the club itself. One of these pieces of information is club speed. This parameter is one of the more difficult parameters to master. Being able to strike ball after ball with the same initial club speed and initial ball velocity requires a putter that is balanced for your swing. It may require a putter that has an overall heavier total weight than standard, or it may require that a counter-weight be installed toward the butt of the shaft. Or it may require more weight toward the head of the club. Whatever adjustments are needed it will be reflected in three other Trackman parameters, namely “backswing time”, and “forward swing time” which together determine “tempo”. All great putters have a great tempo. Tempo is a function of the backswing time divided by the forward swing time which should yield a number very close to 2. This means the tempo is in a 2:1 ratio of the backswing to forward swing. Tempo is critical. If we look at the stats on the PGA Tour, we will find the average tempo is around 2:1. Having a consistent tempo means you can roll the ball consistently across any length of putt. Achieving good tempo is accomplished by good practice and having a fitted balanced putter for your swing.
Hopefully this article has given the reader a greater insight into the need for a fitted putter. The introduction of the Trackman Putter Fitting System has taken putter fittings to a new level. The evolution of putter fitting will continue to develop as Trackman releases new data parameters. A putter fitting does not necessarily indicate a new putter is needed. Often a putter can be modified to meet the requirements of your putting stroke.