Selecting the Right Putter Head
Most golfers would agree that the putter is the most important club in your bag. Just because you do not bomb your putter 300 yards right down the middle of the fairway does not make it any less important. This little club is the reason for most of the cheers, jeers, "ooohs" and "aaahs." It seems to spend more time in the spotlight that any of its counterparts, meaning more strokes are made with that one club during an average round than with any of the others. The putter takes the blame for the bogey (or worse) when it is usually a case of operator error. It can also be hailed as the hero in your deck of clubs when you sink that birdie (or better) to win a skin or bragging rights.
Finding the perfect putter for your game can be like discovering the Holy Grail. It is like having all the planets line up and everything just feels right. Manufacturing putters has become a virtual collision between art and technology as melding several types of materials into all kinds of geometric shapes is quite common.
Form is as important as function when it comes to the flat stick. A player has to like what they see before they will have confidence in the product. Once a person finds a putter that they are pleased with the aesthetics of, at least half the battle is won.
Styles of Putter Shapes
Blade vs. mallet is the obvious choice. Blade-type putters are narrow from face to back, and long from toe to heel. Players who prefer a more traditional look tend to prefer blade style models, while players who want a more modern look opt for mallet type putters. Today's mallet putters come in a wide variety of shapes, but are usually almost as deep from face to back, as they are from toe to heel. Through the use of different materials and shapes, a higher moment of inertia (MOI) can be achieved. The MOI is simply the putter head's resistance to twisting. A higher MOI translates into more stable contact with an off-center impact, which in turn means more putts finding the bottom of the cup instead of burning the edge or catching the lip. Placement of weight is critical for how a putter will resist twisting. Face-balanced putter heads are less likely to be influenced by wayward strokes and poor contact.
Materials and Specifications
Should you go with a putter head that has a polymer substance to soften impact, or milled metal for a more crisp feel? The difference in face material will have an impact on how far a ball will travel with a similar length of swing. Those who prefer a firmer feel should stay with putters that do not have inserts. Most putter heads are made from softer steels than irons or metal woods. So even a soft steel like 304 stainless steel can give a firmer feel than an aluminum or polymer-backed insert head.
Loft & Lie
The most common loft for a putter head is 3-4 degrees. The loft and lie angle measurements on a putter are just as important as they are with your irons. The degree of loft will determine if a putter will get the ball up on top of the turf and rolling true. If you have too high a degree of loft, the ball will have an amount of backspin that will actually cause it to check-up or skid and fall short of the hole. Too little loft can also be detrimental to your goal. The ball can be squeezed deeper down into the turf, resulting in it jumping or popping up.
If you forward-press your putter, this action de-lofts the putter face, so choosing a putter head with more loft will help counter this effect. Likewise, an ascending or descending stroke at ball impact will cause different reactions — even if both strokes are made with a putter using the same amount of loft. The loft will need to be adjusted to help minimize the skid that occurs when the ball corrects from a backspin to an over-spin roll.
Lie angles are overlooked all too often in the putter. To have a properly fit club this is one — if not the most — important aspect in customizing your club. A "standard" lie angle for a putter is typically 71-72 degrees. If either the heel or toe drags on the green prior to impact, the ball will never have a chance of going in. If you get your body in a position that is not comfortable, the chances of making a consistent swing are greatly reduced. Loft & lie angles are very easy for experienced clubmakers to adjust on most putter heads that have hosels (necks), and well worth the time it takes to find the right combination for your setup.
For decades the standard length of a putter was 35 inches. However, that is not the ideal playing length for most of the population. In numerous studies, the best fit is typically one to three inches shorter. A shorter club makes it easier to control the distance the ball travels, as well as keeping the club on track. Many tour players are now playing with putters that are 32-34” in length.
The head weight of putters has been tipping the scales into unheard-of areas. This is for a few different reasons:
The amount of offset a putter has will help or hinder the face angle at impact. It will depend mostly on where in the stance a person likes to play the ball. Most blade type putters have the offset built into the design, so there is less opportunity to customize this feature. There are more mallet putters that will have the bore straight into the head, allowing for a variety of offset shafts to bring the face angle square at impact.
Shopping for a new putter head is like opening the proverbial Pandora's box, so when the day arrives, be very wise in which weapon you choose to take into battle. Even though there may not be facts, figures and formulas that will pinpoint the exact instrument for your swing, there are measures you can take to fine tune and make the putter the best possible fit for your bag.