Putters: Choose your weapon wisely

Senior Writer

Find a putter that fits.

This is the overpowering message from specialists who fit and prescribe putters for major golf manufacturers.

Here are their tips for buying and using a new putter:

Customize your putter as needed. The primary considerations are clubhead style, length and lie.

Titleist’s Scotty Cameron continually talks about clubhead style. “If it doesn’t fit your eye, if it makes you feel uncomfortable, find something else,” said Cameron, whose designs range from small, simple blades to large, complicated mallets. “There is a putter for everybody.”

Get the right length. The experts are unanimous in saying most golfers use putters that are longer than necessary.

“Most people’s mechanics improve when I fit them with shorter putters,” Callaway’s Nick Arthur said. “Their arms hang down better. I fit a lot of golfers in the 331/2-to-341/2-inch range. Amateurs tend to use putters that are too long.”

Check your weight. Since the success of the Heavy Putter, putter weight has become a consideration for more golfers.

Putter heads in general have become heavier in recent years, which works well with shorter putter lengths. “It wasn’t that long ago that our putter heads were just over 300 grams,” Ping’s David Jones said. “Now the lightest head in our new iWi series is 344 grams.”

Find the proper lie. Putter lie can be changed with a Mitchell TourGauge Putter Machine or other loft and lie apparatus. Keep in mind that many touring pros, including Tiger Woods, set their putters so the toe is off the ground by a degree or two.

“It just looks right to them,” Callaway’s Arthur said. “With a dead-level putter, many guys will say it looks like the toe is stuck in the ground.”

Make solid contact. “Hitting putts solidly is the key to distance control,” said Ping’s Jones, noting that proper lie and solid contact go hand in hand. “I guarantee you that the worst putters are the ones who hit the ball all over the face.”

Big or small grip? Some golfers putt well with oversized grips, some don’t. Big grips can produce a totally different feel because they have a huge effect on the balance and swingweight of a putter.

PGA professional Todd Sones, known for emphasizing the short game at his golf school in the Chicago suburb of Vernon Hills, Ill., advises many of his students to use a smaller putter grip to bring the hands closer together.

Match the putter with the stroke. Duane Anderson, the lead putting analyst at TaylorMade’s headquarters, tells golfers to “find the correct putter for the stroke you brought in the door.”

In fitting TaylorMade tour players, Anderson has learned that “just concentrating on where somebody is aiming can lead you down a bad road.”

In other words, the best players are skilled at making compensations. “We have PGA Tour players who never aim (directly) at the hole, but are very, very good at making putts,” Anderson said.

“It gets to a point where you need to change your stroke if you change your aim, which can be very difficult,’’ he said. “Many players end up saying, ‘This (natural stroke) is my DNA. This is what I do, and I’m not going to change it.’ ”

Consider a putting analyzer. Golfers who use systems such as SAM (Science and Motion) or TOMI (The Optimal Motion Instructor) should not be shocked if their strokes are radically different from, say, Tiger Woods’ or Phil Mickelson’s.

“There are all sorts of ways to putt,” Jones said. “I’ve seen pros who open the clubface (at the beginning of the forward swing) less than a degree, and I’ve seen pros with as much as 8 or 9 degrees. The differences are pretty amazing.”

Pick your hosel. It will determine the position of the shaft in relation to the ball. “I made three different putters for Chad Campbell – all the same except for the hosel,” TaylorMade’s Anderson said. “For him, the slant neck looked right. The other two were just wrong for him.”

An alignment line on the ball is not for everybody. “It hurts some people,” Anderson said. “It can be distracting. They focus too much on it.”

Inserts vary. If you use an insert putter, match the insert with your tendency to be long or short of the hole, Arthur says. Some inserts are much livelier than others, causing the ball to run farther.

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