From time to time in our club tests, we stumble upon the unexpected. The answers are seldom definitive, but the most exciting finds for us are the ones that force us to ask more questions. When that happens, we sometimes spin up additional tests to help us determine if a larger test is warranted.
Case in point, the black putter shaft.
In 2015, Carbon sent us a Ringo ¼ for that season’s Most Wanted Blade test. Among the customization for the model they sent was a black shaft. The relatively unknown Ringo finished first in the blade category.
Subsequent Ringo models haven’t performed quite as well – and while we know that the year over year iterations that golf companies make have performance implications, we wondered if maybe it was as simple as the black shaft (other Ringo entries featured stock silver steel shafts) having a pronounced influence on performance.
In this year’s mallet test, the Tommy Armour Impact Series #3 Alignment from Dick’s Sporting Goods finished tied for first overall. The strong performance caught us by surprise. We’re talking about a house brand putter that sells for less than $100 bucks. Again, we found ourselves wondering if the black shaft played a role.
At face value, we know it sounds almost absurd, but golf is a game of focus, and it’s possible that every last detail, no matter how seemingly unimportant, matters. You may remember that PING altered the placement of its putter shaft badges after an eye-tracking study found that golfers eyes would sometimes lock on the badge. MLA touts the science behind its alignment system as the reason why its putters have fared well in our tests, and going back a few years, Nike released the IC – a line of putters that were forest green from head to grip. They were designed to almost disappear against the putting surface, allowing the golfer to better focus on the alignment lines.
Fooling the eyes, stealing focus, whatever you want to call it, golf companies have experimented with color and other means of limiting distractions in an attempt to help us putter better. Maybe it’s always been as simple as a black putter shaft. Given the surprising performance of black shafted putters in our tests, we thought it was at least worth looking into.
To keep our test putters as identical as possible, we reached out to Bettinardi Golf. The company provided us with two identical BB1 putters. The two putters had the same loft, same lie, same weight, and the same grip. The only difference; one had the standard steel shaft common to most every putter on retail shelves, the other a matte black alternative.
For the test itself, we put ten golfers through the same protocols we use during Most Wanted Testing. Testers hit a series of putts from 5, 10 and 20 feet with each putter. We counted the total number of putts for each tester, calculated confidence intervals, and looked for any significant performance differences.
We didn’t find any.
At a 95% confidence level, we found no reliable difference between the putter with the black shaft and the one with a silver shaft. In fact, for all ten testers, differences between the two putters were shown to be statistically insignificant. We found no evidence to suggest that a black putter shaft, in and of itself, has any measurable impact on putter performance.
We busted our own myth.
While it would have been cool to find some evidence of an inherent performance advantage, at the very least we were able to show that two otherwise identical putters produce statistically equivalent results in our tests.