Zebra AIT Putters – Key Takeaways
- Four putters modeled after the 1976 original Zebra
- AI-designed face technology and high MOI heads
- CNC-milled stainless steel face insert reduces skid, promotes better roll
- Three mallets at $249.99; wide-body blade at $219.99
- Available now at ZebraGolf.com
The new Zebra AIT putters are another chapter in 2023’s “back-from-the-dead” golf story. If it were a sitcom, we’d call this year Welcome Back, Lazarus.
We’ve already shared the new MacGregor MT86 irons backstory with you. Well, Zebra is joining MacGregor and another long-lost classic brand – Ram – in this unexpected resurrection. And all three revivals come courtesy of the Nevada-based Golf Brands, Inc.
And like its MacGregor cousins, the new line of Zebra AIT putters is a from-the-ground-up creation. They are all designed by the same mind that gave us $ 5 billion worth of classic putters, irons and metalwoods.
Zebra AIT Putters: Hello Old Friend
Do you remember the original Zebra putter? Released in 1976, it was quite possibly the first face-balanced mallet putter that went mainstream. It was also the first putter to feature interchangeable sole weights, unheard of at the time. Within weeks of its introduction, Ray Floyd put one in his bag and proceeded to set the 72-hole scoring record at the 1976 Masters. A decade later, the Zebra was still in Floyd’s bag for his U.S. Open win at Shinnecock. And in 1994, Nick Price gamed one for his Open Championship victory.
The Zebra name came from the putter’s distinct black- and white-striped alignment aid. And the original remains an iconic favorite. For instance, Golf.com lists the Zebra in its Top 18 Most Famous Golf Clubs in History. And Golf Monthly named it one of six putter designs that changed the game, joining Calamity Jane, the Bulls Eye, the PING Anser, the MacGregor ZT Response and the Odyssey 2-Ball.
Zebra was purchased by Ram Golf in 1980. As Ram’s fortunes declined, so did Zebra’s. It eventually wound up a house brand at Golfsmith and was mothballed when DICK’s bought Golfsmith’s assets out of bankruptcy. In 2019, DICK’s sold the Zebra brand along with stablemates Ram and TearDrop to Simon Millington’s Golf Brands, Inc.
“I do have this romance with the old brands,” Millington tells MyGolfSpy. “When you start a new putter brand, you’re trying to tell everybody everything about them. But for us, it’s a Zebra. People pick it up and go, ‘I love this putter.’”
Raising the Curtain
The new Zebra AIT putters started making the rounds last fall but it was at the PGA Show last month that they made their big splash.
“The reaction at Demo Day was so pleasing,” says Millington. “From 9 a.m. till 5 p.m. there was not one time, not one minute, not one second, where somebody didn’t have a putter in their hands.”
As with the new MacGregor MT86 irons, the entire Zebra putter line was designed by Austie Rollinson. We shared Rollinson’s resume with you in our piece on the new MacGregors but here’s the quick version. Rollinson spent 28 years at Callaway, 15 of those as chief designer for Odyssey. He rightfully claims the White Hot line, Stroke Lab, Triple Track and the 2-Ball to his list of accomplishments.
Overall, Rollinson holds more than 300 club patents and his designs are responsible for over $5 billion in sales.
Rollinson is now Senior Director of Putter R&D with Titleist. But between gigs, he had an 18-month contract with Millington to bring Zebra and MacGregor back to life.
“I’m so pleased we did it this way,” says Millington. “Every detail, from the weights to the Zebra stripes, we tried to do the whole thing first class.”
AIT: Artificial Intelligence Technology
Bringing back a classic brand name is tricky. Get it wrong and you earn well-deserved ridicule for being nothing but a nostalgia-based cash grab. Get it right and you’ll still face an uphill battle with the hardened golf cynic.
Rollinson’s involvement puts Zebra in the latter category as does the use of artificial intelligence (AIT stands for Artificial Intelligence Technology). Specifically, AI was used to optimize the moment of inertia and center of gravity for each head and to design the CNC-milled stainless steel face insert. The face is designed to reduce skid to get the ball rolling forward faster, something that’s been the Holy Grail of putter designers dating back to the original Anser in 1966.
Each face insert features a urethane backing material for a more solid, softer feel.
The new Zebra lineup features four putters. The AIT 1 is an oversized version of the original Zebra. Like the original, the AIT 1 is face-balanced with adjustable weighing thanks to two 15-gram weights placed heel and toe close to the face. Optional 10- and 20-gram weight kits are available for purchase.
The rest of the lineup features traditional putter head shapes. The AIT 2 is a classic fang-tooth design with perimeter weighting for a higher MOI than the AIT 1 while the AIT 3 is a Spider-like design with weights in the back, along with a hole. It has the highest MOI in the family.
Like AIT 1, both AIT 2 and 3 are also face-balanced.
The AIT 4 is a wide-body blade in the classic Anser style. It features a slight toe hang and its extreme heel-toe weighting gives it a higher MOI than the AIT 1 but it’s still lower than the other two mallets. It has the highest and most forward CG in the lineup.
Earning Their Stripes?
Reviving classic, retro brands may be romantic, but performance, like a zebra, is black and white.
The Zebra AIT 4 finished 19th out of 27 putters tested in this year’s Most Wanted Blade Putting testing. Subjective feedback was a tad lackluster, ranking below average for the things that don’t help you sink putts, such as look, sound and feel. The Zebra mallets are up next in Most Wanted so we’ll soon get an idea of how they stack up. We can say that, during our brief experience at Demo Day, we found the AIT 1 silly easy to line up thanks to the Zebra stripes. Sound and feel were hard to decipher on a busy, noisy practice green but we did not find it objectionable.
Our demo did, however, bring back a fondness for the original.
“I feel like a custodian of these brands,” says Millington. “You’ve got to do something good with them. There’s still so much passion and love for the brand.”
That passion was tangible throughout the PGA Show. Millington says dozens of people wanted to buy putters right then and there but the line of the week came from one gent who rolled a few putts with the AIT 1.
“He just smiled,” says Millington. “Then he said, ‘Man, this is like having a Guinness with an old buddy.’”
The new line of Zebra putters is available in 33-, 34- and 35-inch lengths with KBS Stable-Stepped shafts and Winn VSN mid-sized pistol grips.
For more information, visit ZebraGolf.com.