By: Doug Emma
Favorite club in the bag? For your score’s sake, I would hope it’s your putter.
It’s amazing how golfers come to select the putters with which they play. Some players emphasize feel, some aesthetics, some choose to play a putter because their favorite player uses a specific model, while others play putters that have sentimental value. So many golfers spend thousands of dollars custom fitting drivers, iron sets, and hybrids/fairway woods, yet the club they will use for over 30% of their strokes made (twice as much as any other club in the bag) is unfit, and has very few other criteria for why it's in the bag other than “feels good, looks good, made a couple”.
I tend to look at putting and putter fitting a bit differently. I think a player can putt with a few different putters very successfully. These putters will consist of all the same fitting components but will differ in specific preferences for a flatstick. They just have to understand how putters work and how their stroke reacts to different putter designs.
Putter fitting is a balance of art and science. It puts the right brush in the painter's hand to create a masterpiece.
Let's talk about the major fitting and design components of putting. I want to explain why a putter wants to move the way it does and why a player might react to it differently.
- Toe hang
- Head shapes
- Lie Angle
- Grip Style/Size
- Face Material/Texture
If you have always heard people talk about the toe hang of putter but still do not understand what it means, let’s go ahead and clarify: toe hang is the position in which the toe of the putter points if the putter is allowed to hang naturally.
We have found that find the proper toe hang for your stroke is essential to squaring your face at impact.
We like to think about it like this: if a shaft were to enter the putter through the heel, it would take more effort to rotate the face closed. If a shaft were to enter the putter through the middle of the putter, the face would feel much easier to rotate closed. As we define the different types of toe hang, keep in mind that more face balanced designs release easier and more heel shafted designs cause the face to stay more open at impact for players who have average to minimal face rotation in their stroke.
These are the five most common categories of toe hang styles:
- Full Toe Hang - Commonly found in heel shafted blades. The toe of the putter points more directly to the ground when allowed to hang naturally.
- ¾ Toe Hang - Commonly found in blades with short and small hosels. The toe of the putter points down by about 75 degrees.
- ½ Toe Hang - This toe hang originated with the PING ANSER design. It occurs with most plumbers neck blade putters and hangs about 45 degrees.
- ¼ Toe Hang - This toe hang can be found in both blades and mallets depending on the hosel design. The amount of toe hang is about 25 degrees.
- Face Balanced - This toe hang can also be found in both blades and mallets. The face of the putter will point directly to the sky when allowed to hang naturally.
The reason that the toe hang of a putter is so critical - and one of the first design features addressed - is that it is the only characteristic that directly relates to the way the player squares the face at impact. Motion capture technology, highspeed cameras, and physics tell us that putting is almost completely ruled by face angle at impact.
Offset is most commonly talked about with full swing golf clubs. Clubs will literally feature a face that is offset from the leading edge of the shaft to correct an errant shot. Putter offset is no different. Offset is defined as the shaft placement in relation to the putter face. The amount of offset affects both the player’s ability to aim the putter as well as square up the face angle at impact.
As a general rule of thumb there are three common offset styles:
- No Offset - Commonly found in putters with a straight shaft that goes directly into the putter head. From address, the left edge of the shaft will line up straight with the leading edge of the putter face.
- Half Shaft Offset - Commonly found in putters with a small S-Shaped hosel or double bend shaft with no hosel. This means that half of the width of the golf shaft is ahead of the leading edge of the putter face at address.
- Full Shaft Offset - Commonly found in putters with hosels and with double bend shafts. This means that a full shaft width will be ahead of the putter face at address.
Different offsets will cause a player to unknowingly aim slightly more left or right relative to the other offset styles, depending on various optical characteristics, such as eye dominance, depth perception, visual acuity, head position at address, and more. Knowing your optimal offset is a crucial aspect of a properly fit putter. We encourage players to test different offset styles in combination with their favorite putter head shape. When the correct offset is found, a player’s eyes will naturally aim the putter to the intended target. When a player is using the incorrect offset, the player will believe themselves to be lined up to the same location, but in fact, the putter will be misaligned.
While it is important to pick a putter head that is attractive to look at, one must also consider the effects the shape of putter has on their ability to use it optimally. We like to split up head shapes into more rounded vs. more square. When the trailing edge of a putter is rounded, we see players tending to aim more open to the intended line, while a square trailing edge with more parallel lines tends to encourage a more left bias. Head shape is important to squaring the face angle up at impact because it is directly related to how well a person aimed the putter face. Find a shape that you like, but make sure if works!
The loft of a putter is directly related to the quality of launch and spin. In this day and age, we are now trying to maximize putter launch the same way we try to optimize driver launch. In recent testing, we have found that putters with the standard 4 degrees of loft are now launching putts too high and producing backspin.
In any fitting we conduct, we first measure the loft of a player’s current putter. After analyzing measurements of shaft lean and attack angle we can determine a player’s loft for perfect launch and spin.
Loft should also be customized based on the surfaces a player typically putts on. To achieve perfect launch on faster greens, a player may require less loft than on slower green speeds.
The loft of a putter will also change the player’s perception of the putter face at address. A less lofted putter will appear more open while a more lofted putter will appear more closed.
At the start of each fitting, we like to find a base measurement for length. By taking a yard stick and measuring the distance in inches from the ground up to the base of a player’s wrist bone from a standing straight posture, we can find a great starting place for length. It is an old-school test, but it works!
Putter length is one of the most important variables to a proper putting setup. By using a putter that is not the correct length you will suffer improper wrist and arm alignments, poor posture, less-than-ideal distance from the golf ball.
With high-speed camera testing, we find that if a putter is too long, it increases face rotation above the desired range and too short results in below the desired range.
If the length of your putter is too long, it will likely be too upright, while too short will likely be to flat in terms of lie angle.
Lie angle is the angle in which the shaft intersects the head relative to the ground. Most off-the-rack putters come standard at approximately 70 degrees. Testing shows that best performance comes when both the toe and heel sit evenly at impact.
- A properly fit lie angle gives the ball the best possible chance to strike the highest part of the putter face, nearest the center of gravity, thus ensuring a solid strike that promotes forward spin.
- A poor lie angle at impact will cause the ball to strike low on the blade, nearer to the toe or heel depending on whether the toe or heel is off the ground. This results in poor contact, creating speed control issues.
Weight in a putter can be associated with three separate concepts:
- Head weight
- Grip weight
Head Weight - Most putters are defined as standard at approximately 350 grams. Head weight will affect how a player squares up the face at impact. During a fitting, it is important to test both lighter and heavier head weights to see which type you respond to best. As a general rule players can use a lighter head on fast green speeds while a heavier head might work better on slow greens.
Grip Weight - While picking your favorite look and feel of a grip is important, understanding how the weight of the grip influences overall swing weight matters significantly. A lighter grip will give a player a heavier head feel, and a heavier grip can make the same head feel lighter.
Counterweight - Some players test best with counterweight. This occurs by adding weight to the top end of the putter. Also, having a heavier than standard head combined with counter weight produces a “counterbalanced” design. These putters are typically issued in 36-38 inches with a long grip so that a player can choke down and take advantage of this technology. This method is a common go-to for players seeking control through less risk to manipulate the clubface due to the added weight.
Choosing the right grip is one of the final keys during a proper putter fitting. The different sizes, shapes, and weights can have an effect on squaring up the face angle at impact. With some players, the effect of the grip is extremely minimal. However, with others, it can lead to an enormous difference in their performance. The shape of the grip, the texture, and the size all have to be considered.
It is widely believed that the size of the grip will influence the amount the face rotates through impact, with a larger grip limiting hand action, and a smaller grip promoting more hand action. Research has shown this is true for about half of all players tested. For other players, the shape of the grip and how it rested in their hands seemed to play a more contributing role.
As far as shapes, the following are widely available: Pistol, Paddle, Round, Semi-Round, Nontapered, Square. Textures can vary tremendously going from real leather wraps to synthetic rubber/acrylic. And most importantly, the grip must settle into the player’s fingers and hands comfortably to promote both stability and confidence.
If ten putters were selected at random at a major golf retailer, we would probably see three main categories of face material and texture:
- Milled Face
- Grooved Face
- Face Insert
The face material you select will directly impact the feel and quality of roll on your putts. High-Speed Cameras have shown us how important it is to get the rolling end over end. A putter that causes the ball to bounce and skid off the face will make distance control difficult.
Milled Putter Faces - Typically made from 303 stainless steel and are precision milled using a CNC machine. These putters tend to produce a more muted sound and soft feel.
Grooved Putter Faces - Thought to produce more “overspin” on the golf ball. While high-speed cameras have shown us that multiple face types and textures can produce excellent forward roll, grooved putter faces have a feel all to their own. The sound is typically higher pitched, and players have a good feel for a solidly struck putt.
Face Inserts - Utilized to change the feel of a putter. Inserts are usually the cheapest to produce and feel the softest of any face.
It is important to remember that face material and texture create friction between the ball and face at impact. This friction alters the ball speed of your putts. Find the putter face material that feels best to you. The best putter face will create great vibrations, acoustics and feel which will translate to how much energy you need to put into each putt.
Stop Wasting Time... and Strokes
While the fitting component list we just laid out is used as a basic introduction to putter fitting, we believe that once we have determined the proper toe hang, offset, head shape, loft, length, lie, weight, grip and face material, the player is left with no guesses about which putter will work best. When you consider the cost of a putter fitting, and the price of a putter, there is probably no greater value in equipment as it pertains to scoring than having a properly fit putter.