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A True Story About Putters (Part 2)

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In my previous article, I told the true story of when I encountered a “genius IQ” and his putter design. In our conversation, I pointed out a major flaw, whereupon he decided that the flaw was me and our relationship was short lived.

Let’s change the outcome for the purposes of looking at putters as a product. For my standard fee of a dozen golf balls, I’ve agreed to offer advice to help this inventor and his backers. Starting with the putter itself, our final head design ended as technically perfect as modern science could produce. And let me be clear here, I’m NOT going into detail about the putter — that really isn’t the point of the story.

I could describe the optimal dwell time on the face supplied by grooved inserts, the inertial factors as described by weight distribution, available lofts, custom fitting options, a variety of grips — the best of the best — and test data to show why. Someone will probably comment that I didn’t include X, and my answer is, “Yes we did.” I repeat, it’s the perfectly designed putter.

I want to emphasize what I’ve written. There are dozens if not hundreds of putter designers who honestly believe they have a better product. I’m saying, “Fine, I agree.” We are starting this with the best.

The term “the best” is a very narrow window. There are putters used on Tour that are more than 20 years old (more than 70 years old if you count the Bulls Eye). Are they technically inferior? Let’s match the confidence someone has using his 20-year-old putter under pressure versus something ultra modern that doesn’t deliver the same reassurance. I’m not anti-technology. I’m pointing out that the final environment is both inconsistent (because of the green surfaces) and highly psychological. Since we’re dealing with humans, it’s unavoidable.

Now what? My genius friend and his backers are not dreamers. They desire a commercial success. That means one thing, get the putter used on Tour. It’s very simple in the mind of the consumer. If the folks making a living use it then there must be value, and if not it’s just another putter.

There is a Plan B: Millions of dollars spent on advertising in an attempt to convince consumers that the putter is superior regardless of Tour usage. The track record for this approach would have to be upgraded to unsuccessful. Taking my advice, it’s a non-strategy.

So it’s the Tour. How do we start? Tour players on a putting green are in their office and as such do not care to be interrupted. That said, there is a Tuesday window for experimentation, but access is the challenge. We are non-entities wandering around with putters — no credentials, thus no access. If we knew who, we could look for a tour rep and find one who would give us reasonable access, so let’s assume that is the case.

This rep has the job of convincing Tour players to try the putter while telling them about its superior technical merits. This is very difficult. There are several independent putter reps all with the same objective, and the companies that make the brands the players use have reps out there making sure they don’t switch. With putters, the players are interested in the look at address, feel and how the ball rolls. The overwhelming majority could care less about the technical story involving the design. They are the ultimate lab and if they say the putter looks funny or feels bad, it’s branded. Game over!

But we are on a roll (sorry couldn’t help myself), our rep gets the putter in the hands of a couple of guys who have been struggling on the greens and they use it in the Wednesday Pro-Am. Let’s say they make a couple of bombs, don’t miss any short ones and the putter goes in their bag.

Isn’t this exactly what we wanted? The answer is partially. You see, getting the putter on Tour isn’t enough. It’s Step 1, but success means several players using our putter and the reason is television. One or two players have low odds of TV time, but several means we have a chance.

In our perfect scenario, these two guys have to putt so well that other players notice and pretty soon we have a dozen, maybe even 20 even players using our putter, and our phone is ringing with their agents asking about playing contracts. Now we have arrived!

Not exactly.

The design of the putter must be such that when used on TV it is so unique that viewers instantly recognize it in their favorite golf store. Want a perfect example? Odyssey putters were not only uniquely identifiable, but told a visual story, alignment. Their overwhelming success completely disrupted the putter market.

My genius friend has a unique design, but it’s not visual enough to jump off the TV screens. This is a critical juncture. The product is good, it has some tour success now the consumer must be “educated.” Two words, BIG Money. And remember that it takes at least two or three years for the message to fully penetrate the minds (and wallets) of the consumer.

At this juncture, I’d advise my friend and his backers not to jump into the putter business, but approach the big companies and shoot for a royalty deal.

The “big guys” have seen this movie, and they are busy dissecting the design and patent to see where they could compete if they choose. They have staffs of engineers to assign to the project and not just the design in hand, but a succession of variations. They want to make money and will make a deal; you have to be able to define what is acceptable.

This exact scenario is the major reason why nearly all independent putter companies that have tried to compete directly with the major equipment companies have gone broke or sold for a value less than the original investment.

I would strongly advise the genius and his group to have an excellent website, tell of the Tour success (and be prepared to pay tour contracts for continued usage) and try and build a consumer groundswell. In the world of introducing a new putter that’s a win, and the big guys are aware.

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Barney Adams is the founder of Adams Golf and the inventor of the iconic "Tight Lies" fairway wood. He served as Chairman of the Board for Adams until 2012, when the company was purchased by TaylorMade-Adidas. Adams is one of golf's most distinguished entrepreneurs, receiving honors such as Manufacturing Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young in 1999 and the 2010 Ernie Sabayrac Award for lifetime contribution to the golf industry by the PGA of America. His journey in the golf industry started as as a club fitter, however, and has the epoxy filled shirts as a testimony to his days as an assembler. Have an equipment question? Adams holds seven patents on club design and has conducted research on every club in the bag. He welcomes your equipment questions through email at barneyadams9@gmail.com Adams is now retired from the golf equipment industry, but his passion for the game endures through his writing. He is the author of "The WOW Factor," a book published in 2008 that offers an insider's view of the golf industry and business advice to entrepreneurs, and he continues to contribute articles to outlets like GolfWRX that offer his solutions to grow the game of golf.

33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. Walter Pendleton

    Jun 24, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    Mr. Adams…you made an excellent point in this article when you said, Odessey CHANGED THE WORLD when they acknowledged alignment was the cornerstone of putting. You are so right Mr. Adams! However, I would like to add or comment that the USGA & R&A restrictions on “putter design” have stifled putting improvement by the average golfer and secondly has been counter productive to growing the game. Bear with me please as I defend my position on the subject. Image for a minute there were no restrictions on putter design, the average player’s handicap fell by 10 strokes and PGA players could score 58 or 59 regularly on tour? Wouldn’t more people enjoy the game, play more golf and buy more putters? I’m almost through…if the objective is to preserve the game, as it was founded some 500 years ago, then lets bring back the 12 original rules of golf and through away the dogma or bible called “The Rules of Golf.” My point is, we ALL know putting is 43% of every shot hit by the average player! If we don’t make putting more fun and golf easier, we risk the game of golf becoming a driving range sport due to its cost, like Japan, here in the United States. No one wants golf to return to its elitist status as a sport. That’s the elephant in the room no one wants to print or talk about in today’s world of golf. In fact, we all know its heading in that direction today! In closing I’ll just say, “Change is the only absolute in this world we know is going to happen…why not look at easing up on the poor golfer that three putts every fourth hole and never makes a fifteen footer! Good design, is just good business!

  2. Regis

    Feb 4, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    So true Barney. Best putter story ever of course is the Nicklaus Response putter. He used it on somewhat of a lark to win the 1986 Masters. Had a very unique look given the time period involved. MacGregor had forecasted selling 6,000 units total But, Nicklaus’ victory was enough to turn a company forecast of 6,000 putters into sales of 350,000 units by the end of the 1987. In fact, the company received 5,000 orders before noon the day after the Masters. ,

  3. Waqar

    Jan 26, 2015 at 9:53 am

    The picture above is the Borcerri Golf putter. It has the deepest face of any putter, as high as agolf ball.

    I got impact tape and put on the face of my Scottie and putted for 10 mins. To my surprise I noticed that I was stroking my putts in the center but high on the face, at times at the top edge. I putt with ball in the middle of my stance because it helps me with alignment and I tend to pull if I move forward and push if it move it back. The sweet spot is in the middle of the putter face vertically and horizontally. For me to strike the ball in the middle of the face vertically I have to move the ball at least two balls forward and this will result in pulls.

    I was an accomplished snooker and pool player. I tend to look at putting as a queue striking a ball. In pool to put topspin one needs to strike the ball above the equator or the queue tip has to be above the the butt end, which it not possible to do. With almost all putters made today one has to strike the ball just below the equator with positive loft and on the sweet spot. The amount of top spin also significantly depends on the softness of the ball cover, friction available on the putter face, and softness of putter face.

    For the few gifted individuals, and professionals who spend hours upon hours grooving in a stroke to achieve to stroke the ball on the putter’s sweet spot with positive loft at or just below the equator with the putter face square to the intended line, 90% of the putters are simply not suitable.

    Another thing that perplexes me is, is forward role really that important. I feel excessive top role causes distance control issues and lessens the break a players sees. On fast downhill putts it can cause serious anxiety.

    No matter with what kind of spin the ball leaves the putter face it will always role eventually. In my opinion the ball must leave the putter face with pure forward momentum with no spin at all. In fact for short putts back spin should be more desirable but it is not probably practical.

    I feel the genius is a really a genius is on to something.

  4. Steve zastrow

    Jan 19, 2015 at 9:02 pm

    Barney..I want one..If it’s that superior tell me about it And I will get Byron to make it…

  5. Ignorant savage

    Jan 17, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    Does this mean the “Shark Tank” investment might be in trouble? 😉

    Barney,

    Have really liked your articles and insights but agree with some here. The reason I like your stuff is because it offers a “new” and unseen glimpse through a keyhole into your world. In this case, almost anyone could have written these two pieces and the keyhole was an entire door that most of us had already been opened in one form or another.

    Let’s see/hear the stuff you tell your favorite “in-law” after you’ve snuck out of Thanksgivung dinner cleanup and are enjoying bourbon and cigars on the back deck….

    • Barney Adams

      Jan 18, 2015 at 10:44 pm

      From my emails a lot of readers have invested time and money in product ideas and I feel an obligation to explain the reality of the business. I understand your comment but in my experience the conversations were about the business. We harbor end some jealousy towards the companies owned by ” big brother” but that’s about as far as things went.

  6. Matthew Bacon

    Jan 16, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    Let me tell you about the time I met Tiger Woods. Ok, I’m not going to tell you that but here is an interesting story how I once shaved a dog

  7. Preston

    Jan 15, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    I was hoping for a Paul Harvey like story….

  8. Mr Free Golf

    Jan 15, 2015 at 9:58 am

    Having been a rep on tour for a major independent putter brand for over ten years, I’ll tell you your scenarios are spot on. Eventually, the brand went into bankruptcy, was purchased for next to nothing, and now the patent is expired with no hopes of being picked up. The putter industry as well as the golf industry has gotten to the point where contracts are made with players including putters. There’s only about 8% of the players, on a weekly basis, that I had a shot at. And, they were bottom feeders. The likelihood of gaining any kind of traction became impossible. Therefore, bankruptcy and an endangered species. For anyone hoping to gain a foothold in this exclusive society, create a website, sell a few out of your garage and at smaller trade shows and sleep well at night.

  9. Andy W

    Jan 15, 2015 at 8:13 am

    Whoa, am saying I concur & APPRECIATE every word written in your articles. Just pointing out that Pinehurst’s Payne Stewart statue has a Seemore putter, Zack Johnson uses a Seemore to this day, and as far as I know, neither got paid to use that putter. So to me, Seemore has had some “divine timing” as they seem to be flourishing. But as always, I could be wrong. But there was absolutely ZERO trashing on my part.

  10. Golf

    Jan 15, 2015 at 7:11 am

    Barney, I agree with you 100%. I don’t understand why such extreme bashing and hate attitudes? I see this sort of thing on most articles pertaining to golf anymore. I’ve gotten to where I take a quick look at the comments and if it’s just a bunch of trash, I just simply stop reading the comments. And, please don’t stop writing your articles. I enjoy reading them and learning from people like you that are very knowledgeable about golf equipment and the industry.

  11. katbird

    Jan 15, 2015 at 4:23 am

    Putters:
    Some like ’em hot off the face
    Some like ’em soft
    Some like ’em loud
    Some like ’em muted
    Some like ’em long
    Some like ’em short
    Some like ’em chiseled, like blades
    Some like ’em crescent shaped half moon
    Some like ’em high MOI
    Some like ’em low MOI
    Some like ’em aligned with a line towards the hole
    Some like ’em designed perpendicular to the target line

    Some like fat grips
    Some like thin grips
    Some like softies…some don’t

    …and some just can’t decide….
    and like them all at one time or another….

  12. RG

    Jan 14, 2015 at 11:23 pm

    One of the first things I learned on the way to my degree in Psychology is that half the population has an IQ of 100 or less. Conversely the vast majority of golfers struggle to break 100. The problem with both of these specimens is that they are entitled to opinions.
    Thank you for your contributions Barney. Your articles provide insight into the industry that most of us would never know, and your club designs made some of the most dynamic sticks I’ve ever hit.

  13. Sean

    Jan 14, 2015 at 9:45 pm

    Nice article Barney. It definitely explains the challenges one most be able to overcome and which hurdles are the important ones, and in what order they should be prioritized. Each business has it’s element of success and failure’s based upon unique demand factor’s. I believe golf to probably be the most difficult to break into as a startup.

  14. Slim

    Jan 14, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    The story/article would have been more interesting if he named names …

  15. Wendell

    Jan 14, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    How successful was Adams putting line? exactly… just sayin

  16. Ted

    Jan 14, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    Article was to long didn’t read it. I’ll tell you a true story about putting. I got drunk last night and tried to use my pelz putting tutor and got frustrated then went to bed

  17. Johnny

    Jan 14, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    I really don’t know what it is I’m supposed to get from this story. But then again no one has ever confused me with the guy in the first article with the genius IQ.

  18. Jeffrey Trigger

    Jan 14, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    only* increase the price tag

  19. Jeffrey Trigger

    Jan 14, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    I think Charlie is spot on. These gimmicks and bells and whistles on increase the price tag. I have yet to see anybody make a better crafted putter than a Ping, and a lot of good Ping putters are a third of the cost of a Betti or Cameron. If you find a putter that feels good in your hand, all the technology in the world isn’t going to be confidence on the green.

    • Jeffrey Trigger

      Jan 14, 2015 at 12:23 pm

      isn’t going to beat* confidence. Wow I should drink some coffee.

  20. Cynic123

    Jan 14, 2015 at 11:35 am

    I guess Mr. Adams has not heard of Bobby Grace

  21. Scott

    Jan 14, 2015 at 10:46 am

    I thought that we were going to get a follow up on the mad genius high IQ putter person. I thought that we were going to get – to steal a line from Paul Harvey – “the rest of the story”. A bit of a let down.

    • bradford

      Jan 14, 2015 at 11:38 am

      I have to agree, I had my hopes up from episode one…this didn’t add anything. We all already know that tour rep is the only way to sell.

    • DeeDub

      Jan 14, 2015 at 12:08 pm

      I agree. The first part had me hooked on what seemed to be based on facts. The second part was a made-up story. Waste of time reading this.

    • Barney Adams

      Jan 16, 2015 at 12:09 am

      The “mad genius” ended very badly and I chose to skip that and talk about the industry. As for Bobby Grace and Seemor I’m very familiar with both including their respective market share

      • tony

        Jan 18, 2015 at 2:26 am

        She would’ve probably preferred you spoken of her in the female tense.

  22. Andy W

    Jan 14, 2015 at 9:02 am

    My wife has always been about “divine timing” plays a huge part in all of life’s projects. Thanks Barney for this incredible insight; and be prepared to “Pay to Play” has always been in my mind. Seems there is always an exception, and Seemore seems to be it in the PtoP world.

  23. Shanks for Nothing

    Jan 14, 2015 at 8:49 am

    Make pay for play illegal. Then we’ll see this pseudo technology that is really marketing slowly be killed off. Only real R&D can survive when pros aren’t making choices based on contract size.

  24. Charlie

    Jan 14, 2015 at 8:32 am

    Actually, I could care less about the technical story involving the design, because I do care about it.

    Ok, really, I got nothing. It really is about branding. Betti, Cameron, etc… There is no way I am paying that money when I could get a $75 Cleveland that was manufactured just as well.

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