You’d be forgiven if the name Kenny Giannini didn’t leap off the page, but in all honesty, he might be one of the more famous putter makers a lot of people have never heard of. Kenny has been making putters for the better part of 35 years for companies like Hogan, Cleveland, Mizuno, and now under his own name. I had some time to catch up with Kenny about his products, what makes them stand out in the marketplace, and also about the launch of his custom line of putters.
Let’s go way back to when this whole thing started. What was that like at the beginning of milled putters? Whose idea was that, and how did that come about?
Well, I was playing golf in Hawaii back in the early eighties and I had been paired with a guy who was the CEO of a company in New York. I was using a TP Mills putter at the time, and this guy I was playing with wanted my putter really bad. So, he kept trying to buy it from me and I said, “No way. It’s not for sale.” He said, “Everything’s for sale.” Finally, I caved and said, “Okay, fine. $5,000.” He wrote me a check right there on the spot. After that, I was sitting on the beach thinking about what had just happened, and I just came to the obvious conclusion that of course there was a market for this. So, I flew back to the mainland and two weeks later I had a prototype together.
Shortly after that, I had a contract with Hogan to do the Apex putters, which was the first milled putter. After that deal kind of went south, Roger Cleveland called me up and asked me to make putters for him. He and I had a lot of success back then, and a lot of guys on Tour were using my putters. Mark O’Meara had one, and he won a Crosby [referring to the Pebble Beach Pro-Am tournament] with it and wound up on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Nowadays, milled putters are everywhere, but back then being one of the first guys doing it, what was that like? Did it take a lot of trial and error to get it right?
Well, I’m a golfer first and foremost, so I knew what I wanted. I’ve learned a little bit about machining and welding over the years, but I would not classify myself as a machinist. Being a golfer first, though, means I know how putters are supposed to work. When I put a putter on the ground, it better sit dead square. I’m absolutely nuts about that. That’s the most important thing to me. Recently, I met a kid that had just qualified for the [Mackenzie] Tour, and he had had a putter fit for him by a reputable company. He handed it to me, I looked at it, and I said, “Something doesn’t look right.” I got him into one of my putters and the guy goes out, makes 17 putts in a row with my putter and shoots a 61.
So flash forward to today. You now have your own line of putters sold under your own name. The game is totally different nowadays, though, if you will. There are a lot of people doing milled putters now. What do you think sets your products apart from all the other putter guys out there?
Well, the biggest thing is experience. You know, there’s a lot of great putters on the market, but I will say I’ve never paid anyone a nickel to play with one of my putters. Ever. In spite of that, a lot of professionals have wound up playing my putters over the years. I remember there was a huge poster of Arnold Palmer in a golf repair shop I walked into, and when I looked closely at it I realized he was using one of my putters. Obviously, I knew I’d made him some putters back then, but I was surprised to see my putter in the photo. I think a lot of that speaks for itself. I consider myself a pretty low-profile guy. I’m not an egomaniac. My actual cell phone number is right there on my website. You don’t have to go through six secretaries to get to me.
You’ve been playing this game a long time. There’s a lot of buzz nowadays about inserts and milled groove patterns on the face of the putter. They’re said to achieve consistency and improved forward roll. Do these things help or not in your opinion? Why or why not?
To be honest, I don’t really care what everyone else does. I’m my own guy. I do what I think is right, not what everyone else is doing. I personally don’t believe in inserts for a couple of different reasons. The biggest thing for me is that putting is all about feel. That’s why I prefer to use carbon steel and a black oxide finish. The PVD finishes have two coats of nickel under the black, so it completely changes the feel, which is why I went back to black oxide. Black oxide does require some maintenance, but the feel is so much better and you’re getting the exact roll with it. Apart from testing all of the putters we make, I’ve been using the same putter for 33 years. That putter has never had a head cover and it’s never been refinished. It does have a little rust on it, but it feels better and it ultimately rolls putts better. At the end of the day, that’s what matters. When we did putters for Cleveland, we had less than five returned because of rusting due to the black oxide finish. Also, guys nowadays are wanting putters 350 grams and up. The putters we did at Cleveland were 325 grams (+3/-0). Personally, I like it right around 340 grams.
I don’t want my putter to be a billboard. I don’t want the golfer to look at all the alignment lines on the putter going back. He’d better be looking at the ball. You know, less is more sometimes. I can make my putter look any way I want. I don’t want anything to distract the player. That’s also why I like finishes that will not reflect the sunlight back into your eyes.
Golfers today think nothing of buying a $600 driver and then going and putting a $350 aftermarket shaft in it, but they’ll only hit that club 14 times each round. It won’t take that many strokes off their game. A great amateur golfer uses the putter 36 times. That’s how you take strokes off your game. The putter is the club you want to invest in.
“Soft Scooped Face” is something I see a lot on your webpage. Tell me about the tech going on there with your putters.
I originally did that a long time ago and then pulled it away. There’s a cutout on the bottom of the putter. The whole logic is to keep the face of the putter square at impact regardless of where you hit it on the face (towards the toe or the heel). It basically moves mass out to the toe and the heel.
Where do most of your inspiration come from when you’re generating new products? Current customer feedback? What your competitors are doing? What’s out on Tour?
Most of the time, I do it on my own. I can honestly say that I’ve never had a putter that hasn’t sold, and I’m very grateful for that. You know, I’m a golfer first, so I develop my products based on what golfers need. That being said, I’ve had some happy accidents where I was making something else and the machine accidentally cut too much off and I wound up thinking, “Wow, does this look good!” Like I said earlier, though, my putters have won a lot of money, so that speaks for itself I think. I’m proud of the work I’ve done. I will also say that I listen to my customers regardless if they’re a 20-handicap or a plus-six. That customer feedback is incredibly important to developing a great product.
So if I’m not mistaken, the big news is that Giannini is now launching a line of custom putters. Tell me about the possibilities lying under the surface and how to partake should one desire.
Yes, we are launching a line of custom putters now to go along with what I call my Legacy line of products. I have eight heads available in the custom shop. You can call up and say, “I want head No. 3 and I want a plumber’s neck hosel welded onto the head 1.9 inches from the center of the putter,” for example. It just helps tremendously that if you have something very specific in mind, you go to the website (http://www.gianninigolf.com), call me directly at 817-304-3717, and you will know exactly what you’re going to get.
Even if it’s something not listed on the website, I want to be able to talk to you and get you exactly what you want. I don’t want unhappy customers. Even if you want a PVD finish or a specific, heavy head weight, I’ll do it regardless of what I prefer. And by the way, I can honestly say I put my hands on every putter that comes through our shop.
I would also encourage people to stay tuned to our website, as we will continue to add more products to the Legacy lineup and more options to the custom shop as well. We intend to be very active on the website in the near future.
Kenny Giannini custom putter
Kenny Giannini custom putter
Kenny Giannini custom putter
Kenny Giannini putting the finishing touches on one of his putters. Photo credit: Kristy-Lynn Polowich
Kenny Giannini custom putters
Kenny Giannini blade putter in action on the course.
Kenny Giannini mallet style putter with soft scooped face technology.
On Spec: Please don’t play blades (or maybe play them anyway)
Host Ryan talks about the different ways to enjoy the game and maximizing your equipment enjoyment which doesn’t always have to mean hitting it 15 yards farther. The great debate of blades vs cavity backs is as old of an argument you will find in golf but both sides can be right equaling right. Ryan explains why.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
What’s going on with the decline in putting on the PGA Tour?
Watching the PGA Tour recently, I was struck by Frank Nobilo commenting on how professionals and their instructors work down to the smallest detail, a reflection on the intense competition on the PGA Tour and the fact that to be successful you cannot ignore anything. He made this comment with his thumb and forefinger barely not touching for emphasis.
That being the case, the numbers below should cause major introspection by every player and their coach. They are self-explanatory and have been verified by a third party expert who deals in putting data.
All figures are Shotlink data from the PGA Tour. To preclude undue influence by an anomaly years 2003-5 are averaged as are 2016-18
Average make percentage from 5 distances, 2003-2005 combined
- 6 FEET: 71.98 percent
- 8 FEET: 55.01 percent
- 10 FEET: 43.26 percent
- 15-20 FEET: 19.37 percent
- 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.96 percent
Average make percentage from the same 5 distances, 2015-2018
- 6 FEET: 70.43 percent
- 8 FEET: 53.54 percent
- 10 FEET: 41.39 percent
- 15-20 FEET: 18.80 percent
- 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.33 percent
- 6 FEET: 1.55 percent
- 8 FEET: 1.67 percent
- 10 FEET: 1.87 percent
- 15-20 FEET: .57 percent
- 25 FEET AND BEYOND: .83 percent
One comment, green conditions have been vetted to the point where they are not considered a culprit. Faster, yes, but pristine surfaces, and very consistent week to week. There are some outliers like the U.S. Open greens but they are included in the data shown and caused no significant spike for that week.
Further, on the subject of greens, today’s professional has booklets showing green patterns, high MOI putter heads, instruction from putting specialists, and caddies, expert green readers in their own right. Bottom line: if anything the greens help not hurt.
So your turn. Look at the data. Appoint yourself all-powerful guru to improve putting data. What would your plan, be? Oh and this little tidbit so you can earn a huge consulting fee: We took six players, three on either side of the halfway point, your solution resulted in a one-shot per TOURNAMENT improvement. Average INCREASE in earnings for the season: a smidge over $500K!
A merciful new local rule
This April, within a list of 2019 Rules Clarifications, the USGA and R&A quietly authorized a new Local Rule that you can expect to see enacted everywhere from the U.S. Open Championship to, if you’re lucky, your own club championship.
New Local Rule E-12 provides some protection from an unintended consequence of Rule 14.3c, which requires that your ball come to rest in the relief area for the drop you’re taking. When I first read about this option, I confess that I was a bit skeptical. But now that I’ve experienced the Local Rule in action, its value has become very clear.
My initial skepticism came from the fact that I like it that every time, we drop we now must drop in a relief area. I also like the simplicity of requiring the ball to come to rest in that relief area — no more awkward need to figure out if your ball stayed within two club lengths of the point where your drop first struck the course, as used to be the case. So right from the start, I was very comfortable with the new rules in this regard. But in some cases, particularly for those who haven’t carefully studied the revised rules, this simple approach has caused problems.
The freedom this new Local Rule provides applies exclusively to back-on-the-line relief drops, such as you might make from penalty areas or for unplayable balls. It’s a bit complicated, but let me take you through how it helps. We’ll use yellow-staked penalty areas as an example. Last year, for back-on-the-line drops such as these, you’d identify the point where your ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard and draw an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point, select a nice place to drop anywhere you chose back along that line, and then let it drop. If you picked a point sufficiently back, and your ball didn’t hit anything prohibited, and it didn’t stop more than two club lengths from where you dropped it, you were good to go.
This year, instead of dropping on that imaginary line, you drop in a relief area that surrounds that imaginary line. Just like before, you identify the edge of the penalty area where your ball last crossed, go back as far as you wish along an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point — but now you should identify a relief area around your selected drop location. To do so, you pick a point on the line, then define a relief area one club length from that point no closer to the hole. So you typically have a semicircle two club lengths in diameter in which to drop. If you drop a foot or two back from the front edge of the semicircle, there’s almost always no problem with the ball coming to rest outside the releif area and you’ll be ready to play. But if you drop right on the front edge of your defined relief area, or if you didn’t bother to identify a point/relief area along the imaginary line before you dropped, and your ball bounces and comes to rest even the slightest bit forward — it’s now outside the relief area and subject to a two-stroke or loss of hole penalty for playing from the wrong place if you end up hitting the ball before correcting your mistake.
That might seem kind of harsh — you take a back-on-the-line drop like you did last year, it bounces and stops an inch forward, you hit it — and you get severely penalized. If you had simply established the relief area an inch or two forward, things would have been perfectly legal! The 2019 rules, in their effort to simplify and make consistent the drop/relief procedure, created an unintended potential trap for players that weren’t careful enough managing their business. This seemed like it was going to be a big enough problem that the USGA and R&A decided to graciously do something about it: Introduce Model Local Rule E-12.
When this Local Rule is adopted, a player is given some additional freedom. If he or she applies the relief area/drop principles correctly, there is, of course, still no problem. But if he or she ends up with the ball somewhat outside the relief area, there still might be no penalty. As long as the ball originally struck the course within where the relief area should be, and as long as it didn’t come to rest more than one club length from where it first hit the course when dropped, you can still play it penalty-free (as long as it’s not nearer the hole than where the ball originally lay in the case of an unplayable ball drop, or nearer the hole than the edge of the penalty area where the ball last crossed for a penalty area drop).
While all that’s a bit complicated sounding, in practice it’s intuitive. And as an added bonus, it probably doesn’t matter if you don’t understand it or even know it’s in force — there are simply more occasions when you can blissfully, even ignorantly, play on penalty-free.
This new Local Rule provides another advantage as well. When it’s in effect, an opponent or ref (or a TV viewer) won’t have to concern themselves with whether or not the player making the drop actually followed the recommendation of first defining a relief area before making a back-on-the-line drop. If you’re at a distance, and you see a player taking a drop which bounces slightly forward, you can relax. You don’t have to wonder whether or not you should rush up and confirm that the ball didn’t squeak out of the player’s intended relief area in an effort to prevent the player from incurring a penalty. One way or another, everything is more than likely just fine.
With all that in mind, maybe you’d like to see the specific wording of E-12:
“When taking Back-On-the-Line relief, there is no additional penalty if a player plays a ball that was dropped in the relief area required by the relevant Rule (Rule 16.1c(2), 17.1d(2), 19.2b or 19.3b) but came to rest outside the relief area, so long as the ball, when played, is within one club-length of where it first touched the ground when dropped.
“This exemption from penalty applies even if the ball is played from nearer the hole than the reference point (but not if played from nearer the hole than the spot of the original ball or the estimated point where the ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area).
“This Local Rule does not change the procedure for taking Back-On-the-Line relief under a relevant Rule. This means that the reference point and relief area are not changed by this Local Rule and that Rule 14.3c(2) can be applied by a player who drops a ball in the right way and it comes to rest outside the relief area, whether this occurs on the first or second drop.”
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