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Putter Veteran Kenny Giannini introduces Custom Line of Putters

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Kenny Giannini putting the finishing touches on one of his putters. Photo credit: Kristy-Lynn Polowich

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.

Kenny Giannini custom putters ready to meet their owners.  Photo credit: Kristy-Lynn Polowich

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.

Kenny Giannini Legacy 3 blade putter in action on the course.  Photo credit: Kristy-Lynn Polowich

“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.

Kenny Giannini Legacy 2 mallet-style putter with “Soft Scooped Face.”  Photo credit: Kristy-Lynn Polowich

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.

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  • Kenny Giannini custom putter

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  • 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.

Peter Schmitt does not profess to be a PGA professional or to be certified at...well...anything much in golf. Just another lifelong golfer with a passion for the game trying to get better every day, the definition of which changes relatively frequently. Peter is a former Marine and a full-time mechanical engineer (outside of the golf industry). He lives in Lexington, KY with his wife and two young kids.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Rick

    Jul 9, 2018 at 4:23 pm

    I have 2 Giannini putters and they are amazing. Better than any Cameron I’ve ever used, and a fair price.

    • the dude

      Jul 9, 2018 at 7:30 pm

      What is so amazing about them?..and why better than any Cameron?

  2. Man

    Jul 9, 2018 at 1:27 am

    Soft scooped? You mean a slot on the sole? Like so many of the same idea out there? lmao

    • ogo

      Jul 9, 2018 at 9:44 am

      Soft Scooped Face is a silly feature because the weight shifted to the heel and toe is insignificant. It’s just marketing to the neurotic.

  3. Harambe

    Jul 8, 2018 at 5:50 pm

    These are spectacular putters. Have had one for 5 years now. Amazing feel, look, balance, milling pattern. Qualtiy craftmanship that blows other putters in that marketplace out of the water.

    • gif

      Jul 9, 2018 at 9:46 am

      I believe you… and I’m gonna buy one… mehbe two !!!!! 😛

  4. Joe

    Jul 8, 2018 at 12:47 pm

    I wish him success and look forward to seeing in person some of his putters. However, a quote in the article is very misplaced, Quote: ” A great amateur golfer uses the putter 36 times. ”

    I am far from a great amateur golfer but if I averaged 36 putts a round would take up bowling. I would think that a Great amateur golfer would be under 30 putts around.

    • ogo

      Jul 8, 2018 at 4:49 pm

      …and the putter design is not the governing factor since most pro and good ams do not buy these vanity putters. They stick with their trusty ol’ putter from 1995… or play the putter brand that sponsors the pro. The market for these putters is goffers who have more money than brain or talent… and want to flaunt their latest toy.

  5. ogo

    Jul 8, 2018 at 11:33 am

    These are the crème de la crème of custom designed putters and for only a pittance… $365 – $550 (grips and covers extra). Only a veteran putter maker can inject that magic into the custom designs and machining to high tolerances for the discriminating golf aficionado.

  6. Walter Mallett

    Jul 8, 2018 at 11:31 am

    The drawing for the free putter was January 31, 2018. WTF?

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Opinion & Analysis

I’m practicing. Why am I not getting better at golf?

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We all want to improve our golf games; we want to shoot lower scores, make more birdies and win bragging rights from our friends. As a result, we practice and invest many hours in trying to improve. However, do we improve as quickly as we want to? Is there something we’ve been missing?

“The secret is in the dirt,” Ben Hogan said. And he was right. To date, not one golfer has become an elite player without investing thousands of hours in improving their golf game. And yet, there are thousands of amateur golfers who practice every week and don’t get better. What is the difference? To me, this is a very interesting question. What underpins how or why we learn? Furthermore, how can we super-charge our rate of learning? 

To super-charge our learning, we must first realize that practice itself does not make us better at golf. This is an empty promise. It is close to the truth but incorrect. Instead, practice, when done correctly, will cause changes in our body to make us more skillful over time. This is a subtle, but important difference. There is no magic type of practice that universally builds skill, however, there are a handful of factors that can speed up, slow down or even stop your progress.

Remember: “You are not aiming to hit 50 balls; you are trying to become more skillful.”

There are the two major factors that stop golfers improving. Try not to view them as switches that are on or off. Instead, view both factors as sliding scales. The more you can fine-tune each factor, the faster you will improve your golf.

1) Give your body clear and precise feedback

What is 2 + 2? Imagine if you were never given the answer to this question at school. If you weren’t, you would never know the answer. Similarly, imagine you made a golf swing and the instant you hit the golf ball it disappeared. How would you know what to do on your next attempt to hit a straighter shot?

In both cases, feedback is the missing ingredient. Feedback comes from the shot outcome, watching the ball flight and many other sensations we get during our golf swing. As soon as our body does not have clear and precise feedback our learning will stop.

When we first learn to play golf, the feedback required to improve is simple – did the ball move at all, and did it get airborne? As we progress, we then need more precise feedback to keep developing our skill.

As a 20 handicapper, we need to know if the ball finished 10 or 15 yards right of our target. When we become an elite player, the requirement for feedback becomes even more stringent. The difference between a wedge shot landing 103 or 107 yards becomes important. This type of feedback, known as knowledge of results, is focused on the result of your golf shot.

“If your body can’t tell the difference between two outcomes, you will not make any changes – learning will not occur.”

To learn, we also require another form of feedback, known as knowledge of performance. In essence, your body needs to know what it did to cause “x.” Relevant practice drills, training aids and videoing your swing are all useful ways to increase feedback on performance. The best form of feedback, however, is an internal understanding of your swing and how it causes different ball flights. This is an implicit skill all great golfers master, and a by-product of many hours of diligent practice, refinement and understanding.

Many golfers hit a brick wall in their golfing journey when their practice stops providing the precise feedback they need to keep improving. They may not have enough information about their shot outcome, or they may not understand how the golf swing causes various shots. Both will completely halt your golfing progress.

Next time you practice, think of ways you can obtain clearer feedback. You don’t need Trackman by your side (although this can be helpful), but pay attention to where your shots finish during putting and chipping practice and note these trends. Find landmarks behind your golf range to gauge the lateral error of your long shots.

If you’re working on your swing path through the point of impact, one way of obtaining feedback on your performance is to place a bottle or a second ball on the ground. To put it simply, if the bottle/ball flies, you’ll know you’ve made a bad swing. Another way, if you are trying to improve your iron striking, is to place a towel one inch behind the ball to indicate whether or not you have hit the ground before the ball. These ideas are not mind-blowing, but trust me; they will speed up your rate of learning.

2) Make your practice suitably difficult

When you first go to the gym, lifting the lightest weight you can find is fine. But how much would your fitness improve if you were still lifting that same weight 12 months later? Now think of how your golf practice has changed over the past 12 months. If you were asked, could you explain the level of difficulty of your practice?

The reason many golfers can’t answer this question is they don’t have a good measure of success when they practice. Most golfers don’t have a quantifiable way to say “that shot I just hit was or wasn’t good enough.” Even fewer golfers have a way to say “this week my practice performance was 20 percent better than last week.” If you fall into this category, try the following game the next time you practice your long game.

Structure your practice so that you have set target zones (10 yards and 20 yards wide) with points for hitting each zone (3 and 1 points respectively). Take a set amount of balls (20 balls) and see how many points you can score with a 6-iron and a driver (10 balls with each). Each week, play this game and track your progress. We’ll call this game the “WRX Range Challenge.”

Set a goal for how many points you want to achieve. This goal should be challenging, but not impossible. When you reach this goal, make your target zones smaller and repeat the process. This way you can track your progress over time. As you make the target zones smaller and smaller, your body has to continually refine your swing to make it more effective.

Summary

We all want to improve our golf. We all want to get better at a quicker rate. The two factors discussed here are obvious and yet are not addressed by many golfers when they practice. Next time you head to the range or practice ground, ensure you have clear feedback on your shot outcome and golfing technique. Make your practice measurable, suitably difficult and enjoy watching your scores progress.

If you do try out the WRX Range Challenge, let us know. Post your score and a photo: #WRXrangechallenge @GolfWRX and me @golfinsideruk on Twitter and Instagram.

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The 19th Hole: What it’s like to play golf with a goat caddie

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Live from Silvies Valley Ranch in Oregon for the Grand Opening of McVeigh’s Gauntlet and the debut of its goat caddies (yes, goats), host Michael Williams shares his experiences using a goat caddie. Guests include course architect Dan Hixson and Seamus Golf founder Akbar Chistie.

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Bobby Clampett: “The 2 big problems with club fitting”

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Four million golfers are still quitting golf in the United States each year. My concern about this trend has led me to write several recent articles for GolfWRX. I’ve shared my thoughts because I believe much can be done to help golfers better understand the game, and most importantly, improve their games in ways that are not being done today.

The high frustration level of golfers is a leading cause of their giving up the game. I’ve talked about how I’ve learned this playing in over 200 pro-ams in my five years on the Champions Tour. I’ve discussed the sources of this confusion: style-based golf instruction with an over-abundance of swing tips, as well as confusing and conflicting swing theories offered on television and internet sources, etc. Another cause for concern that no one seems to talk about involves the way club fitting is typically done in our industry. While there are many examples of how improper club fitting causes issues and frustration, there are two main areas that desperately need to be addressed by fitters and even club manufacturers.

Problem 1: Clubs Designed to Correct a Slice

The first culprit is clubs that are designed to correct a slice. I’ve had several first-time students take lessons with me this season who had been recently fit for clubs from a wide range of club fitters. Some of these students had significant out-to-in swing paths through impact and all were chronic faders/slicers of the golf ball. The clubs recommended to them were “anti-slice” clubs. All the grips were small (standard size), and the woods (especially the drivers) were upright with the sliding weights put in the heel. The irons were “jacked-upright” as much as 8 degrees. All of these adjustments were made for the purpose of building in the ability to hit hooks.

Many of the woods with today’s improvement in technology can be easily altered with sliding or interchangeable weights. Adding weights into the heel slows the heel down through impact and allows the toe to close faster. Thinner grips also encourage the golfer to have more active hands and forearms causing the toe to close faster. While some of today’s adjustable woods do allow for a small bit of upright lie adjustment, it would be good if manufacturers went back to longer hosels that can be more lie-adjusted.

If the lie of the club is upright, more “hook” is built into the club through the principle that “loft is hook.” Additionally, the more the available “loft” of the club, the more the upright angle increases hook. So a set of clubs built 8 degrees upright has a very different directional profile with the 4-iron than with the wedge. This is a fact a well trained and experienced club fitter will take into consideration and properly apply.

Without correction, a wedge that is 8 degrees upright will really go left, while the 4-iron won’t have as much correction. Additionally, the uprightness of the club significantly reduces the sweet-spot, making the club less forgiving by increasing the chance that the ball will be struck lower in the face (which has a worse effect on long irons than short irons). Gear effect has now been proven to exist even in irons, and low-in-the-clubface hits will cause a gear effect fade, magnified with lower lofted clubs, even if the face and path are square. So, the uprightness of the club creates a bigger pull/hook in the wedge and the effect doesn’t really work in the longer irons. If fitters are going to use this approach, then short irons should be bent less upright and long irons more upright, but even so, this will reduce the sweet-spot in the longer irons and most golfers will really struggle to get the ball into the air since most of their hits will be low on the clubface.

I’ve had playing lessons with some of these students and have clearly seen how much farther to the left shots go when teeing the ball up, such as on a par-3. With the contact higher in the face, the contact has “zero” gear effect. The upright lie angle, combined with the loft of the club, sends the ball with a pull-hook way off target. This alone is enough of a source of confusion and frustration to send some golfers home, back to the tennis courts, to the card room, or whatever else might take the place of golf.

Additionally, golf clubs that are set to “lie angles” that are not square will not cut through the grass (when taking divots) as they are intended to do. For example, using the example above, if the lie angle of the club is set too upright and the shot is hit a little fat, the heel of the iron will dig or hit into the grass first, usually causing the heel to slow down while the toe of the club speeds up, thus closing the face and causing a big pull/hook. Different grass types, different firmness of grasses and different density of grasses can have differing effects, leading to increased inconsistencies of golfers and greater frustration levels.

Some club manufacturers have built game-improvement irons with bigger sweet-spots (with lower CG’s and higher MOI’s). When club fitters make the lie angle “off-square,” this improvement immediately is canceled and, in most cases, completely nullifying any benefit the game-improvement design can provide. The poor golfer who just spent thousands of dollars getting new equipment comes to the realization that the clubs didn’t work that well after all, and his/her 16 handicap is not dropping.

The real answer to game improvement lies in improving the golfer’s impact first, then getting clubs to match his or ideal impact or the impact they are striving to attain. Then, and only then, will the golfer get the full and just reward for improving one’s impact. Simply trying to buy a new game by getting a new set of clubs just doesn’t work. One must work with an instructor who truly knows what proper impact is and is diligently directing the instruction to improve their impact first. Then they can have a knowledgeable club fitter fit clubs to that proper impact. Unfortunately, in our industry, instructors and club fitters rarely work together. Golfers are continually being fitted to their improper impact and thus effectively playing with clubs with smaller sweet spots that are ill-designed for what they were originally intended to do.

Problem 2: Fitting Irons for Distance

The second problem that seems to be growing in the industry is the focus on increased distance with the irons. I don’t mean to be too blunt here, but who cares how far you hit an 8-iron! Today’s pitching wedge is yesterday’s 9-iron. My pitching wedge is set at 49 degrees, and my 9-iron is 44 degrees (about the standard loft for today’s pitching wedge). The only two clubs in the bag that should be designed for distance are your driver and your 3-wood. All the other clubs should be set for proper gapping and designed to improve consistency and proximity to the hole. That’s why my pitching wedge is at 49 degrees and I only hit it 120 yards (exactly 16 yards farther than my 54-degree sand wedge). Most of my students hit a pitching wedge 20 yards farther than I do, but I drive the ball 30-40 yards farther than they do. When they get into the 7-irons through 4-irons, their gaps narrow. They have a 175-yard shot, and they don’t know what club selection to make since the 7, 6, 5, and 4 irons all go somewhat similar distances.

When I dig a little deeper, I start to find significant differences in spin rates. Like most pros on the PGA Tour, my 7 iron spins about 7000 rpm, I launch it around 17.5 degrees and carry the ball about 158 yards with 88 mph of clubhead speed. OK, I’m retired from playing competitive golf and I’m 58 years old, so I don’t have that youthful club head speed anymore. When I try some of the new products that are the top sellers today, I start launching the ball slightly higher but my spin rate drops below 6,000 rpm. Suddenly, I’m hitting my 7-iron 170 yards like my 6 iron. But is this better?

Yes, my peak height gets slightly higher (I do like that), and the ball won’t roll out much differently, even with the lower spin rates. So, what’s the problem you ask? When I start to look at distance control numbers and proximity to the hole, I clearly see higher distance dispersions and thus proximity to the hole gets worse. Learning to hit the ball flag high is one of the key separators between top PGA Tour Players and those a notch or two below. It’s also a key element in lowering scores. So, greater distance with my irons actually makes my game worse and it does the same with my students, too, because accuracy and ability to get the ball consistently closer to the hole is negatively impacted.

What avid golfers are really wanting is game improvement. They want to see their handicaps go down, shoot their lowest scores, create personal bests. Sure, there is a bit of “wow factor” they like to have with the new, shiny equipment, but the people I give lessons to and have played with in all these pro-ams want a better game! How are they going to get that when the golf industry separates teachers and club fitters? Where can golfers go to get the whole experience of tying in their swing improvement that creates better impact with their equipment properly set up?

If you want to see your scores get better, the best way to do so is to work with a qualified golf instructor who knows how to improve your impact while keeping your style of swing. You want to work with a club fitter who understands that the lie angles of the irons should be set to square, and that proximity to the hole is more important in the irons than distance. Only then can you get the biggest game improvement and take full advantage of hitting better shots with a better impact.

Improve your impact, improve your game; it really is that simple!

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