Fatback: what one should fry chicken in were you to follow grandma’s tried and true recipe. The one discovered long before a Kentucky Colonel was old enough to acquire the appearance of a southern gentleman much less discover the secret of eleven herbs and spices.
That’s what I thought when I first heard a Machine Fatback was the style putter best suited for me. Not anymore. After two conversations with Dave Billings, the creative mastermind of all the Machine brand putters, and numerous emails with Chris Hoeppner (who many of you know if you’ve spent anytime in the Flatstick forum) the word Fatback no longer causes me to think immediately of chicken. What comes to mind now is a unique instrument, both practical and beautifully designed to help me play better golf.
Choosing a custom putter involves a lot of questions. A LOT of questions. Likes and dislikes of the putters used in the past. What worked best, what didn’t work so well, what looked best to my eye, what about the appearance of a putter used didn’t I like. Which leads to a lot of thinking. A LOT of thinking. All that thinking leads to introspection and doubt, like maybe it’s never been the putter at fault and I just flat suck at putting. Which leads to places in one’s psyche best left undisturbed, adequacy issues and all of that kind of thing best categorized as witchcraft.
After deciding on a style of putter the next question is what kind of metal should be used to create the club. Once again, questions and choices which can be hard on a person who shies away from introspection out of fear of dark scary places and has a problem with decisions involving personal choice. The decision issue is one reason why I own multiples of everything. With this putter I had the choice of 303 Stainless steel, 1018 Carbon Steel, Copper, or Aluminum Bronze. I chose the Aluminum Bronze, the thinking being Bronze is bright, shiny, and pretty; all the adjectives the intelligent 21st century man uses when selecting jewelry for the woman (or women as the case may be) in his life. Being said intelligent man with significant formal education I also know that Bronze is the first great metal to have an entire Age named after it, marking the first step toward the Age of the Cellphone in which we are currently ensconced. Now Bronze combined with aluminum, which airplanes are made of, should create an attractive putter with natural aerodynamic qualities sufficient to satisfy any charter member of the Tommy Bolt School of Club Throwing. I may not be a metallurgist, but I do have enough practical knowledge to recognize the unique characteristics afforded by this combination.
It’s all too rare to engage conversationally with anyone who is knowledgeable and passionate about what that person does. Dave Billings is one such individual, and he was gracious enough to speak to me on two separate occasions. What fascinated me about our conversations was that, despite my lack of understanding of metal work, or the actual science (beyond the simple physics involved in imparting directional force to a stationary round object) I felt myself caught up in Mr. Billings passion. He loves what he does, and enjoys explaining his process. I came away from both our conversations energized about putters and putting. I had so many options about the visual characteristics of this putter it was almost overwhelming. I was especially interested in his description of peening the head, creating multiple indentations with whacks of a hammer. This creates very attractive interactions with light adding to the beauty of the finished product. I did not choose to have this done as I need really simple visuals on all my clubs. I have a difficult time focusing on just one thing when I’m on the golf course. I have been known to be in the middle of a swing, hear a bird singing and identify said bird in my mind resulting in my golf ball suddenly becoming directionally challenged. I could see myself with a peened putter getting caught up in the play of light off the head and forgetting to complete my stroke. Not exactly a desirable outcome. So simple we decided was best.
I want three site lines, as that is what I find helps me align the putter accurately. It’s not for everyone, I believe it was a first for Machine, but they came out quite nicely. I also chose 34 inch length, 2* loft and standard 71* lie and 350gm headweight. The milling marks on the face are set from heel to toe because they actually work to get the ball rolling, something not achieved with lines from top to bottom of the head. Mr. Billings explained all of that to me as well, and while I don’t have a grasp of the technical explanation I now have practical experience and can say it does indeed work. Quite nicely in fact. At Mr Hoeppner’s suggestion the neck is hand bent to make the face nearly face balanced. What I’ve found also is that the neck helps with alignment so I keep a right angle to my target line. It’s also quite sexy.
The quality of the workmanship is outstanding. The fit and finish is solid. Speaking of finish, Mr. Hoeppner sent me an email advising me that after having polished the putter head the finished product was bright enough to rival the light emitted from the sun. Not exactly a desirable quality when outdoors playing golf. He suggested a “mist” finish called Morning Dew, which removed the reflective quality of the bronze. I will admit I considered leaving the head alone, which would have allowed me to blind my playing partners by scorching their retinas. Would have made winning so much easier. I changed my mind when I concluded that bothered me, proving I have higher ethical standards than most long term congressmen (not a great achievement I admit, but hey it’s a start).
This club came with a set of weights so I can tinker with the headweight and location either to the heel or toe. I have not had the opportunity to experiment with this yet, due to global warming the temperatures have been in the 40’s during the day and well below freezing overnight. I’ll mess around with those once we get back into the 60’s. The grip is a blue rubber reverse arch, which I’ll be changing out soon. I have short fingers and can’t get the grip seated comfortably in my hands. I have a Gripmaster Tour Laced grip that should be a nice fit with this club.
To date, I’ve made a lot of putts with this putter. It’s very easy to line up thanks to the sight lines and the cavity. The head is longer heel to toe than my Yes Marilyn and the lines I see looking down give me real confidence I’m square to my target line. The ball off the face is intriguing, I hesitate to say “soft as butter” because that’s not quite accurate. It feels like the ball attaches to the face for a split second after contact then rolls (rolls, not hops, jumps, stutters, or skids) off the head along the intended line. There is definitely a “click” when you strike the ball, but it’s muted quite pleasantly. The feedback into my hands is also very honest, straight forward, and telling. It’s not at all weird like the Yes feedback, which is quite smooth when the sweetspot is hit, but clunky, chunky, noticeably dead when you miss that spot. I really like that aspect of this club because I am much more a feel player than mechanical or gorilla type player. Distance control is at this early point quite acceptable, even on slight mishits there is not a lot of lost distance. Nor are directional issues significant on the same mishit. I also like that the feedback is instantaneous, I know if I hit the ball poorly and just how poorly by the feel and sound. On extreme toe hits I don’t get a lot of twisting, as I have a very light grip pressure this keeps the ball more on line than with any of my other putters. I find this property particularly advantageous since when I feel a mishit my hands grab at the putter grip in an effort to get the clubhead back online. The ball can go anywhere afterwards, anywhere that is except into the hole. With the Fatback, I don’t grab reflexively and the ball stays close to the intended line, which means I may luck a few of those into the hole.
Overall, this is one beautiful putter. I am looking forward to spending a lot more time getting better acquainted with it’s properties. I can highly recommend Doglegright, Machine putters, Mr. Dave Billings, and Mr. Chris Hoeppner. They more than fulfilled all my expectations of a custom putter acquisition.