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Custom Fitting: The most overlooked club in your bag

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Golfers have learned that custom fit clubs are necessary to lower their scores, but they often neglect a crucial scoring club in the fitting process: the putter.

Last year, I was able to perform close to 50 club fittings in only 6 months. In 2012, I performed enough club fittings to be named a PING “Fitter of the Year.” This shows me that the golf consumer is getting smarter, but there is one issue with how the fittings have worked out. Of those 120+ fittings, not a single player directly asked me to be fit for their putter, which is used more than any other club in the bag.

Golfers tend to head to a retail store and merely pick out the putter that “feels the best” without any basis as to why they want that particular model. Now, that doesn’t mean club fitting for longer clubs carries any less importance. As found in advanced metrics on professional tours, the ability to hit it long off the tee with the driver within a reasonable distance to the fairway is arguably the No. 1 factor to scoring average. So it is very important to have a driver that optimizes distance. However, if driving is “1a” in terms of importance, then putting is most certainly “1b.”

If you are looking to get better, but you don’t have the time to work with a personal trainer to build your speed and power or a swing coach to give you the perfect swing plane, putting is the next solution to lowering your scores.

The No. 1 issue with golfers who come to me for a short game lesson is that they feel their putting stroke is off. However, the putter they use is usually more off. For a decent putter, this leads to inconsistent days on the greens, and it can lead to less-skilled putters developing bad habits.

The putter is a club that you usually only have to fit once, and unless you are a junior golfer who is growing or you develop some sort of physical ailment, you could possibly keep it for the rest of your playing career. At our facility at Deerpath Golf Course in Lake Forest, Ill., I tell students that the $75 they spend on a putting evaluation could save them thousands of dollars in putter trial and error.

With the use of SAM Puttlab and high-speed video, these are the areas that I look for when fitting a putter and the effects that each could have on the stroke.

No. 1: Length and Lie Angle

The length of the putter has a tremendous impact on the shape of your stroke. The putter is meant to swing on the inclined plane on which the shaft rests. If the length of the putter is longer, the putter will need to arc more around your body, while a shorter putter can travel a bit more “straight back and straight through.”

A putter that is not the right length will affect the path of the stroke, which can have an influence on making consistent contact and controlling the rotation of the putter face. The lie angle has an effect on the ability to hit the center of the putter. At the speeds we swing the putter, there may not be enough force to send a ball off line from an off-center hit, but it will have an effect on distance control.

Throughout this article, I will reference measurements and results from the putting stroke of a sample student with his original putter, which was center-shafted and face-balanced. After a putting fitting, I then took his measurements with a properly-fit heel-shafted, toe-balanced putter, and I will also reference those results as well.

Ping-Impact-Spot

The original putter lie was incorrect and lead to toe contact.

Scotty-Cameron-Spot

After the switch, contact started to move toward the center of the putter face. There are a few inconsistencies in the contact, which can be improved with drills.

No. 2: Head Type/Shaft Hosel Design

Aiming is the most important aspect to putting and the putter you select has a big effect on how well you aim at the target. It is very common to see even a tour-caliber player have issues aiming the putter directly at their target.

It can be argued that it is more important to be consistent with where you aim the putter and work with that, but if you truly do not want to compensate in your putting stroke, aiming the putter at the target is the first step. The head design has a huge effect on this.

Ping-Aim

My student aimed his center-shafted, face-balanced putter 1.3 degrees closed, and although he was very consistent, he had to manipulate his putter during his stroke to get the putter face “square” at impact. The other thing to note was that the putter was set up on the toe, which was consistent with the impact point. This was the No. 1 factor that determined a switch from a center-shafted putter to a heel-shafted putter was needed. The results were a much improved aim with a similar level of consistency shown below.

Scotty-Cameron-Aim

The putter head design can have a huge effect on how much the putter face rotates throughout the stroke, as well as an effect on the resulting path. With his original putter, my student had the path and face rotation results shown below.

Ping-Path

My student switched to a center-shafted, face-balanced putter because he felt he had “too much arc” in his stroke, and center-shafted, face-balanced putters are known to create a more straight-back, straight-through path. While he thought his stroke was more linear, its arc was actually traveling to the left, or out-to-in. A more pressing issue was the inconsistency of his backstroke, however, which is represented by the dotted line above.

Ping-Rotation-Spot

The result of my student’s original path and his initial aim was that he opened the putter during the backstroke and then “held off” the rotation of the putter face on the way through in an attempt to keep the putter face square. He was surprisingly consistent, but we saw how difficult it was for him to find the center of the putter face making these compensations.

Below are the results from the properly-fit putter:

Scotty-Cameron-Path

When the student switched to a properly fit putter, the path became more neutral. His stroke also changed from outside-in to having just a little bit of arc, which got him closer to his goal of having a straight-back, straight-through stroke.

Scotty-Cameron-Rotation

With a properly fit putter, the putter head rotated more freely and he was able to release it through the stroke. There is still work to do, because the putter was still about 2 degrees open at impact after the change, but it is an improvement from 2.9 degrees open with the old putter that effectively had him “cutting” his putts.

No. 3: Loft

Loft is an aspect of putter fitting that depends on the golf courses you typically play. It’s needed on a putter because when the golf ball rests on a green, it settles down into the grass ever so slightly. This means that we need to launch the golf ball into the air a little bit so it can get on the grass and start rolling as fast as possible. This has a huge influence on speed and distance control in putts.

There are a few factors to look at including what your green speeds typically are at your home course. The slower the green, the more loft you need on the putter. If you are putting at Augusta National, maybe you can get away with only 1 degree of loft on your putter, but at your home course with a green speed of 8, you may need 3-to-4 or more degrees of loft.

The other factor is the hand position and the amount of “delofting” a golfer does through impact. For example, on a green speed of 11, we would like the golf ball to launch at approximately 2 degrees. This could be achieved with a 3-degree putter that has 1 degree of deloft at impact and a neutral rise angle.

If you are a putter like Matt Kuchar, however, who has a serious putter deloft through impact and a level rise angle through impact, then you may need 5, 6 or even 7 degrees of loft on your putter.

A putter like Zach Johnson, who has his hands positioned behind the ball at address and through the stroke, can use less loft on his putter to achieve a desired launch angle.

Scotty-Cameron-PP-SV1

After getting fit for a new putter, my student had a slight improvement in rise-angle-to-loft and his putts were launching with less backspin. For most part, the launch angle of 4 degrees up stayed the same.

No. 4: Grip

The grip on a putter works just like a golf club. If you have a putter that does not allow the putter to rotate square to the path of the club, then adjusting the grip can help this problem along with putter head design.

If you are player with too little face rotation, then a smaller grip size can help you release the putter head. A larger putter grip can help minimize face rotation or even help take the hands out of the stroke for golfers who struggle to keep their hands steady. These are considerations that can be looked at from the rotational diagrams we saw above.

Conclusion

As established in the categories above, there is a lot that goes into picking the right putter, and quite frankly, an off-the-rack putter is probably not the best one for you. If you take the time to get fit for a putter, it can save you money down the road and some closet space.

There were numerous areas that I could have worked on with my student with his old putter, and we could have spent hours trying to fix his flaws. Through one 60-minute session and a new putter, however, we were able to improve several areas in far less time and with far less effort. Fewer dollars spent and fewer strokes taken is always a good combination.

Do yourself a favor and go through a putter fitting!

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Scott Hogan is a PGA Certified Teaching Professional in Teaching and Coaching based out of Chicago, Illinois. He is the Head Coach at Mother McAuley High School and the Director of Player Development at Governor's State University. He is also a Top 50 Instructor as named by the GRAA and TPI Certified. Scott teaches a variety of players from professionals, competitive juniors to weekend warriors from all around the country. To contact Scott about in person or online lessons, email [email protected] **Follow on Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/scotthogangolf/

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Rick Wright

    Jul 1, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    As the developer of the first comprehensive putter fitting system in golf back in 1996, I can speak from experience. A properly fit putter can certainly compliment putting performance. However, putter fitting is best done only as a part of instruction. Otherwise, you may only be treating symptoms.

  2. Tim Tomlinson

    Jul 1, 2014 at 11:55 am

    Great article Scott! I completely agree with you as most golfers do not take the time to get fitted for a putter. I am a sales rep for SAM PuttLab so if anybody would like any additional information on the SAM PuttLab please let me know. Thanks and keep up the good work!

    [email protected]

  3. CS

    Jun 29, 2014 at 2:23 am

    The problem is going to get worse…….. if we have all this information now, why do John Q Public amateurs need to pay you PGA professionals your high fees? The clients can go now to non-PGA golf fitting shops and get the same info from guys that don’t charge $150 to $300 an hour. Or just use the web like this and use common sense.

  4. Tom

    Jun 29, 2014 at 12:59 am

    I work as a custom fitter and most people (95%) who want to be fitted for a putter can’t break 90 anyway. Learn how to putt and come back and talk to me. I am not paid to give lessons. Golfers are just an asinine group of people, at times. Learn the fundamentals and read The Art of Putting by Dr. Bob Rotella and their game would improve immensely. The putter is not to blame when you cannot putt!

    • Mike Mullins

      Jul 11, 2014 at 9:51 am

      As the article discusses, I think it is very important to have every club fitted as I just had my putter fitted by someone who took the time to understand me and my stroke, explained my tendencies, and recommended a couple of things which help me improve.

      I’m glad I didn’t run into you and your attitude about “asinine” golfers. because if you didn’t have them coming in to where you work, you’d be selling worms at a Bait shop.

  5. Pingback: Custom Fitting: The most overlooked club in your bag | Spacetimeandi.com

  6. Tom Stickney

    Jun 27, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    See scienceandmotion.com for a listing of teachers with the Sam Puttlab. It’s an amazing tool; I love mine.

    • Adam B.

      Jun 28, 2014 at 4:45 pm

      Tom,

      Do most instructors that have SAM Puttlab use it to improve the way people putt with their current putter or use it to test a variety of putters? In other words, would it be able to tell me what kind of putter I need based on my current putter?

      • Tom Stickney

        Jun 29, 2014 at 9:48 am

        Adam. It can compare putters and help you also see which head design best matches your stroke.

  7. William Ramsey

    Jun 27, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    I think this is really cool. Is there a way to find club fitters with this kind of knowledge/technology/ability?

  8. Merty Huckle

    Jun 27, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Great write up!

  9. Dan P

    Jun 27, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    Getting custom fit on a SAM Puttlab was the best decision I made this season. I had an off the rack Nike Method 001 and had struggled with distance control for years. Turns out the putter had 0* of loft, a quick session on the SAM Puttlab and a quick bend in loft and I was on my way. The ball rolls so much truer than it used to.

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