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.
The original putter lie was incorrect and lead to toe contact.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
Walters: Try this practice hack for better bunker shots
Your ability to hit better bunker shots is dramatically reduced if you have no facility to practice these shots. With so few facilities (especially in the UK) having a practice bunker it’s no wonder I see so many golfers struggle with this skill.
Yet the biggest issue they all seem to have is the inability to get the club to enter the sand (hit the ground) in a consistent spot. So here is a hack to use at the range to improve your bunker shots.
Golf Blueprint: A plan for productive practice sessions
Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
You’ve gotten lessons. Several of them. You’ve been custom fitted for everything in your bag. You even bought another half a dozen driver shafts last year looking for an extra couple of yards. And yet, you’re still…stuck. Either your handicap hasn’t moved at all in years or you keep bouncing back and forth between the same two numbers. You’ve had all the swing fixes and all the technological advances you could realistically hope to achieve, yet no appreciable result has been achieved in lowering your score. What gives?
One could argue that no one scientifically disassembled and then systematically reassembled the game of golf quite like the great Ben Hogan. His penchant for doing so created a mystique which is still the stuff of legend even today. A great many people have tried to decipher his secret over the years and the inevitable conclusion is always a somewhat anticlimactic, “The secret’s in the dirt.” Mr. Hogan’s ball striking prowess was carved one divot at a time from countless hours on the practice range. In an interview with golf journalist George Peper in 1987, Mr. Hogan once said:
“You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but the truth is, I was enjoying myself. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I’d be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it. And I still thoroughly enjoy it. When I’m hitting the ball where I want, hard and crisply—when anyone is— it’s a joy that very few people experience.”
Let me guess. You’ve tried that before, right? You’ve hit buckets and buckets of range rocks trying to groove the perfect 7-iron swing and still to no avail, right? Read that last sentence again closely and you might discover the problem. There’s a difference between mindful practice and mindless practice. Mindful practice, like Mr. Hogan undoubtedly employed, is structured, focused, and intentional. It has specific targets and goals in mind and progresses in a systematic fashion until those goals are met.
This is exactly what Nico Darras and Kevin Moore had in mind when they started Golf Blueprint. In truth, though, the journey actually started when Nico was a client of Kevin’s Squares2Circles project. Nico is actually a former DI baseball player who suffered a career-ending injury and took up golf at 22 years old. In a short time, he was approaching scratch and then getting into some mini tour events. Kevin, as mentioned in the Squares2Circles piece, is a mathematics education professor and accomplished golfer who has played in several USGA events. Their conversations quickly changed from refining course strategy to making targeted improvements in Nico’s game. By analyzing the greatest weaknesses in Nico’s game and designing specific practice sessions (which they call “blueprints”) around them, Nico started reaching his goals.
The transition from client to partners was equal parts swift and organic, as they quickly realized they were on to something. Nico and Kevin used their experiences to develop an algorithm which, when combined with the client’s feedback, establishes a player profile within Golf Blueprint’s system. Clients get a plan with weekly, monthly, and long-term goals including all of the specific blueprints that target the areas of their game where they need it most. Not to mention, clients get direct access to Nico and Kevin through Golf Blueprint.
While this is approaching shades of Mr. Hogan’s practice method above, there is one key distinction here. Kevin and Nico aren’t recommending practicing for hours at a time. Far from it. In Nico’s words:
“We recommend 3 days a week. You can do more or less, for sure, but we’ve found that 3 days a week is within the realm of possibility for most of our clients. Practice sessions are roughly 45-70 minutes each, but again, all of this depends on the client and what resources they have at their disposal. Each blueprint card is roughly 10 minutes each, so you can choose which cards to do if you only have limited time to practice. Nothing is worse than cranking 7 irons at the range for hours. We want to make these engaging and rewarding.”
So far, Golf Blueprint has been working for a wide range of golfers – from tour pros to the No Laying Up crew to amateurs alike. Kevin shares some key data in that regard:
“When we went into this, we weren’t really sure what to expect. Were we going to be an elite player product? Were we going to be an amateur player product? We didn’t know, honestly. So far, what’s exciting is that we’ve had success with a huge range of players. Probably 20-25% of our players (roughly speaking) are in that 7-11 handicap range. That’s probably the center of the bell curve, if you will, right around that high-single-digit handicap range. We have a huge range though, scratch handicap and tour players all the way to 20 handicaps. It runs the full gamut. What’s been so rewarding is that the handicap dropping has been significantly more than we anticipated. The average handicap drop for our clients was about 2.7 in just 3 months’ time.”
Needless to say, that’s a pretty significant drop in a short amount of time from only changing how you practice. Maybe that Hogan guy was on to something. I think these guys might be too. To learn more about Golf Blueprint and get involved, visit their website. @Golf_Blueprint is their handle for both Twitter and Instagram.
Want to become a better putter this winter? Matt Killen gives us 5 drills to do at home
COVID-19 had us all locked in at home, wanting to get out and play, and finally, we were able. But what about the winter months in the east? The full swing can be remedied with indoor fitting bays, practice sessions, etc. What can we do to work on our stroke?
Thank god for the Perfect Practice mat, we now have the opportunity to get some reps in over the winter and actually get better.
Matt Killen is a buddy of mine and a swing/putting coach to some of the best players in the world. He was kind enough to give us five drills even he will be doing to get better over the winter
1) 10 Left/10 Right
*10 putts left hand only, 10 putts right hand only.
This drill gets you two different things, the feeling of a proper release (trail hand) and the feeling of a firm lead hand (lead hand). If you watch Tiger on the greens before any round, he hits a ton of putts with his right hand to dial in his roll and release.
2) The Putter Gate
Just like it sounds. Build a gate using legos, coins, cups whatever. Heelside and toe side. To start give yourself some room in between, no need to go Tiger style and leave little to the imagination.
- 20 Putts from 3 feet (20/20 Goal)
- 20 Putts from 5 feet (15/20 Goal)
- 20 Putts from all the way to the back of the PP Mat (12/20 Goal)
To start the goal is 47/60 78%
3) Ball Gate
This time lose the gate around the putter and create a narrow path with golf balls down the line. Once again start realistically.
This drill helps to hone in on the line, speed, roll, and path.
- 20 Putts from 3 feet (20/20 Goal)
- 20 Putts from 5 feet (15/20 Goal)
- 20 Putts from all the way to the back of the PP Mat (10/20 Goal)
To start the goal is 45/60 75%
4) The Accelerator
Place the putter directly behind the ball and without any backstroke push the ball down the line. Do it from 5 feet to start. It may be a mess at first.
This drill ensures that your eyes and hands are in harmony. It’s also a good way to get that putter head tracking down the line.
- 30 putts focusing on the roll and speed to start; you make what you make.
5) Mono A Mono
Nothing like healthy competition amongst friends!. Find a buddy that also has a PP Mat and go nuts. Nothing like creating “have to” scenarios to build confidence.
- Best of 10, 20, 30 whatever. Get in there via FaceTime or live in the house and compete.
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Want a mat? Get a mat. They are flying off the shelves, so go to PerfectPractice.Golf to confirm availability!
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