The Right Putter

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Everyone knows if it “looks good” that’s about as far as you need to go finding the right putter. Oh sure, shaft length depends on how much you bend from the waist and how your arms hang but that’s about it.

Well, that’s not only wrong but finding the correct putter takes a lot more analysis by taking into account the loft at address and impact, the amount of rotation in the stroke, alignment and several other factors. The idea is to find a putter that best matches your natural stroke.

A good way to say it is, match the putter to your stroke not change your stroke to match the putter.

A recent visit to Club Champion, the national chain of fitting centers proved this beyond any doubt. I met with Jesse Smith, a master fitter in the Orlando Club Champion location and he put me through a session that changed the way I think about both my putting stroke and the putter I use.

First, Smith had me hit seven 10 foot putts with my current putter, a 35 inch modern-style blade—4 degrees loft, 45 degrees of toe hang, one shaft width of offset and regular size grip. Then we experimented with several different putters changing shape, grip and other specs and settled on one of the same length and offset but a face balanced mid-mallet with only 2.5 degrees loft and a medium diameter oversize grip.

It made a huge difference. No longer did a feel as though I was “fighting” my stroke. Everything having just seemed simpler from aiming to distance control.

Coincidentally, among the three dozen or so previously-loved flat sticks in my garage was a face balanced mallet of the right length so all it needed was to be bent to 2.5-degrees and have the larger grip installed to be put in play. Happily I can report my putting has improved. Essentially three-putts are a thing of the past and there’s a lot more confidence on those ones in the “throw-up zone.”

After the session, which costs $100, Smith anClubChampion_logoswered some questions about the process and how he fits golfers with a putter that allows them to use their natural stroke.

ET: Generally describe the process of putter fitting – the machine that you use and what are the things you look for?

Smith: “Club champion utilizes the technology of Science and Motion PuttLab (SAM for short) to go through the putter fitting process. We start with the customer’s existing putter and take measurements of loft, lie, and length. Then the customer is run through the Science and Motion software, and a detailed report is generated based on the individuals putting mechanics and stroke. We look at many different parameters of the individuals putting stroke with emphasis on face at impact, both static and effective loft, lie angle, consistencies of rotation and timing, and club path. While selecting a putter for an individual the amount of toe-hang, weight, length, loft and lie, as well as swing weight are considerations based on the report the Science and Motion PuttLab generates.”

ET: Which of the factors is the most important?

Smith: “While all aspects of the customers putting stroke are a factor, putter face angle at impact is paramount, which accounts for 83% of overall ball direction.”

ET: You said typically your recommendations are for face balanced putters, why?

Smith: “While recommendations vary greatly as far as toe hang with each client, it seems that most individuals could benefit from reduced rotation of the putter face, which face balanced putters promote. Adding to that, most faced balanced putters are mallets, or have a fair amount of perimeter weight, which are most forgiving on off center hits, and all golfer can benefit from that.”

ET: Same question but concerning the amount of offset?

Smith: “Offset is there on a putter to help an individual aim correctly to what their own mind perceives as straight or on target. Depending on what the natural tendency is of each individual, the amount of offset can be increased or decreased based on putter head design depending on where they are consistently aiming the putter face at setup.”

ET: What is the significance of putter loft? Putter length? Grip size?

Smith: “With putter loft, there are actually two lofts on the putter face, Static loft and Effective loft. Static loft is the loft of the putter at address, and effective loft is the loft on the face at impact (often referred to dynamic loft). Golfers typically increase or decrease the amount of loft on the face by the time the putter face arrives to the ball, making the loft on the face at impact a crucial component of achieving the necessary effective loft on the face at impact. If a player sees a lot of ball skidding or inconsistencies in distance control, loft may be the culprit. Having the correct effective loft on the putter at impact will make for a truer, more consistent roll of the golf ball. Loft can also affect the way a putter sets up for an individual. Important to note as well is that too much loft and the putter can appear closed at address and too little loft and the putter can appear open.”

“Putter length is crucial to having the best chance of making your most consistent putting stroke. It has been shown that a golfer will putt on a more consistent path when putting down their peripheral vision line. Having the right length putter simply positions the golfer’s eyes over or slightly inside of the golf ball at the address position, giving the best opportunity for a consistent stroke. Too long or too short of a putter, can cause issues in path and consistency of the putting stroke. Furthermore, having the right length putter is critical for insuring centered face contact.”

Smith continued, “Choosing the proper grip size is also important as it is based on consistency of putter head rotation, and putter face at impact. If a grip is too small for an individual, they will have a tendency to release the putter face at impact excessively which can lead to a closed position at impact. Conversely, if a putter grip is too large, it can lead to leaving the putter face in an open position at impact. It is important to note that many customers react to weight, toe hang, and rotational properties different than others, which is to say that while people may not react the same to every changing parameter, SAM provides us an extremely solid guideline to make many crucial adjustments for a customer to putt to their fullest potential.”

So take Smith’s advice, match your putter to your stroke not the other way around.

10 Rounds With the Cobra F6 Baffler

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Time flies and if you’re of the age to remember Cobra’s Baffler has been around since 1975. Granted the Baffler name has been applied to every type of club in the bag except putters but each “Baffler” has shared a common feature. Each had metal skids on the sole called “rails” that helped the head glide through the turf and get the ball out of almost any lie.

Once golfers discovered what the original Baffler could do for them it’s no wonder it wore the “utility” club tag.

The first Baffler had a steel-shafted persimmon head with 23 degrees of loft and 40 years ago this was considered a strong 7-wood. Significantly the Baffler was among the first clubs of the modern era (along with the Ginty by Stan Thompson and the TaylorMade Raylor) that ultimately lead to the development of today’s jack-of-all-trades hybrids.

The current King F6 Baffler is described by Cobra as a “4/5 Fairway” and in addition to the pair of rails on the sole Cobra added two interchangeable weights to adjust launch trajectory and included their eight setting hosel—the familiar MyFly design first seen four years ago in the AMP Cell driver.

For the 10 rounds testing I put the heavier weight (15 grams) in the rear position, the lighter weight (3 grams) in the position closer to the face and set the loft at 19 degrees. My thinking was to see how the Baffler could do out of the thick Bermuda lies common in my home state of Florida. This also fit nicely into the gap between my 3-wood and 4-hybrid.F6Baffler_exploded_600x410

Jose Miraflor, Cobra’s Senior Director of Product Marketing & Creation, has said Rickie Fowler was instrumental in designing the F6 Baffler and uses one regularly on Tour, switching out with a 3-iron depending on conditions.

Another thing worth mentioning is the slightly shorter shaft of 41 ¾ inches which is around one-half inch less than a typical 5-wood, but since distance is not the primary consideration this helps with control. The clubhead is 178cc and larger than hybrids with lofts in the high teens that are usually in the range of 110 to 120cc.

Before taking the F6 Baffler to the course I wondered if the head size might be problem getting through long Bermuda rough but results showed it wasn’t and the ball seemed to “shoot” out of virtually every lie. The rails not only help the sole glide through the grass but they have a slight ramping up on the ends nearest the leading edge of the clubhead. A very handy design especially if your downswing tends to be a little steep.

After the 10 rounds with the Baffler in my bag, using it more as a hybrid than a fairway, it proved its usefulness time and again. From the fairway and off the tee I found it longer than the 18 degree hybrid it replaced and from thick lies it always got the ball back into play.

Negatives: as a 4/5 fairway some may have a tough time finding a slot in their bag particularly if they already are carrying a 3-wood and 5-wood they really like. The clubhead size is larger than a hybrid and may be an issue with some.

Recommendation: There is no question the F6 Baffler (retail $239) is a design that can do double duty as a fairway wood and hybrid. Those looking to improve their results when a long shot from the rough is called for should consider it.

Images courtesy of Cobra Golf

Ode to a One Iron

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Last weekend a buddy invited me to play golf at a nearby course we both enjoy. It’s not especially long nor tight and has relatively few acres of sand and water but the main attraction without a doubt was spending time with a friend.

As we walked off the range following our pre-game warmup, he suddenly stopped saying, “Oh nuts!” Thinking he might have left something important like a club or his golf swing back in the car I was in for a surprise.

My friend said he had meant to hit a few with the club he had just purchased. I, curious and interested, asked, “Oh, what did ya get?”

His reply floored me, “A 1-iron.”

Now to explain so you don’t think my friend has completely lost his senses, he has been playing golf for several years, though at times finds it hard to get out…just like the rest of us. He is dedicated, wants to get better and has the advantage of having above average athletic ability.

However, having said all that, his chances of integrating a one iron into his game are between slim and none with the needle nudging the latter.

But in his mind’s eye he sees himself ripping it 220-yards into the wind with a slight draw that lands on the green, checks and rolls next to the pin. Really?

The story of how he came by the Ping Eye2 1-iron (a model which first saw the light of day in 1982) is worth the retelling. The week before my friend had been playing with a couple of guys, one of who wasn’t very good and had a bad case of the “Tommy Bolt’s,” or club tossing. Unbelievably this fellow was carrying a 1-iron in his bag and with a game even less accomplished than my friend’s had a particular affection for heaving it after nearly every swing.

By the way, Bolt was one of golf’s all time colorful characters. There are dozens of stories about his time on the PGA Tour but the quotation I like the best is, “Always throw your clubs ahead of you. That way you don’t have to waste energy going back to pick them up.”

Anyway back to the 1-iron saga, between tosses the fellow was ranting he was going to dump his 1-iron. Sell it. Good riddance.

My friend sensing an opportunity asked, “How much?” and the fellow said $20. Reaching into his pocket my friend came back with, “I’ve only got $12. How about that?”

“Done!” was the reply and my friend was the owner of a 1-iron. 

After my friend proudly related his tale I pointed out aside from the putter the 1-iron was probably the cause for more people giving up the game than anything but a spouse that doesn’t play. And that it was primary contributor to invention of hybrids. For crying out loud, not even PGA Tour players carry them.

HistoHogan_Merion_72hole_USGArically there are a number of famous 1-iron shots. Ben Hogan’s MacGregor 1-iron to the 72nd green of the 1950 U.S. Open setting up a par to put him a playoff the next day which he won. This all coming after being almost killed in a head on crash with a bus 16 months previously.

Jack Nicklaus in the U.S. Open back in 1972 at Pebble BeNicklaus_17th_PBeach_1972ach playing the par-3 17th on the final day. The 219-yards between the Golden Bear and the hole were dead into a strong wind coming off the local water hazard known as the Pacific Ocean. His 1-iron shot hit the pin and dropped next to the hole for an easy two. Even more incredible to my mind and showing Nicklaus’ immense talent was on the back swing he felt the club was too closed which would have produced a disastrous hook. However, he had so much control that week he adjusted on the way down holding off the release to compensate. The result was his second major championship of the year.

My own 1-iron story goes back to the middle 70’s when I was a lot younger and thought I could play this maddening game. Par-5, dogleg left and after a good drive to the corner a sweet 1-iron into the hole for a two—double eagle—albatross—whatever. The unfortunate part of the story is, because of the way the green-fronting bunker was situated, I couldn’t see it go in.

But back to the present. When we got out on the course my friend tried out his Ping Eye2 “butter knife” from the tee on two holes of the second nine. As you might expect the results weren’t pretty. But he has vowed to keep at it because he can still see that 220-yard shot into the wind with a slight draw.

Snead’s LPGA Win

Sam_Snead_PalmBeachPost_640x480Sam Snead—Slammin’ Sammy—golfing legend, multiple major winner, Hall of Fame member and holder of the record for most wins on the PGA Tour with 82. And there’s another little known distinction in Snead’s distinctive career.

Sam Snead is the only man to ever post a victory on the LPGA Tour.

Back in February 1962, for the second year in a row, Snead teed it up against 14 of the best female professional golfers in the Royal Poinciana Invitational, a sanctioned LPGA Tour event held on the Palm Beach Par 3 Golf Club.

Yes, that’s correct a par-3 course and an official stop on the 12-year-old LPGA Tour. The players competing included all-time greats Louise Suggs (who beat Snead for the title in 1961), Mickey Wright, Betsy Rawls and Kathy Whitworth. Wright finished second by five shots to Snead’s score of 211 (52, 53, 53, 53) for four rounds played over two days.

Said Snead, quoted in an article by Dick Taylor in the Palm Beach Post of February 8, 1962, “I decided to play just as steady as I could, and let the girls make the mistakes. You can’t ‘go to the whip’ with them as you can on the men’s tour.” Comments that obviously wouldn’t withstand today’s frantic politically correct scrutiny.

After losing the previous year’s event by two strokes to future Hall of Famer Suggs, Snead had to take a lot of teasing even though it was a 54 hole event and had 11 other male professionals in the field including Bobby Cruickshank, Gardner Dickinson and Lew Worsham. Typical of the times, press reports were vague as to the amount of the winner’s check Snead took home but it was “in the neighborhood of $1,500.”