“Reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated”

“Reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated.” So said Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company President and CEO Scott Walker in a press release announcing a company restructuring. The voluntary action aimed at cutting costs and streamlining operations included the layoff of most of the company employees, approximately 30, according to a copyrighted story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram by Steve Kaskovich.

Walker continued in the press release, “While our organization does not look the same today as it did in 2016, we are confident that the changes we are making will make us a stronger and better company in the future.”

The release stated that at present Ben Hogan has not declared bankruptcy nor have any lenders foreclosed on outstanding debt.

In 2015 the iconic Ben Hogan brand was reintroduced at the PGA Merchandise Show with a new iron model, the Ft. Worth 15, by the new Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company LLC after having been off the market since 2008 with Terry Koehler as president and CEO. Koehler had negotiated a licensing agreement for the name with clothier Perry Ellis who had purchased the brand from Callaway Golf in 2012. Perry Ellis continues to make and market apparel under the Ben Hogan name. Koehler formerly worked for Ben Hogan in his original company was also president and CEO of Eidolon Wedge Company.

Walker replaced Koehler as president and CEO of the Fort Worth, Tex. based operation in August 2016.

Three different iron models, one wedge model and one hybrid model are currently in their catalog.

A check of OEM’s scheduled to exhibit at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando starting Jan. 24 showed Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company as not having contracted for display booth space but meeting room space off the main floor has been reserved.

The original Ben Hogan Company was started by Ben Hogan in 1953 to manufacture clubs to his exacting specifications and quickly gained the reputation of the ultimate “player’s irons.” Hogan died in 1997 at the age of 84 having sold his interest in the manufacturer some years earlier.

PGA Show – Looking for Answers

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At this writing we are just over two months to the opening of the 2017 PGA Merchandise Show—in fact we are within 75 days. Open only to members of the golf industry it is the most important annual meeting in the business. Next year it runs from January 24th with a Demo Day held at the Orange County National Golf Center and ends on January 27th after three days of exhibits in Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center.

In particular those making and selling golf equipment will be looking for answers to the direction that part of the industry is taking.

Changes to the equipment OEMs and retailers have been coming at a rapid pace.

Dick’s Sporting Goods (NYSE:DKS) owner of Golf Galaxy has purchased bankrupt competitor Golfsmith and will leave just 30 of the Golfsmith locations open which clearly changes big-box retailing of equipment. At the same time aggressive competitors such as PGA Tour Superstore and Worldwide Golf Shops (owners of Roger Dunn Golf, Edwin Watts Golf, The Golf Mart, Golfers’ Warehouse, Van’s Golf and Unita Golf) are working hard to increase their share of the approximately $4.0 billion U.S. market.pga-merchandise-show-logo_2017

So one question is, how will the reduction in golf retail space with the closing of Golfsmith effect golf consumers, club OEM’s and the retailers themselves? Will the expansion in the number of locations by competitors compensate for Golfsmith’s loss and how will club pricing to golfers be affected?

Sales of clubs, balls, merchandise, greens fees, golf related travel and golf-front real estate values are all impacted by the number of golfers but with that number at best holding its own the business is not expanding.

Nike Golf’s exit from the club business has been projected to have minimal impact on the other OEMs but having said that Callaway Golf (NYSE:ELY) under CEO Chip Brewer has been very aggressive and is introducing attractive new products for the 2017 season. They reported a 6.9 percent increase in sales for the third quarter this year and project a substantial increase in earnings for the full year.

The other publically traded OEM Acushnet (NYSE:GOLF), makers of the best-selling Titleist golf balls, has just had its initial public offering of stock and said sales increased slightly (under 3 percent) in the quarter ending June 30 accompanied by increased profit. Acushnet also has a new line of drivers and fairway woods that are receiving good reviews.

The second largest OEM, after Acushnet, TaylorMade Golf is up for sale and has been for the past six months, evidentially with no takers. Owner adidas (OTC:ADDYY) said TMaG sales have been higher and for the first nine months of 2016 club and ball sales showed “double-digit increases” sales with higher profitability.

Other manufacturers such as Tour Edge Golf, Cobra Puma Golf and Srixon are also pressing to gain market share, albeit in a stagnant market, which means any increased sales will have to be at the expensive of another company rather than from market growth.

So the question is what will the future bring and the answer could be coming at the PGA Show. Not only will all of the new clubs and balls be available for evaluation but as significantly, industry insiders may be able to forecast which direction the market is moving. Millions of dollars ride on the decisions made.

10 Rounds with Sentio Sierra 101

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Club makers use words like NEW, AMAZING, THE LATEST, etc. to promote their clubs and putters are no exception. When I first saw the Sierra 101 from Sentio and talked with Jim Varney, the company’s president, it was evident perhaps their new Sierra 101 putter did have something that was new and even unique.

Sentio’s idea is to completely isolate the putter face from the putter body with a layer of TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) which, when made with different properties, would change the feel of the impact and indeed the amount the ball rebounds. This means the feel can be matched to individual preference and the speed of the greens normally played.

Good players know feel is the critical factor in making more putts.

There are three TPE layers or “feels” available: green is soft for fast green speeds, blue for slower greens and red for medium speed greens.

The testing of the Sierra 101 with a red TPE layer was over 10 rounds on medium speed Bermuda greens and it was evident from the first this patent-protected idea worked and worked well.

Distance control was excellent almost eerie and as experience increased it became simply a case of determining the putt’s line and hitting it. Obviously not every putt went in but the confidence from knowing the distance would be correct meant three putts were virtually a thing of the past.

Other than the TPE layer each of the Sierra 101 modern blade models has a medium toe-hang and a plumber’s neck hosel and the two-part body of milled stainless steel. A face balanced mallet style is in the works and should be ready by the time of the PGA Show in January.

Varney responded to questions with answers showing both the hard work and commitment to the Sierra 101.sierra-cutaway_300x215

ET: How did you come up with the idea of the “insert” in the middle of the head instead of on the face like most other putters?

JV: My business partner and I have a background in product design and engineering, so we are constantly looking at everyday things and thinking of ways to improve them. As an avid golfer (and equipment nerd) I noticed so much technology and cutting-edge manufacturing going into drivers, metal woods and irons while putters were very traditional.  There seemed to be a lot of room for innovation there especially in regard to feel; most of the new ideas from the big brands dealt more with alignment even though 85% of golfers say feel is most important.  We decided to apply our knowledge of engineering and manufacturing to approach the problem from a fresh perspective. The breakthrough came when we realized that by molding a dampening agent in the middle of the head we could change the feel response in ways that are impossible with face inserts or solid putters. This construction also gave us the ability to improve forgiveness and MOI, and also create alignment features – it was like an all-in-one technology. We knew this would be technically difficult but certainly feasible, using a method called Insert Molding.  We then verified our ideas with experiments and research, culminating in our patent in 2013.

ET: The Sierra 101 loft is only 2-degrees which is less than most others which are 3- and 4-degrees for what reason?

JV: Greens in general are getting faster than they were even 5 years ago, which means you don’t need as much loft to launch the ball out the indentation it’s sitting in on the green. We want to create forward roll as soon as possible, and the grooves and lower face loft help achieve that. The hosel design allows for loft/lie bending anyway, so golfers that get custom fit with our putters can have this adjusted to their preferences.

ET: Can you share COR values of your putter versus others? Readers are used to thinking in terms of the USGA .083/.086 maximum for drivers, etc.

JV: There are several ways of measuring COR, we use the static drop method: drop a golf ball (ProV1) from a set height onto the face of the putter, which has been immobilized, and measure the rebound height. This is important because we wanted to measure the COR of the face independent of other design elements, such as the hosel and shaft. The ratio of rebound height to drop height is the COR value.

Using this method, a relatively firm face insert has a COR of about .82 and a solid milled 303 stainless steel putter has a COR of .87. They may seem close, but that represents about 13-15% difference in energy transfer between the two.  On a 20 foot putt, that difference equals 3 feet. Our Sierra models have COR values in the range of .83 to .86, spanning the range between the two extremes.

ET: What’s the reason the vertical grooves the TPE fills are deeper in the center and are eliminated towards the heel and toe?

JV: The vertical grooves in the back of the face replace some of the heavy steel with lighter TPE.  This has two effects:

  1. It further increases MOI of the head
  2. It locally reduces the mass of the face in the center, making the sweet spot a little less hot. This makes the putter more forgiving on off-center strikes.

ET: The model you sent me has what I judge as a 45-degree toe hang so are all the models the same? Why did you choose that as opposed to say a face balanced weighting or a 90-degree toe hang?

JV: As an independent start-up we decided to start with a single head shape and expand from there. The Sierra 101 head style was designed to fit as many players as possible, so we chose a middle of the road “4:00” toe hang which could be used by almost everybody. True straight-back-straight-through (SBST) players may not like it, but even some of those folks find it easy to control. I’ve heard from many people that they like the way it “sets up”.  I think this is a combination of the square lines and the balance at address.

ET: Each model has and L-shaped hosel (plumbers neck?) and is heel mounted. What is your reasoning?

JV: Again, starting with a single body style was going to be necessarily limiting, so we decided to go “classic” with a full-offset plumbers neck hosel. There is actually no limit to the shapes and styles we can do with our technology, which is one of the cool things about it. There are some great technologies in putters out there that require certain shapes or forms or balance points – we don’t have any of those restrictions. Our next body styles will have different hosels and balances – a mallet is in the works too.  We designed the Sierra 101 with a nod to tradition, but with a vision pointed squarely in the future.

Negatives: Alignment using the exposed top of the TPE layer may not be for everyone and certainly those who presently use a face-balanced putter may find the toe weighted Sierra 101 an adjustment. Not really as a negative but a caution, downhill putts because the hit is so solid tended to run out more than usual that the model I previously was using.

Recommendation: The Sierra 101 from Sentio Golf is really different and unique due to the use of the proprietary TPE layer and this alone makes it one you should consider if only for the feel the layer provides. Priced at $299, it may be purchased on SentioGolf.com and select golf shops.

Tiger’s In – Nike’s Out

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He hasn’t put his game on display for over a year and his last PGA Tour win was in August of 2013 but the soon to be 41-year old has created lots of attention by saying he will play in a charity event October 10-11 followed by the Safeway Open October 13-16.

And the company whose clubs he has played since 2002 is getting out, out of the club, bag and ball business to concentrate on shoes and apparel.

Tiger Woods and Nike, inseparable in the minds of many, have had an amazing run together. Woods currently has 79 Tour wins with 14 majors (not all using Nike equipment) ranking second all-time in both categories. Nike though, was never able to come up with a category-defining club in spite of having on the payroll Tom Stites, one of the most respected club designers in the business. What they did however, with Woods under the most lucrative contract in golf, was become the number one golf apparel brand.

It’s no wonder, with the equipment business having at best a minimal-growth future, the decision to leave that arena was made.

Woods and other staff members, most notably Rory McIlroy and Michelle Wie, will continue to wear Nike Swoosh apparel so they will still have a huge presence in the minds of consumers. Golfers just won’t be able to purchase Nike clubs.

The effect the Nike withdrawal from selling equipment is uncertain but a good estimate is it probably won’t be very large. The golf division never had more than $800 million (last year $706 million) in sales but since the breakdown between hard goods and soft goods was not reported, actual club sales are unknown. They never approached a 10% market share in hard goods.

Some in the media are saying Nike’s problems are because Woods hasn’t been playing and that’s incorrect. Nike didn’t have market leadership or even contend for leadership when Woods was at his best, winning multiple times in a season. His presence on Tour alone never could generate the amount of business Nike wanted to dominant the golf hard goods sector but did help push soft goods to the number one spot.

Golf for Nike was a tiny part of their overall business, less than two percent, and several factors virtually preordained their decision. The small market share plus an industry where product lifecycles are measured often in months with relatively large development costs meant staying just didn’t make sense. It was obvious golf equipment had to go.

With Nike paying more attention to golf performance and lifestyle soft goods, the biggest impact could be seen by competing shoe and apparel brands Acushnet’s FootJoy, adidas and Under Armour. Adidas is also leaving equipment and selling its golf brands TaylorMade Golf and Adams. The other major player Acushnet, owner of Titleist, is in the process of going public which typically can create uncertainly in corporate decision making.

This could mean Callaway picks up the major portion of Nike club sales however large it was and undeniably Callaway has been on an upwards trend since Chip Brewer took over as CEO. Privately-owned Ping and others potentially could see a bump in sales as well.

With all that in mind, which clubs will Woods switch to now that he plans to compete and again chase Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors?

Well, it’s not clear he will switch at all and for sure not right away though Woods has said companies are sending lots of clubs to try out. He hasn’t played a Tour event since August 2015 and it’s unlikely he will make a club change soon. Additionally any equipment company paying the amount of money Woods can demand will want their logo prominently display on his cap and shirt so there’s an immediate conflict with his Nike apparel contract. Nike is worth several millions each year to Woods and the contract doesn’t renew until the end of 2018 so he’s not going to put it in jeopardy.

One thing is for sure, fan interest will continue as will the speculation about Woods as he tries to get back to being top of the Tour.

The Mistake Jason Didn’t Make

day_tmagJason Day is the world’s number one ranked golfer though Dustin Johnson with his superlative play this summer is gaining on him and a lot depends on the outcome at East Lake Country Club in two weeks at the Tour Championship.

However, that not the point of this column.

The point is to congratulate Day for not making the same mistake numerous other stars have made (including Payne Stewart after he won his first major) of switching equipment companies. Often what happens is though the star is being paid lots of money to play the new clubs, they don’t perform like the old clubs.

Many struggle for months if not an entire season trying to recapture the winning magic they had found in the old sticks.

Of course, as soon as winning a few tournaments or a major pushes a player higher in the golf consumer’s consciousness equipment makers line up offering significant monetary inducements to drop the clubs that made them famous and take on new ones.

Day hasn’t done that, in fact he had already re-upped with his club company TaylorMade Golf several months ago in advance of the contract renewal date at the end of the year.

What he didn’t continue was his contract with TMaG’s parent company adidas to wear their shoes and apparel.

Therefore the announcement he had signed with Nike to endorse shoes and apparel for a reported $10 million annually was not a huge surprise. Day not only will continue with TMaG for his clubs he can’t play Nike clubs since they dropped out of that part of the business last month.

So congratulations to Jason Day for not making a potentially disastrous choice.

SUPERMETAL & Kevlar – The Exotics XJ1 Driver

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Tour Edge Golf rolled out the Exotics brand in 2008 with the express purpose of utilizing technologies and materials that might not make economic sense for large club manufacturers since the need for higher pricing would limit sales. This idea has pushed the 30 year old company to an enviable positon of producing clubs of outstanding performance often pioneering manufacturing processes such as combo-brazing, a chemical bonding of the face to the club body rather than welding.

The new Exotics XJ1 driver brings together materials and construction techniques that Tour Edge says are designed to help the average golfer. Quoting President David Glod, “Most technologies of the past decade have benefitted players with higher swing speeds eliminating the majority of golfers. We have been developing the XJ1 driver for over four years, working on each characteristic of the club, moving critical amounts to weight around for the best results and waiting for the technology to catch up to our goal of bringing this extremely lightweight driver to the market which will benefit golfers with real swing speeds.”

The basic idea then, is a very lightweight driver that gives the average player the opportunity to create more clubhead speed along with the launch characteristics to produce more yardage.

Tour Edge first breaks new ground in the XJ1 by making the club body from a titanium alloy they have tagged as SUPERMETAL. This 9-1-1 titanium is significantly lighter than titanium used previously but with very high strength, two properties allowing the metal to be thinner and effect a 10 percent weight savings.

Glod made the point, “…no one has the SUPERMETAL, which allows us to shift a huge amount of the weight to the sole. The SUPERMETAL is also more elastic at normal swing speeds, which translates into greater spring from the whole body while keeping the CT [Characteristic Time, a measure of flexibility] normal.”

And the new ideas don’t stop there. The XJ1 crown is made of a Kevlar-carbon combination that weighs only 12-grams, saving more weight and lowering the center of gravity. Also since this material is stiffer it aids in producing more ball speed. Significantly, according to Glod, the center of gravity is below a line running perpendicular to the clubface producing a higher launch with lower spin.

In response to the question, is the advantage of Kevlar-carbon because it is lighter than the carbon fiber, Glod responded, “No, the Kevlar-Carbon in the XJ1 allows better stiffness producing a better sound.”

The face plate of thin flexible titanium is robotically laser bonded to the body giving two nice benefits, additional weight saving and a higher trampoline effect or C.O.R for more forgiveness. The sole has three tungsten weights and because of the weight saved in the body and crown, heel and toe bars for more stability and better resistance to twisting have been added. A draw ball flight tendency is enhanced by a replaceable tungsten screw near the heel of the sole with additional weights available.

With a 45-gram Fujikura Air Speeder R-flex shaft the total weight of the XJ1 is only 275-grams placing it in the ultra-light category so average golfers can swing it faster which means more distance. Even going to a stiff flex the weigh only increases by 10-grams.

The Exotics XJ1 will be in stores Nov. 1 with a choice of 9, 10.5 or 12 degrees loft for $700.

10 Rounds with Exotics DG Tour Series Putter

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There are lots of reasons to pick a particular putter from “it looks good” to of course, “it works…at least for now.” There’s even settling on a new flat stick because of the designer has a reputation for making putters used by Tour pros regardless of whether it’s suitable for you.

But I think my reason for interest in the new putters from Tour Edge Golf, the Exotics David Glod Tour Series, may be a first. The company’s chief designer David Glod (who is also the owner) creates quality woods and irons that are top performers when compared to clubs from much larger club companies and usually at a much more pocketbook-friendly price. I have sung the praises of his clubs for several years, especially the fairway woods and hybrids.

I like them so much they are in my bag even after numerous head-to-head comparisons with the latest from just about every other maker. It was because of the performance of the long clubs from Tour Edge I was looking forward to giving the DG Tour Series putters a thorough try over 10 rounds.

I wasn’t disappointed.DG_2345_250x370

The model tested was the 5.1, a face balanced small mallet head with a Superstroke Mid Slim 2.0 grip and from the first putt the overwhelming impression was the solid feel of the impact with the ball. Alignment is easy aided by the white line and the edges of the cavity that takes up more than half the top of the head.

Did it fix all my putting problems? No, but it wasn’t too long to have my confidence rise and all questions about the performance of the putter in my hands disappeared.

Glod talked about his designs in the DG series which include two modern blades and three mallets. All have a distinctive face milling, a weight of 350 grams and offer a choice of black PVD or silver bead finish. Each is CNC milled from a single block of carbon steel and priced at $249.99 or $279.99 with a Superstroke grip.

According to Glod the main idea behind the design of the DG Tour Series was, “To improve on popular models with special nuances and create all new versions like V4.1 and V5.1.”

He produced the DG Tour Series putters with a distinctive milled “X” pattern rather than an insert in the face because, [an] “X pattern grips ball better with sharp diagonal edges for less skid,” and the head being milled from a single steel block since, “A block of steel is more pure for best the feel.”

Which it does without question.

Negatives: You may have heard this before but that doesn’t make it less true—get fitted properly. Even though the cost of a fitting session with a competent professional adds to the cost of any putter, if you rely on pure chance the odds is getting a putter that fits your stroke are slim. For example, do you know if a face balanced putter or one with toe hang or how much toe hang is best for you? I thought so.

Recommendation: The Exotics David Glod Tour Series putters are of the highest quality and though they may not cure all your putting woes at least you’ll know it’s not the putter.

A short video from Tour Edge may be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeYmZ2Nai50

One Less Slice to the Pie

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The golf equipment industry is evaluating the potential effects of Nike Golf announcing Aug. 3 it would getting out of the club, ball and bag business to concentrate on its golf apparel lines including ones under the Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Michelle Wie brand names. Club manufacturers have spent the last several years trying to find ways to increase sales and now the slice of the pie that belonged to Nike is up for grabs.

The question is what the remaining club companies will do to take over Nike’s share of the market and if the strategy involves reduction in the prices of clubs to attract sales the golf consumer could benefit.

Nike is the smallest of the big four by a significant margin with sales of $706 million this past fiscal year trailing Callaway Golf ($844 million sales in 2015), TaylorMade-adidas Golf ($989 million) and Acushnet ($1.5 billion).

However the scrum for the sales that had been going to Nike will take place in a muddy field.

There is uncertainty surrounding the two largest companies. Acushnet, the parent of Titleist and FootJoy, has registered with the Security and Exchange Commission to make an offering of stock to the public. Adidas has put its TaylorMade Golf division with the Adams Golf and Ashworth brands up for sale though details of any potential deal are unknown.

Smaller companies are also making moves that add to the list of possible outcomes such as Srixon’s Cleveland brand changing focus to wedges and putters while Srixon and their upscale XXIO lines market woods and irons. Tour Edge Golf has increased efforts to further penetrate the market for irons with well received new models.

Undecided for now is the fate of Tour players who endorse the Swoosh clubs and the list starts with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Michelle Wie but also includes veteran Paul Casey and rising stars Tony Finau and Bruce Koepka. Woods has said he is actively looking for a new relationship with a club company with the mostly likely candidate could be Acushnet-Titleist since longtime rival Phil Mickelson is the chief spokesman for Callaway and the question marks surrounding the sale of TaylorMade.

Jordan Spieth endorses Titleist clubs and golf balls but is contracted with Under Armour for apparel.

Additionally, money paid to endorse a given club line has been put under close scrutiny by every manufacturer as profits have shrunk. The huge sums Nike has paid in the past for marquee stars are most likely not part of the equation. It has been reported Woods earns $50 million annually from Upper Deck, Rolex and Nike endorsements even though he has not played a single event in the past year. Woods’ Nike deal includes both equipment and apparel.

Three years ago McIlroy signed a 10-year deal for between $200 and $250 million according to published stories including apparel as well as equipment.

High Heat 3-wood & Hybrid

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There have been few startup manufacturers whose clubs have received as much attention and praise as the High Heat driver introduced last year by Knuth Golf. Golfers took to the High Heat at once with many finding it to be both longer and straighter than the major manufacturer’s driver they were playing.

Creator Dean Knuth, a former Senior Director of the USGA, designed the High Heat specifically for amateurs by giving it the combination of a large sweet spot and high coefficient of restitution or COR. And according to Steve Trattner, Knuth Golf’s Executive Vice President, sales have been very strong.

With this background in mind I was looking forward to my on-course testing of their newest clubs, the High Heat 3-wood and High Heat hybrid. In discussions with Knuth he pointed out the clubface of both is made from titanium, so in comparison to fairway woods and hybrids with a steel clubface, the cup face titanium construction has an immediate benefit. Titanium being lighter and stronger than steel produces a larger amount of face rebound at impact and that translates into something we all want…distance without added effort.

Titanium in the clubface also helps preserve ball speed when contact is not in the center of the face which is another way of saying average players will find the High Heats forgiving. So, since most of us miss the sweet spot regularly this is an important feature.

Overall the fairway woods are larger being 25% deeper and have a center of gravity that is 18% lower according to Knuth. He also explained the variable thickness face has seven zones with lobes near the toe and heel designed to increase the amount of trampoline effect.

On the course it was immediately apparent the 15 degree loft 3-wood is a strong club. After two sessions on the range the first hole I actually put it in play was a sharp dogleg around water. The ideal tee shot would be a gentle draw of about 220-yards and the High Heat performed perfectly putting the ball exactly in the center of the short grass leaving it wedge distance to the pin.

From the fairway the High Heat 3-wood gets the ball airborne from even suspect lies and did well from shorter length rough. In one instance the ball came to stop on the side of a sand-filled divot and, while I usually would not use a 3-wood from that kind of lie, I thought what-the-heck. Let’s see what happens.

Without consciously making any changes to my swing to compensate for the lie (such as being sure to hit down), the ball came out easily with just a little drift from left to right. Entirely satisfactory.

The 18 degree High Heat hybrid is a real beast and I particularly liked it from the tee on long par-3s because it gives the ball a nice high trajectory so it lands and stops unlike some other hybrids that roll out too much. In its primary job of getting the ball back into play or even onto the green from the rough it performed extremely well. The combination of a somewhat larger clubhead, a prominent sole rail and weight low in the clubhead meant it almost never met a lie it didn’t like…and couldn’t the ball out of.

Both the woods and the hybrid have a mirror finish face and while it may not seem like a big deal and might even be considered merely cosmetic, but the finish shows the ball’s point of impact giving valuable feedback after each shot.

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.