Ten Rounds with the Tour XDream

A longtime friend who handles publicity for a number of golf equipment companies called to say he had just taken on a putter company and would like me to test their product.

My first reaction was, “Oh goodie, another putter.”

I have lost track of the number tried over the years many of which never made it into a column since I believe what my mother always told me, “If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all.”

But since my friend had asked I readily agreed to include the MLA Golf Tour XDream in the rota of clubs for the “Ten Rounds with…” series.

I’m glad I did.

First of all the putter’s most obvious feature is the also the one that separates it from the rather crowded field of flat sticks, namely the alignment aid on the top of the putter head. This large white flattened horseshoe is distinctive in shape, prominent in appearance, visually striking and meant to aid our brain to correctly perceive the proper line of a putt.

According to the company which is based in Switzerland, MLA stands for Multiple Line-detector Activation and the clubhead pattern is the result of working with Dr. Lennart Hagman, Ph.D. who has made extensive studies over 20 years of the brain’s perceptual process. There’s a much longer and more complete explanation of why they think the white horseshoe works but of course the proof is in the putting. 

In a nutshell, I used the Tour XDream for ten rounds on greens from Florida to Alabama and believe it did help me to line up putts particularly breaking left to righters, which for a right-handed player are the most trying. Feel was excellent and distance control never a problem even on very fast surfaces. The milled 375 gram head has two changeable weights in the sole and three more are included. Putting a 5-gram weight in both the heel and toe positions made the head face balanced, my preferred weight configuration.

The stock grip is a Forward brand model designed with extra thickness under the flat top of the grip where the left palm sits in a normal placement of the hands. As a result the wrists arch slightly which facilitates the modern shoulder, big muscle stroke.

Negatives: The flattened horseshoe alignment aid took some getting used to and in fact several of the players who tried the Tour XDream felt a smaller, blade style head would be better. MLA does make several blade models which we did not test. Also at 375 grams the Tour XDream is at the upper end of what might be considered ideal weight range for typical green speeds.

Recommendation: The MLA Tour XDream is a solid, efficient putter and if you like the looks of the unique crown alignment aid it could be a very good choice. The price is $299 at their site MLA.golf if you want to purchase or for complete technical details.

Images courtesy of MLA Golf

10 Rounds with the L2 MOI MAXX Putter

A putter with lots of forgiveness, a large sweet spot and high resistance to twisting puts you on the road to making more putts since impacting the ball even a little off center, as we all know happens fairly often, can easily mean a missed putt.

Enter the L2 MOI MAXX putter the most recent model from Lateral Line Putters LLC. where forgiveness, a big sweet spot and high MOI are the whole idea.

Taking the L2 from the shipping box you notice right away the weight—it’s heavy–in fact the head weight is 620 grams. Contrast that with a “normal” putter with a head weight of around 350 grams makes the L2 more than 250 grams heavier and, as far as we know, the heftiest putter on the market. Designer and company president John Ambrose says a putter such as the L2 with a head of over one and one-third pounds makes for a smoother stroke and more putts going in the hole.

Not only does the head break the upper weight limit it is also physically huge—measuring a full six and one-quarter inches from heel to toe compared to putters we are more used to with heads such as the classic modern blade that are a little over four inches. The extra-large center shafted head due to its size (and weight) also exhibits a sweet spot Ambrose says is eight times that of most other putters, a full three and on-half inches wide.

On the course the dual alignment lines on the head visually bracket the ball so aiming is relatively easy and because the L2 has a flat sole along with the heavy head, it actually stands up by itself on the green. It is possible therefore to align the L2 while in the address position then, leaving it standing, to walk behind the line and make a final adjustment. The putter grip is extra-long with a square cross section which complements aiming by putting the hands in the proper placement.

But the grip size has another purpose as well. As Ambrose puts it, “By adding a 200 gram, 16-inch grip to the L2, we moved the stroke motion feel past the hands and wrists and into the arms and shoulders. This allows for a smooth, pendulum motion and discourages the yips.”

After ten rounds on several different courses, all with Bermuda greens and speeds ranging from medium to very quick, we got used to the feel of the L2 which is decidedly different than a “normal” putter. Hitting a seriously off line putt almost never occurred both because of the effect alignment lines and the fact virtually wherever the ball struck the face it rolled with a solid impact. The weight of the head meant the putter was always on line when the stroke finished.

As advertised the L2 is forgiving, perhaps the most forgiving we have ever tested though admittedly that’s a subjective judgement. What is without question though, if you are having problems making solid contact, beset by the “twitches” or still looking for a replacement for your banned belly or broomstick there could be some distinct benefits from this putter.

Negatives: Some may find distance control difficult because the hit is so solid with so much mass behind it. We found on downhill (particularly downhill side hill putts) and on fast greens getting the proper speed could be problematic. The flat sole, while aiding alignment, sometimes catches the grass when putting from Bermuda fringe into the grain. And as long as we are picking nits, the large square grip caused comment from everyone who tried it, not necessarily negative comments but it does take some getting used to. Finally, one players opined that carrying the extra weight L2 for a full 18 holes would be like putting three more clubs in the bag. As I said, picking nits.

Recommendation: If you need help with making solidly impacted online putts the L2 MOI MAXX could very well be the answer. The price is $169 at L2putters.com and shipping is included in the price.

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.

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

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.

Sean Toulon of Toulon Design

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Retiring last July after 16 years with TaylorMade Golf, his most recent position being Executive Vice President of Product Creation, Sean Toulon says he gave retirement six whole days and then knew it wasn’t for him. Discussions with his sons resulted in the formation of Toulon Design a company that will make premium-priced milled putters.
Priced starting at $400 they may not be for everybody but Toulon’s designs each have a pleasing esthetic feel and undeniable craftsmanship.
We had the opportunity to ask Toulon some questions to find out his thoughts and philosophy about the hypercompetitive business he has entered.

ET: Toulon Design putters are at the premium end of the putter market. Why did you choose this as an entry point?
Toulon: When we decided to start a putter company we studied the market very hard. Like many other industries, this market has a lot of competitors. Most are very good. We want to be extraordinary. We obsess over creating the best performance putters in the world. We obsess over creating the most beautiful putters in the world. We decided that to create something special we had to obsess about using the best materials, the best construction techniques and create the greatest experience for the golfer. As you might imagine, that creates a higher price point. But that has never been our concern. Bar raising performance is. We practice what we call Performance Driven Design in everything we do.

ET: Did your experience with Zevo putters effect the decision? (Toulon began putter-maker Zevo in 1992 and sold it in 1996)
Toulon: Yes, in many ways it has. Maybe not as directly as one might expect, but past experience is always something you can draw upon. Zevo was a company involved in creating better performance for the golfer through a set of perfectly fitted clubs. Really about elevating personal performance through a great experience. Those are things that are important today at Toulon Design.

ET: Your sons are working with you in Toulon Design. Was the opportunity to work with them a big reason to start the company?
Toulon: Yes, a huge part of it – actually it was really their idea. Now all three of the boys are involved – Tony and Joe run the Marketing of the brand and are here full time. My youngest son Preston, works in the Arizona Diamondback organization but will be writing for us and managing our Toulon Design Digest newsletter. And BJ Taylor is running the operations of the company is like a fourth son – he’s been a friend of the boys and our family since grade school. It’s awesome to see them work and hear their thoughts. They have very different perspectives than I do and I think it’s fascinating to hear and implement things that I wouldn’t have seen or thought of.Toulon_500x250

ET: One readily apparent feature separating Toulon Design putters is the milled pattern on the face. Why was that design was settled on?
Toulon: To re-invent the performance of the putter we wanted to change the relationship of the way a putter sounds and feels in conjunction with how it rolls the ball. We wanted to make sure that what the golfer felt and heard at impact better matched up with the actual speed and the roll of the ball. Most putters in the marketplace don’t do this very well.
We wanted our putter to feel a little softer and roll the ball better – settling into a nice controlled over spin and a tighter roll quicker. So we started looking at the face of the putter because that is where the collision of impact and ball occurs. We tested over 25 various mill patterns. About halfway through the process we became inspired by car tires and how the tread pattern channels water to create better traction. That changed the world to us. We knew that in order to make the putter feel softer to the golfer we had to make it sound more quiet. So we had to figure out a way to reduce the contact patch of the ball to the club face in a way to channel sound and improve the grip so we could improve the roll. Sound reacts the same way as water. So we started designing patterns that were heavily inspired by tire design. The one we ended with produces everything we wanted – and golfers absolutely love it.

ET: The model lineup includes four blade-style heads and one face-balanced mallet, the Memphis, but all have the option of changing the sole plate to make the head heavier and adding a counterbalanced shaft. Have you made this an option because you see it as a way to help players effected by the USGA banning anchored putting stroke?
Toulon: Yes that’s part of it – we believe that counterbalancing is an excellent alternative to anchoring as it helps a golfer release the putter head more aggressively. The more you add weight to the head and to the grip end of the club the more aggressively the putter wants to pass your hands. Also, having the ability to readily change the weight as dramatically as you can with a Toulon Design putter allows the golfer the ability to change the feel of his putter very easily.

ET: You are using the expensive vacuum brazing technique to join the hosel and head, in effect making two pieces of metal into one. How does this help in creating the performance you want from your putters?
Toulon: Customization is a big part of our Tour strategy. Vacuum Brazing allows us to build a wide variety of designs very quickly for tour players. As you might imagine, when a tour player is looking for a new putter they are like most golfers – they don’t want to wait! It also allows us two additional advantages. First we can build a lot of different designs to test – so it’s a great R&D enabler and finally when we launch our custom program in May, we will be able to offer the ability for any golfer to design and build their own design from our library of offerings – something that is very unique in the industry.

ET: Does it help or hinder customization of putters for special orders?
Toulon: It dramatically helps the ability to customize at a level not really readily available to the golfer today.

ET: Speaking of special, the names of the models, Madison, Rochester, San Diego, San Francisco and Memphis are not the usual names for putters but what is the significance of using city names?
Toulon: We wanted the names to mean something special – and these do – either to us specifically or to golfers around the world as places like Rochester and Memphis have unique (if somewhat less heralded) places in the game.

ET: Toulon putters have burst onto the scene gathering lots of interest. Can you give us an idea of what the future holds?
Toulon: We have been able to gain momentum quickly – and that’s been so much fun to see. The energy around Toulon Design is fantastic. I think it’s a tribute first to our product – we have created a special product that golfers just love. Secondly, the world today moves so fast – social and digital media allows a relevant message to erg tin front of a lot of people very quickly.
We are going to launch on Tour next month, so we are looking to have our first opportunity to have a player win on the PGA Tour soon. Then in April we ship our first products into the Asian market where the anticipation for Toulon Design is also high. We look forward to a great golf season in 2016 and hope that everyone has a chance to play a lot of golf!