My latest post on ‘Why Musclebacks' received positive reviews and I got some readers asking me to do something with regards to putters. I haven’t followed putters as closely, but I’ve been around the block and discussed some things with experts like David Edel, Dave Orr, Geoff Mangum and others.
I started to play the game in 1986. One thing to understand about my personality and the type of child I was, I got into sports at a very early age. And not only would I play sports, I would read constantly about them. And I mean at age 5 I was reading box scores, reading almanacs, etc. Even though I was barely learning how to read, I was reading and studying these things and my parents thought it was a good way to develop reading and math skills. So even though I didn’t get into the game until 1986, I would read all I could about the game of golf, including equipment. But, 1986 coincidentally was an important year with regards to the change in putter design.
Before 1986, 3 of the big putters used by golfers were the:
George Low Wizard Putter
As you can see, very much different from the types of putters we see today.
THE NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
Eventually a man came around with a putter he designed called the A-1 putter
What drew attention to the putter, besides the boxy design, was the sound that it would make when the ball was struck. It almost sounded like somebody striking a tuning fork. That man was Karsten Solheim and because of that sound, his company got the name PING.
Eventually Solheim developed the Ping Anser putter, which drew some notoriety because of the funny spelling of ‘Anser.’
Believe it or not, this putter still had plenty of detractors because it was still considered ‘UGLY looking!’ However, this putter was designed to take out that annoying PING sound and its design was becoming more and more popular.
Mallets were not produced as much as they are today. During this time you had two main mallet putters. The Ray Cook mallet
And, IMO, more importantly…the Ram Zebra mallet putter
It’s important to take note of the Ram Zebra because if you look at the other putters I’ve already shown…there are either no alignment lines or very few alignment lines. But the Ram Zebra has 10 lines total (9 black and 1 white). The picture of the Ram Zebra above is actually a little later model. This later model which was developed in the early 90’s, had an adjustable weight design. Underneath the bottom plate was where the weights were stored and the weights were a bunch of washers. And the golfer, if they wanted to, could unscrew the bottom plate, and add or subtract washers depending on what they wanted the weight of the putter to feel like. To my knowledge, it was the first putter to do this and really was way ahead of its time. Edel Putters have a Vari-Weight design and one large advantage they have is that you can do it with any type of putter design whereas the Ram Zebra is just a mallet putter.
AUGUSTA AND EQUIPMENT
In 1986, 46 year old Jack Nicklaus won the Masters. He did it with a very hot putter on the back 9 on Sunday. That putter was interesting because Nicklaus rarely changed clubs and almost always used his trusty George Low putter. But this time he used this giant, black putter to win the green jacket, called the Macgregor ZT Response.
Augusta is really fascinating from an equipment perspective because all of the advertising and demo days in the world can’t quite sell a product like Augusta can. After Nicklaus won the Masters, the ZT Response putter was the must have club for any golfer and sales skyrocketed beyond belief. But other clubs over time have responded like the ZT Response. I remember when Jumbo Ozaki was hitting unbelievably long drivers with the Bridgestone J’s driver and it then became the driver of choice (horrible driver clubhead, but a great shaft. Had a friend that I convinced to keep the shaft and dump the clubhead and he put it on a bunch of his other drivers and had it for years and years). There was also the SeeMore putters which Zach Johnson’s victory resurrected the putter from the dead. I suspect that if the Taylor Made R11 wins, particularly with somebody who hits it deep like Dustin Johnson, it would be a major coup for Taylor Made because the club is so identifiable. In fact, if I were a club company, I would try to make an identifiable driver or putter going into Augusta every year and try to convince my top players under contract to use it. Augusta wields that much influence.
With that, by 1986 we start to see the overall picture of putters and we can see where today’s putters come from. With the Anser like putter becoming more popular, Ram’s alignment lines, and the oversized putters like the ZT Response.
INTO THE 90’S
Coming into the 90’s, PING became more and more popular and was typically the putter of choice. While Karsten Solheim’s favored iron design differs from what I favor, between the irons and the putters, it’s easy to see his genius when it comes to club design. After the Anser, he came up with the
He also did some different things like making putters from Beryllium Copper, which was softer and black oxide which had a nice look to it. Also remember, the original Ping putter grip is still extremely popular to this day and has been copied many times over. And Karsten started making putters with the same head designs, but different hosels. I think he had the idea that some golfers aim better with different types of hosels, but he just couldn’t figure out a way to mass produce putters and figure out what putters would fit certain golfer’s eyes.
And to think about it, when it comes to ‘normal’ putter design these days, there is almost NO deviation from putters that PING designed years and years ago. Karsten’s putter designs may be the piece of golf equipment that was the most ahead of its time than any other piece of equipment in the history of golf.
SCOTTY AND ODYSSEY
The next big step in putter design in the 90’s dealt with making the putter feel better. This is where all of that ‘precision milled’ putters and inserts came in. As far as milling goes, Scotty Cameron was the first putter that *I* remember using the precision milling process with his putters. At the time I was first introduced to Cameron putters, he was working with Mizuno.
In reality, Cameron was probably a little too far ahead of his time because balata golf balls were still being used and thus, the putter was really soft. Now with the golf balls much harder, if you were to use an old Ping Anser putter from 1987, it would feel like you are putting a rock.
As far as inserts go, Odyssey was the first putter *I* recall that utilized the insert. They actually came out first with a blade putter line, but eventually went into mallet putters, particularly the Odyssey Rossie
And again, the Odyssey Rossie putter didn’t really take off until Nick Faldo made his come from behind victory for his 3rd Masters Green Jacket, 10 years after Nicklaus’ historic win with the MacGregor ZT Response putter.
DAVE PELZ AND PUTTERS
Dave Pelz was a former golfer at Indiana University who played against his rival, Jack Nicklaus, at Ohio State. Pelz eventually determined he was not good enough to be a PGA Tour pro and got a job working for NASA. Eventually Pelz’s desire was to return to the game of golf in some fashion. He tried to get into the equipment business, but like so many his attempt with ‘featherlite’ clubs immediately failed. He eventually determined that his path to fame and fortune in golf was thru putting instruction (and eventually short game instruction). He wrote a book called ‘Putt Like the Pros’ and it was an instant success as it had more detailed and precise findings and theories. Before then, putting instruction was what I call ‘Bagger Vance-ish.’
Pelz’s theories on putter design where that he preferred face balanced putters, soft inserts, and a ‘3-ball Design.’
Yes, a 3-ball design.
In fact, he designed his own 3-ball putter, which failed.
The idea behind the 3-ball was that it would help golfers aim the putter better. Eventually Odyssey signed Pelz on to help consult and design their putters and the Odyssey 2-ball was born.
GROOVES AND OTHER GADGETS
From the 2-ball putter, the advancements were more along the lines of using Face Balanced putters more and more and having some wacky designs that are supposed to be able to get the golfer to aim better and some ‘high MOI’ putters which make it so the ball will not roll off line so much on a poorly struck putt.
There was also the development of putter grooves to help reduce skid on putt. Companies like Yes! (bought out by Adams Golf), Taylor Made, Rife, Bettinardi and Nike have their own line of putters with grooves on them.
I’m not willing to say people putted better pre-1986 than they do today. We know a lot more about putting these days, the equipment helps horrible putters become not-so-horrible and the greens roll a lot smoother today.
However, David Orr (www.orrgolf.com) did a study a few years ago that showed that a golfers still struggle heavily to aim the putter. IIRC, the study (which went into many other things besides aim), had 677 subjects, all of which were right handed golfers (for the sake of being uniform). It had 50, at the time, current PGA Tour members and went all of the way up to the 30 handicap. They had each golfer aim with a laser from 6-feet away. And IIRC, here was the results
55% aimed left of the cup
25% aimed right of the cup
20% aimed at the cup
From discussing this with people like David Edel, I believe that the biases are in part due to eye dominance. If you read the GOLF Magazine book ‘The Greatest Putting Instruction Book Ever’, Edel goes into things that cause a golfer to aim right or left of the hole. In short, it has to do with what part of the putter head they are using to aim the putter. The further up towards the ball, the more the golfer will likely aim right of the target. The more of the back of the putterhead that is used to aim, the more likely they will aim left.
So with left eye dominance, the golfer naturally use the front part of the blade. Since most right handed people are right eye dominant, that’s why about 25% in Orr’s study were aiming right. And not by coincidence, I am right handed and left eye dominant and have a right aim-bias. With right eye dominance, the golfer will naturally use more of the back of the putterhead to aim which correlates more towards a left aim bias, which is why the majority of the golfers in Orr’s study do indeed aim left of the target.
If there’s one thing I feel safe in saying is that I do not believe golfers of today are aiming any better. In fact, I think they may be aiming worse.
Popular putter designs do not fit most golfer’s aiming tendencies.
The Odyssey 2-ball putter is a great example. Its design actually promotes a left aim bias. It’s also one of the most popular putters out there. So in a world where most golfers will aim left of the target, a left aim bias putter doesn’t help. OTOH, something like the 8802 or the Anser with no alignment lines or sight dots will help golfers aim more to the right.
You could also take the Scotty Cameron putters which has more loft (4*) and that promotes the golfer aiming left. Or the Taylor Made Spider putters with so many shapes and lines that it is just like to confuse the golfer.