Putter Evolution – The Changing Shapes Of A Simple Art

Straight back, straight through. Get the ball on line with the right speed and it goes in the hole. Simple enough right? Then why do so many people struggle with the putter? The answer is simple. Putting is overlooked. Do you know any golfer who practices their putting more than their long game? I don't, myself included.How many teaching pros will accept $60 for a 45 minute lesson and never even look at the practice green? Is it because their customers don't want a putting lesson or because the pro knows that no matter what he teaches on the practice green it is likely to go unused? How many people are eager to shell out $200 for a ridiculous training aid with a hinge in the shaft but refuse to spend more than $40 for a putter? The answer is far too many but I'll save my rant on training aids for another week.

Here is something to ponder: an average driver from one of the big name golf companies will cost between $400 and $500. An average putter from these same companies is likely to set you back between $120 and $250. A driver you will use fourteen times per round maximum. A putter will probably get used 36 times per round for an average golfer. Seems to me the club you use the most should be the one you invest the most money in right?

The problem is that most people don't see the technology in a putter and how it can help them. They figure that because they only have to move the ball several yards that any old club with a flat face will do the trick. In truth putting has become much more of a science than most people realize.

The man responsible for this is Karsten Solheim, founder of Ping. Just as he did later with perimeter weighted irons and investment casting Karsten combined his engineering background with his unbridled creativity to revolutionize the art of putters. The first putter that Mr. Solheim built, named "Ping" because of the sound it made on contact with the ball, was also the first heel-toe weighted putter brought to market. The theory was simple enough, moving more mass to the heel and toe of the putter would help the face stay square at impact. This putter soon led to the development of the Ping Anser. The Anser exploded onto the golf scene in 1966 and has won more professional golf tournaments than any other putter before or since. It has spawned look alikes from nearly every putter manufacturer around. The reason? The Anser was certainly a beautiful putter to look at but more than that it, worked! Even on off-centre hits the face stayed much squarer allowing golfers to get the ball rolling on line more often.

In the years that followed many new ideas were introduced. Mallet putters that were heavier in weight became popular. Some companies such as Ram (maker of the Zebra) were making putters with unusual alignment aids. All kinds of shapes and sizes were tested out to try and find the next "Ping".

The next groundbreaking idea was developed in the early 90's by Odyssey. Odyssey introduced a line of putters with "Stronomic" inserts. These inserts not only changed how the putter felt on contact but allowed Odyssey to move even more weight to the perimeter of the putter head. Since 1990 ideas like this have turned Odyssey into the biggest putter company in the world while other companies rush to create their own copycats and knock-offs.

Now fourteen years later we are being barraged with the latest trend. Oversized mallets, high MOI, potato mashers, spaceships, call them whatever you want but the reality is they are here to stay. These latest creations were borne by Odyssey with their introduction of the 2-Ball putter in 2001. The 2-Ball alignment system made it easier for players to line-up putts and make solid contact. It also extended the weight of the putter much further back giving it a higher MOI (Moment of Inertia). This higher MOI means that there is more resistance to twisting, in simple terms the putter head will stay on line throughout the stroke and at impact. Even at a hefty $300 price tag the 2-Ball rapidly became the number one selling putter model on the market. It gained acceptance not only from the golfing mass but also from tour professionals the world over who began to look at this type of putter. Titleist and Taylor Made followed with the Futura and Monza putters both of which were similar in concept to the 2-Ball putter. The common theory being that the more weight you can move away from the face the better. Nowadays it seems that almost every manufacturer has one of these putters on the market. They have rejuvenated putter sales for companies like Ping and MacGregor and there is good reason for it. These putters are simply easier to use. They are easier to line-up, they are easier to keep on plane, the put a better roll on the golf ball with more topspin, and they will help you make more putts. These putters are now available in many styles, colors, and price points so there is no reason not to try one out. And remember, if it's worth it to spend $500 for fourteen strokes a round, how much is it worth to start taking strokes off your round?

Check back next week as I review the past year in golf.

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