Not so long ago, picking a new putter was pretty simple. If you liked the way a putter looked and felt, you were good to go.
Looks and feel are still important, of course. But putters have gotten much more sophisticated lately and, thanks to technology, we know a lot more about what success on the greens requires.
For example: Studies show that approximately 90% of a putt’s starting direction is determined by the club face angle at impact. That makes it crucial to find a putter you can align properly and square up at impact, and subjective matters like look and feel have little to do with that.
Let’s run down some of the key factors to consider when shopping for a new putter:
Toe hang or face-balanced putter
These are the two basic putter types.
Here’s how to tell the difference: Place the putter on a countertop or table, with the clubhead hanging off the edge. If the toe points down to any degree, it’s a toe-hang model. If the face points straight up, it’s face-balanced.
So which type is best for you?
Conventional wisdom holds that a toe-hang putter is easier to release, or turn from open to square at impact. But SuperStroke’s resident putting guru, Phil Kenyon, says not so fast.
“The reality is very different,” he maintains. “If you look at the physics of that (toe-hang) club, the toe is more likely to lag behind on the downswing than that of a face-balanced putter.”
Kenyon explains that if you tend to push your putts, a toe-hang putter might make the problem worse. If you tend to pull the ball, then toe-hang could help.
Likewise, golfers who push putts might benefit from a face-balanced model, while pullers could actually suffer.
Blade or mallet putter
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous factor; blade-style putters usually have some toe hang, while mallets are often face-balanced.
Also consider that mallets are generally more forgiving on miss-hits. If you strike the sweet spot consistently, you might prefer the blade style.
Putter grip size and shape
Here’s a major element where golfers of yesteryear had few options. Putter grips were essentially uniform in size, with most in the “pistol” shape.
Now, there are multiple grip sizes, and while the pistol style remains most popular, it’s far from the only choice.
We recently covered this topic in-depth with Phil Kenyon, who noted that most golfers will benefit from a putter grip that limits hand and wrist movement as much as possible. Also, how you grip the handle can play a part in picking the right grip.
Our grip fitting tool is a great resource if you haven’t settled on a specific model; it takes just seconds to fill out and get a recommendation.
A putter that’s too long or short will not only feel awkward at address. It could negatively impact your alignment and stroke.
While getting a professional fitting is the best way to assure your putter is the right length, here’s a simple way to test for yourself (though you might need someone to help measure):
- Set up as you normally do, but with the putter leaning against your body; make sure your eyes are directly above the golf ball.
- Keep your arms relaxed and hanging straight down from your shoulders.
- Grip the putter and place it behind the ball.
- The proper length will be from one-half inch above your top hand to the middle of the club’s sole.
Get this right and you’ve taken a huge step in finding your perfect putter.
Putter alignment aids
Did we mention that face angle at impact accounts for about 90% of a putt’s starting line?
That’s why alignment is so important. Recognizing this, putter manufacturers have developed more and more advanced alignment guides on top of the club.
Some golfers like an elaborate, multi-line aid. Others find these guides distracting and prefer something simpler, like a single-line guide – or none at all.
Experiment with different alignment aids to determine what works best for you.
Putter sound and feel
OK, so these aren’t entirely subjective after all. In fact, a putter’s sound and feel can affect your distance control.
These factors also vary pretty widely based on a putter’s face material and surface – for instance, some are perfectly flat while others feature milled grooves. Many putters are fitted with face inserts; some create a soft “thump” at impact, while others are more “clicky” or metallic.
Your best bet is to try putters with several different face materials and surfaces, practicing from short, medium and long distance.
Of course, if you’re really serious about your putting, a professional fitting is definitely the way to go.