How to find your Putter Stroke
Golf is truly an individualistic game, and no aspect is more individualistic than putting.
Even with anchoring having been banned starting in 2016, putters come in dramatically varying lengths, more so than any other club, and with all sorts of different grip options in terms of shapes and sizes. Of course, that doesn't even include the myriad of ways golfers can choose to grip the putter -- conventional grips, cross-handed grips, saw grips, claw grips, pencil grips, split grips, etc.
Additionally, when it comes to setup, some golfers like to stand up tall when they putt; others like to crouch over. Some like to set up open to the target; others like to be closed. Some want their eyes over the ball; others want their eyes inside or more rarely outside of the ball.
Many of these choices are based on comfort level and/or the physical characteristics of a player, and that will occasionally require modifications to the putter being used.
Additionally, when it comes to putters, golfers have to choose between seemingly endless head designs. Oftentimes, that choice is being made based solely on what a particular player finds visually appealing.
Further consideration, however, should be a part of the process when making a decision.
To help elaborate, we enlisted the help of Tyrus York, Kentucky's 2014 PGA Teacher of the Year. And while York is a decorated full swing instructor, putting and putter fitting are also areas of expertise, as he's a SAM PuttLab Level 2 Instructor, as well as being SeeMore, Putter Zone, and Eyeline Golf certified.
PGA Teacher of the Year
York started by explaining that in choosing a putter, golfers need to be aware of two different aspects of the process.
“As a fitter, I am looking for my players to find a putter that fits them statically and dynamically,” York said. “The static measurements are simple but often overlooked. Things like making sure the putter is flat on the ground and that the eyes are slightly inside the ball at address are two key factors I look at that will determine the length and lie angle of the putter. The player's posture will also factor into this, leaving plenty of room for personal preference.”
The static aspects that York discussed when it comes to choosing a putter are what were referenced above relating to, among other things, comfort level and a player's physical makeup. It explains why some players need more or less loft or different lie angles, or why two players who both putt with conventional grips need dramatically different lengths when it comes to their putter.
It's the dynamic aspect of putting, however, where golfers need to pay close attention when it comes to picking a head style and not focus only on what looks good to their eyes.
“Determining a putterhead style requires a more dynamic fitting that looks at the player's stroke,” said York, who teaches at the High Performance Golf Academy in Lexington and also serves as the head women's golf coach at Transylvania University. “I use SAM PuttLab to look at a player's stroke type (path, face rotation, and consistency) to determine the head style, amount of toe hang, amount of offset, and even the grip size.”
Toe hang is a term that many golfers might not be overly familiar with, but some companies are now actually posting toe hang numbers within a putter's specifications.
For example, in TaylorMade's new OS series of putters, you can see as part of the specs that the Daytona has 36 degrees of toe hang, the Monte Carlo has 20 degrees, and the Spider has zero degrees, which would make it what people would more commonly refer to as a face balanced putter.
To check a putter yourself for toe hang, balance the putter across your palm or index finger so that the shaft is parallel to the ground. You'll find that the clubface on a face balanced putter will point straight up. With toe hang putters, if you balance them the same way, the toe will hang toward the ground, and the more the toe hangs directly toward the ground, the more toe hang that putter has.
Typically, what you'll find is that larger mallet style or high MOI putters are almost always face-balanced, while it's smaller mallet shapes and blades that are toe hang putters. There are face balanced blade putters to be found, such as the Odyssey Toe Up #1, but they're more rare.
With blade putters, the amount of offset in the design often affects toe hang, although it should be pointed out that weighting can affect toe hang as well. But, for example, a flowneck style of putter, which has limited offset, will typically have more toe hang, while a plumbers neck style of putter will have more offset and less toe hang.
So you're probably wondering at this point, why is all of this important?
It's important because depending on the type of stroke you utilize, you're going to be best suited to use a putter with either no toe hang, moderate toe hang, or significant toe hang. More on that in a minute.
As far as putting strokes are concerned, there are two common approaches, and each has numerous well-known advocates. The first is a straight back, straight through putting stroke, which is the preferred method of Dave Pelz, among others.
The second is a putting stroke that works on an arc, where during the stroke the face opens slightly going back and closes slightly going through, the method preferred by putting guru Stan Utley, among others.
If you're someone who's having a difficult time on the greens, it could be because the model of putter you've chosen doesn't match your putting stroke.
So which types of putters will work best with which types of strokes?
“If a player has a putting stroke that is close to straight back and straight through,” said York, “they would generally benefit from a mallet or square head putter. Depending on clubface rotation during the stroke, others players would then look at the amount of the putter's toe hang. If the player has excessive rotation on the forward swing, they may benefit from more toe hang, which creates drag to slow the rotation down.”
“In our tests, the majority of golfers fall into the slight-arc camp where the closing angle on your forward stroke is moderate – between 3.5 and 7.5 degrees. Your stroke will benefit most from mid-hang putters, which are identified by a green shaft label [on PING models].” PING.com
One company that has proven to be a strong advocate of this approach to putter fitting is PING, which is a firm believer that players should fit their putter to their stroke as opposed to trying to alter their stroke to play a certain type of putter.
And to make things easier for golfers, PING has established its Fit For Stroke putter fitting concept to help players more easily find a putter that will match up with their stroke.
With PING’s various putter lines, face balanced putters for those who use a straight back, straight through approach will have blue shaft bands. Meanwhile, green shaft bands exist on putters that have a moderate toe hang for players with a slight arc, and red shaft bands can be found on putters with extreme toe hang for golfers who putt using more significant arcs.
While there is proven science behind everything that's been discussed in this article to this point, it's still not an exact science.
After all, a great putter is going to be a great putter no matter what you put in his or her hands.
But for players who find putting to be especially challenging, which comprises a large percentage of the golfing public, matching up the stroke with the right putter style can be extremely beneficial.
To summarize, if you like to use a straight back, straight through method, a face balanced putter, or in other words a putter with no toe hang, would be a great choice. If your stroke works on a slight arc, a putter with moderate toe hang would be ideal, while those with more pronounced arcs in their stroke would benefit from even more toe hang.
It's also worth pointing out that with so many different styles of putters available today, there's still a good chance that you can make a correct match while still maintaining what you prefer from a looks standpoint.