By Christopher Powers
Not long ago (2017 and 2018), in a land far, far away (One World Trade Center, New York City), the Golf Digest office had a putting green smack in the middle of the 27th floor of the Freedom Tower. The green, designed by Jack Nicklaus, was home to countless 4 p.m. money games, none of which I left a richer man from. The slick, artificial, undulating putting surface yielded many a yank or a yip from yours truly. In a matter of months I earned the reputation of being the guy who thinks he is putting aggressively but in reality is just gunning putts five feet past the hole like a madman, and then missing the comebackers (it didn’t help that rumors also spread of my proclivity for three-putting on real, non-artificial surfaces).
So when I got an email that I’d been volunteered to get fitted for a new putter from one of our senior equipment editors Mike Stachura, I assumed it was an intervention of some sort. Mike’s email began with “I’d be forever indebted to you if you did this,” but it might as well have said “Buddy, have a seat, we all have something to say to you.”
Prior to Monday, September 14, 2020, it would have never even crossed my mind to get fitted for a putter. I’ve always figured my issues on the greens are completely mental. No magic wand is going to make the four-footers for par gently curl into the bottom of the cup, thus turning my standard 83 into a 79 (more realistically speaking, an 86 into an 83).
This is not to say that getting fitted for clubs or having the most up-to-date equipment is a bad thing. In fact, it’s a very good thing, and a thing Stachura and our other senior equipment editor Mike Johnson are always preaching. I don’t disagree with it, I just don’t live by it. You won’t find me in a lab checking my ball speed after every swing, or grinding down my wedges or readjusting my driver before every round. My goal when I play golf is to get the ball in the hole. To try and shoot a lower score than I did the last round (I often fail miserably). I don’t care if it’s with Tiger Woods’ Scotty Cameron Newport 2 that he won 14 of his 15 majors with or a putter with a mangled head and slimy grip off the mini golf rack. To me, breaking 80 more consistently is going to have to come from within. Indian > arrow.
What I came to find out during my putter fitting is that the proper arrow is not a cure all, but it is far more important than I originally thought. The putter I currently use is a fine one—an Odyssey O-Works No. 7 mallet that I swiped from the old office putting green which stays between us (it’s like the one Kevin Kisner uses)— but all it took was a few very slight modifications to it to make my putts feel, roll and even sound better. Jon Bock, a master fitter and builder at Club Champion who took me on my putter fitting journey, simply bent the lie angle just one degree. This was all before I even glanced at any of the other hundred putters surrounding the indoor practice green.
While rolling a few with my current, slightly adjusted flat stick, Bock asked me a series of questions about what’s plaguing me on the greens. I told him what many people I’ve played with notice immediately after a few holes: I’m all over the cup on the long ones. Twenty feet and out, I’m going to give it a hell of a roll. But when it comes time to clean up anything inside five feet, sh*t hits the fan. Children and those with a heart condition are asked to shield their eyes.
It was at this point I could see the wheels in Bock’s head turning. It was clear that not only was he an expert on equipment and all the technology at his disposal (Bock has been doing this stuff for 15 years), but he was also once a teaching pro. He quickly threw all of this knowledge into a blender and began scouring the practice green for a few putters that could fit my eye. And presumably my psychosis.
My miss is a pull almost 99.9 percent of the time, and when it’s not it’s a push due to me overcompensating to avoid the pull. Bock noticed instantly that I open the putter face on the back stroke and then completely cut across it on the through stroke. On the first roll through, I was 15.2 degrees open on the takeaway, and 6.5 degrees open at impact. In order to actually make a putt with that type of position, I’d essentially have to aim like I was tryng to miss it (pray for anyone who has ever or will ever caddie for me). My “rotation consistency” was around 58 percent. Does that sound good to you? Unless you're running for elected office, it shouldn’t, because it’s flat out awful. Bock said the average for a decent player like myself (8.4 handicap going on 12, am I right? Sorry, dad joke) is around 70-75 percent. Woof.
What’s rotation consistency, you ask? As Bock explained it, rotation consistency is the ability to repeat the relationship between the putter face and the path of the stroke from takeaway to follow through. In order to increase my rotation consistency percentage, the face needed to remain more square to the path of my stroke from takeaway to forward swing to impact. In other words, not overly rotated open on the backswing, not overly closing on the forward swing. Or in my case, not so desperately inconsistent as my hands mindlessly manipulate the face toward impact like I'm trying to find the light switch as I stumble in at 2:30 in the morning. (Not that I would know, of course, but as I've mentioned, it's not pretty. That's why I'm here.)
The best way to describe how to achieve this is to basically be robotic. I've heard Nick Faldo during broadcasts often describe his putting stroke as him simply rocking his shoulders back and through, almost as if his hands were taken completely out of the equation. I’d imagine his rotation consistency was top notch. As for us peons, the hands too often (and unreliably) take over, which leads to a number like 58 percent, which made me feel as small as all those times I had to have my mother sign for a 58 percent on a pop quiz (I swear it was only three times!).
Clearly, we had work to do. Bock laid out four putters for me: a TaylorMade Patina (a rounded out mallet), an Odyssey Stroke Lab Black Ten (square-ish, winged mallet, you know the type), a third putter that shall not be named because I hated it from the moment I saw it, and, last but not least, something called an Evnroll ER5 Hatchback, which I’d never heard of (best way I could describe this is that it looks very similar to Justin Thomas’ Scotty Cameron mallet). NOTE: If you’re wondering how I work at Golf Digest without knowing that brand, just remember they don’t pay me to write about equipment. I get paid for writing about the PGA Tour and offering up some horrific gambling takes.
I rolled four putts with each putter, all of them with a contraption straight out of a James Bond movie that Bock put on to see the results. It's a motion-capture device called a SAM PuttLab, and SAM stands for Science & Motion. (I don't know what that means, but I'm pretty sure Stephen Hawking invented it on one of his better days.) You've probably heard of launch monitors for driver fittings, but launch monitors and devices like the SAM PuttLab, the Quintic and other systems like Odyssey Fits, are bringing that same kind of data to putter selection that adds some substance to all that guesswork and gut instinct.
At first, the contraption felt a little awkward and heavy, but after a few rolls it didn’t feel any less comfortable than my normal stroke (no demons here). I started with the TaylorMade, then the Odyssey, then the Evnroll and then whatever that other one was. Right off the bat, I was drawn to the TaylorMade and Odyssey, the Bud Light and Miller Lite of putters. Proven commodities, reliable. It was as if I didn’t even give the new craft beer, the Evnroll, a chance. And then there was that fourth putter, and let’s just say it tasted like Keystone Light from the moment it hit my lips. Hard pass.
Bock noticed almost immediately that the Evnroll may have been the one. Not only did I roll in every putt, but each one looked more pure than a J.J. Redick free throw. And the sound, the perfect clicking sound. This putter gave instant feedback. He made some slight adjustments to the loft and lie angle and we rolled a few more. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Four in a row without blinking. The click sound was like a sign from the putting gods. Every putt was in the center of the face. Was this … the one?
“I’ll just say it now, 110 percent, 110 percent, this is your putter,” said Bock. This is telling. Even with a natural bias favoring the names I knew, this relative unknown stood out. And this might be the most important thing I learned about fitting: Forget what you think you know. Trust your fitter. Trust the results.
To the results we went, and yep, 110 percent may have been underselling it. My rotation consistency went from 58 percent to 90. 90! “I wouldn’t even look elsewhere,” Bock said. Not only was the rotation consistency miles better, but I went from having the putter 6.5 degrees open at impact to 3.2 degrees, and 15.2 degrees open on the takeaway to 11.2. On the follow through, I was 3.2 degrees closed, as opposed to 0.6 degrees open when I first rolled a few. All of this with a putter I would have stepped over if it was lying in the street before giving it a chance.
After a final few rolls, we checked the stats on what will become my “gamer” when it arrives in a few weeks. (Bock said they first need to get the same model, then tailor it to my needs) On first roll through with my current putter, my “overall consistency,” which takes everything—alignment, impact, path, rotation, etc.—into account, was around 71 percent. On final roll through with the Evnroll, we were at 75 percent, the PGA Tour average, according to Bock. He noticed I hit the center of the face consistently with this putter, and that even the misses looked better. They felt better too. “Even on your misses, they still rolled perfectly,” he said. “That’s a huge advantage.” In other words, technology.
Most shocking, was that this putter wasn’t all that different from the one I was using. It was still a mallet, though a little more rounded than my Odyssey, with just a quarter of a degree change in loft and lie angle (it was also the same length—35 inches). In other words, these seemingly minor changes, changes you'd never think you would need or detect, made a monumental difference. They literally changed everything about my putting. Point being? The right putter with the right specs brings out the perfect stroke you know you had in you all the time.
Thankfully, Bock also changed the putter I’m still currently using, and I’m already seeing the results. In my most recent round I rolled in multiple putts outside of 10 feet (embarrassing that this is cause for celebration, I know), and almost everything inside of five feet. Normally, seeing any putts of length find the bottom of the cup would have me sleeping with that putter every night. But I still can’t wait to get my hands on this new putter. It’s not even in my possession yet, and I already am feeling confident, a feeling I rarely experience when standing on a green. There’s an extra pep in my step, a nice cool breeze in the air. That smell I’m smelling is a 79 with 27 putts (an 83 with 31 putts, but you get the point).
Bock’s last word of advice? Bring the putter in twice a year for readjustments. Leaning on the putter, caddies throwing it in the bag, possibly bending it over your thigh in anger, etc. All these things can slightly alter the lie and loft angle. A few checkups during the year can get those things fixed quickly. Some folks get it checked once a month, according to Bock.
I’m not going to be one of them, though I will admit I’ve seen the light. If you think you’re a person like me (well, the me I used to be) who doesn’t need to consider a putter fitting, think again. I promise your opinion—and probably a few other things—will change if you get one. And it's so easy.
Turns out interventions are often productive when you’re a willing participant.