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When I was first learning the game of golf, I had little knowledge of how I should go about buying a putter. I had it beat into my head that the putter was the most important club in the bag, so naturally, I wanted to find the best putter. My problem was trying to decide between 300 different putters sitting in the golf store. How was I ever going to choose?
Eventually, I got tired of buying a putter just to find out it wasn't for me. I knew that I needed to put a little more effort into the buying process, so I came up with a few guidelines for myself to follow. I hope that these quick steps can help you as much as they helped me!
The first step you must take before buying a new putter is understanding your options. You might have heard several golf terms thrown around such as offset, toe hang, face balanced, mallet, anser style, etc. You also could have been told that you need to match your stroke (arcing or straight back straight through) to your putter. Honestly, I think that trying to pick a putter based on physics is a bit overwhelming. Despite this, I would like to go through and give a brief explanation as to how all these terms are related.
There are essentially three types of putters, and hierarchically within these three types of putters, there are several different “styles” to choose from. The three types of putters are face balanced, quarter toe hang, and full toe hang. You can determine which type of putter you are holding by balancing the putter on your finger at its fulcrum in the shaft as shown in the picture below (The putter below would be considered a face balanced putter, because the face points up).
The above is an example of a "face balanced" putter, because the face points to the sky when balanced at the fulcrum.
Once you have determined which type of putter you are holding, you must then consider what type is best for your stroke. The general guideline says that if you have a straight back straight through stroke, you would want a face balanced putter, and if you have an arcing stroke, you would choose some sort of toe balanced putter (quarter or full). Personally, I think that trying to fit a stroke to a putter is difficult, because a putting stroke often changes as our games evolve. Now, I say this within reason. If your stroke has a huge arc to it, a face balanced putter probably won't do it for you. In this case, you might look for something like a heel shafted putter (Phil Mickelson style).
Another important thing to consider when deciding on a style of putter is whether or not you forward press. For those who don’t know, a forward press is a common “trigger” for starting a putting stroke. It relieves tension, and most of us do it to some degree without even realizing. If you forward press, you might stay away from a mallet putter, as these are not very comfortable to forward press with.
This is one of the few times that "judging a book by its cover" is a good practice. Assuming that you are a scratch golfer, you take roughly 30 putts per round, which means you have to look at your putter 30 times! From personal experience, looking down at something that doesn’t line up well for you, or just doesn’t fit your eye is not the way to go. You’ve got to love everything about your putter, and yes, looks count in that equation.
What do I mean when I say “looks"? I think the main thing you have to focus on is alignment. If you look down and just can’t seem to line the putter up, then it probably isn’t for you. Out of all the putters in your local golf store, surely you will find at least one that you can line up with ease. Also, you might consider the size and shape of the putter. You might be able to line up a mallet putter quite easily (most people can), but if you can’t stand looking at something that big, then don’t buy it!
There are quite a few factors that go into how a putter feels, and none of them should be disregarded when buying a new putter.
I think the first thing that one must consider is the weight of the putter. If your home course has quick greens, or you play primarily on fast greens, it might be wise to go with a putter that is a bit lighter. The ball won’t come off quite as hot with a lighter putter. The contrary is also true, so if you play slow greens, a heavier (maybe counterbalanced) putter might suit you best.
Another thing to consider is the material the putter is made out of. This one is pretty straightforward; you are either going with a milled putter (steel face), or an insert putter (ex: Odyssey). I personally have played with both, and I don’t really have a preference. How the putter feels to me is much more important than the material it is made of.
Once you have found a few putters that meet the above criteria, it is time to put a few to the test. Pick two or three putters, and putt some 3 footers with them. Which one puts the most confidence in your hands?
Additionally, take a few lag putts to determine which one gives you the best distance control right out of the box. If you can afford it, the best way to compare putters is to purchase multiple (or borrow a friend's) and test them out in a real-life situation.
Hopefully by now you have decided on a putter, or at least narrowed it down to two. The most important thing now is to trust that you have chosen the right putter. If you have followed the first four steps, you will undoubtedly have a putter that will make putts for you. Be confident in your decision, and buy that putter with conviction! Confidence is everything in putting. As Jack Nicklaus says it, “putting is inspirational, not mechanical.” In all reality, this process that I have designed is by no means a fool proof way to making more putts, but more-so a systematic way to engrain maximum confidence on the greens.
The reason I went through so many putters while learning the game is because I always had that thought that maybe there was something better out there. What if I bought the wrong putter? I can assure you that if you follow this step by step guide, you won’t have these thoughts. You WILL have the right putter for your game.
If you are like me, you won’t stop once the putter is bought. You will want to change the grip, alter the loft and lie, and maybe even give your putter a fresh, customized paint-fill.
There is nothing better than a customized flat stick :)