124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2



Your Questions Answered

Can putter inserts go 'dead'? We investigate

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Webb Simpson once said that the only reason he stopped using a favorite mallet putter of his is because the insert lost its feel.

John Biever

Question: I’m considering going back to an old Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball that I had a lot of success with some 20 years ago, but I’m wondering if the insert is still OK to use.

Answer: First, we have clearly failed in our jobs if the best option you can come up with is a club that belongs in the Golf House Museum, but we digress. Your question reminds us of a scenario about a dozen years ago in which Webb Siimpson was asked about his belly-length Ping Craz-E mallet putter. “It's the second Ping I've used in seven and a half years," Simpson said. "The only reason I really switched from the first one is because the insert was kind of getting dead on me.”

Wait, what? A putter insert can go dead? We had to investigate.

According to Matt Rollins, PGA Tour rep for Ping at the time, Simpson came to him earlier in the year and mentioned that his putter didn’t feel the same as it had the previous season. Simpson assumed something was wrong with the insert, but Rollins inspected the club to see if anything had come loose or if there was anything else wrong with it, and he couldn’t find any issues.

Still, to make sure Simpson was comfortable with his putter, Ping built him a duplicate. Simpson said it felt great, solving the “problem,” although Rollins said he has never come across a putter insert going dead. Some putter R&D experts, however, said it could happen—albeit only under the most extreme conditions.

“Over time polymers will harden, get denser and sometimes even crack,” said Austie Rollinson, principal designer for Odyssey at the time (Rollinson now works for Scotty Cameron). “It’s all about the quality of the material being used. If it gets hard, it’s not as resilient so you can lose some rebound as well as feel. It can happen, but it would be highly unusual.”

The likelihood of such an occurrence also depends on the type of material. For instance if the insert is made from aluminum, over time the extended use of the beams in that design could fatigue and begin to slowly crack at the sharp edges created from the blade used to make the insert. However, most experts we spoke to said the insert would likely need to experience hundreds of thousands of hits before this process even begins.

Polymer inserts can be prone to UV and environmental degradation, just like when an old vinyl dashboard on a car begins to crack after years of neglect. After years of use the polymer could begin to dry out, which could affect the resiliency, performance and feel. Composite inserts could experience fatigue that might lead to cracking in the resin that would eventually begin to break some of the carbon fibers and lead to performance loss. Still, though possible, the fact is that such occurrences would come only after many years and, even at that, would be somewhat unusual.

More likely what Simpson (and others) experience is simply the result of them having superior feel. Much like how Ted Williams could tell when a bat was a quarter-ounce too light or too heavy or how Bill Bradley knew if the basket was a half-inch too high or too low, professional golfers can detect the slightest change in the feel of their clubs, especially the putter.

One thing that can happen is face wear. We’ve all seen how tour player irons can have a quarter-sized spot on the clubface. The same thing happens to putters. Take a look at Steve Stricker’s polymer insert on his putter. It has a definitive wear mark. Again, Stricker is a tour pro that practiced putting endlessly over his career. You are not Steve Stricker. Fact is that you’ll probably wear out before your putter ever does so go ahead and use that ancient 2-Ball with confidence.