Clubfitting: Don't forget the putter!
When we mention the term "fitting" in this space, is your first thought "Drivers"? Maybe "irons"? There might even be a few golfers who think "golf ball." But it's a rare golfer whose thoughts on fitting initially turn to the putter.
That's unfortunate, because other than the ball, it's the one piece of equipment you use the most, it's the easiest to adjust and it's where you'll see almost immediate results.
Putter fitting is getting some attention thanks to the increasing availability of devices like the SAM PuttLab, which does for putters what the launch monitor has done for drivers. And putter fitting is gathering more steam with the annoucement by Ping this week of an iPhone App to analyze your putting stroke and help you get in the right putter for your stroke.
The iPing Putter App works with the device's imbedded accelerometer and gyroscope to detect the movements in your stroke. The accelerometer determines stroke tempo, while the gyroscope hones in on your stroke's rotational acceleration to determine face angle and stroke type (arc vs. pendulum, for example). It's user friendly and a highly practical training device. The app is a free download from the iTunes App Store for the iPhone 4 and the iPod Touch (4th generation). The App works in conjunction with a Ping cradle attachment that clips on to the shaft of your putter just below the grip. The cradle and app will be available June 20.
The app allows you to both measure and practice your stroke where it provides feedback about the consistency of your face angle at impact, your tempo and the type of stroke you have. It also allows golfers to compare their session results with past efforts, as well as against tour players on the Ping staff. Scores in the measurement mode are used to determine a putting handicap.
Tuesday I spent the day with the team at Pete's Golf in Mineola, N.Y., one of America's 100 Best Clubfitters, and in addition to the usual suspects, they walked me through a putter fitting with the SAM PuttLab device at their shop. What I essentially discovered was that it's a miracle that I ever finish a hole with the ball ending up in the cup. The SAM PuttLab, which works with a small lightweight, tuning fork device that clips to your putter, measures all sorts of movement and calibrated disorientation with your flatstick, including face angle at aim and impact, swing path, impact locations, timing and effective loft. There's a lot in there, and it's probably too much for regular human golfers like me to fully digest and implement, but it can be a motherlode of data for a fitter or a teacher. In short, like a launch monitor, it lets them detect what's wrong and what fix will work.
After looking at the reams of information communicated to his laptop computer about my stroke, fitter Kevin Gregorios tried to be kind. "The length of your putter is perfect," he said. "I wouldn't change that."
There was more, of course. I'd actually brought in a couple of putters, just to see if he could really find a difference. In a word, he did. "With your stroke, never ever use a putter like this," Gregarios said, pointing at a face-balanced oversized mallet and noting that face-balanced designs are not a good fit for a stroke with a certain degree of face rotation.
In general, he saw certain tendencies and he put together a series of fixes that gave me a new putter without changing my putter. Although loft and lie angle needed tweaking, the biggest change was backweighting the putter. For the uninitiated, backweighting is done by adding additional weight underneath the grip to change the balance point of the shaft and move it closer to the the hands. It's seen in putters like those from Heavy Putter, but it's also a technology that doesn't require the purchase of a new club and is best known from the work done by industry leader Balance Certified. A midsize grip and the backweight had a simple logic, Gregarios said.
"You tended to start the takeaway a little too much with your hands," Gregarios told me. "This extra weight will get your backswing to start in a little more of one piece." Just look how much the balance point has moved toward the grip compared to a similar putter.
Gregarios said he is trying to get the message out to golfers that a putter fitting might be the most important clubfitting experience they can have. "Many people believe that putter is personal preference. That is partly true because you need to like the look and the feel of the putter for it to perform well. However, style of putter is what a lot of people do not take into consideration. I would guess out of 10, even the three to four people using the correct style putter have the incorrect specs. I have done fittings where a single specification was incorrect and by correcting it, we got positive feedback."
The better news when it comes to putter fitting. It doesn't demand a new putter purchase."I'd say at least 60 percent of the putter fittings we do a player will walk out of here with the same putter," said Woody Lashen, co-owner at Pete's Golf.
So the next time you hear someone talk about the virtues of fitting, don't forget that one club in your bag you use more than any other. Of course, that's the beauty and the curse of a good putter fitting. When it works, and it will, you'll probably want to use that club more but you'll end up using it less.