April 10, 2008

Latest gear: Built for you

New methods to match the putter to the player

To fit for shaft length and lie angle with the KB Golf kiosk, the grip moves freely as the golfer takes his stance.

To fit for shaft length and lie angle with the KB Golf kiosk, the grip moves freely as the golfer takes his stance.

The putter has long been the emotional choice while the cold calculations of fitting were meant for other clubs in the bag. But as the search to diagnose and treat every golfer's eccentricities continues, getting fit for a putter could become as common for average golfers as it is now for tour players. KB GOLF, a putter manufacturer in San Jose, Calif., is preparing to introduce a system that could take putterfitting to the masses.

The key innovation is an interactive, computerized kiosk that features a telescoping grip and a virtual putterhead in 3-D. As consumers select clubhead and hosel configurations from the options on the monitor, the virtual clubhead on the floor screen instantly updates to reflect the choices. When consumers are happy with the look, they grip the floating butt end to address the virtual ball, and by doing so their ideal lie angle, shaft length and head weight are captured and recorded. For those employing a forward press, the loft can be adjusted, too. Additional engravings, like various alignment aids (a dot, a line or multiple lines) and their color, as well as initials or a name, can be entered into the kiosk. The information is then transmitted via the Internet to the Kevin Burns shop in San Jose, at which point his milling machine can produce the custom putter in an hour.

"This is going where no one else wanted to go, mass customization," says Burns, whose company is best known for making the putter Jose Maria Olazabal used to win the Masters in 1999. "The putter will come out exactly as you saw it on the screen." Kiosks will sell to retailers for $6,500, a steep price initially, though no inventory of putters is required. The putters will cost about $500. Another company on the vanguard is COUTOUR. "If a putter isn't fit to a player, a player will be forced to make compromises to adapt to it," says founder Todd Sones. "Typically, a 35-inch putter only fits someone who's at least 6-foot-1," he says.

Here's how the process works: A player gets in an ideal setup position with the help of a certified fitter. Then the Tri-Fit device -- made from an extendable arm with a grip, a couple of hinges and a mirror -- measures the distance from the hands to the ground and the distance from that point to the ball. Using the good old Pythagorean theorem, the fitter adds the squares of these numbers to come up with the correct length (there's actually a chart), which is the hypotenuse of the triangle.

PING, which offers 10 color codes for lie angle and shaft lengths from 30 to 37 inches, is moving in a slightly different direction, assigning customers the task of fitting themselves. Ping's online Web-Fit program quizzes users about their preferences and stroke tendencies. It also asks for several measurements such as height, hand size, finger length and a wrist-to-floor measurement (a yardstick works for this).

However, putter fitting doesn't stop at length, lie and loft. Putter models that use weighting systems to better match head weight with shaft length include the TITLEIST/Scotty Cameron Studio Select line, which features housings for circular weights in the heel and toe,TAYLORMADE's Rossa Spider and__ODYSSEY__'s White Hot Tour.

Entwined with fitting are the possibilities with the upcoming era of adjustability. Take__ONTIC__'s hosel, which moves from flat to upright. It can make customizing a putter a process that lasts not just a single session, but a lifetime.




  1. The face-balanced Ontic M-Pulse can be adjusted to any lie angle from 58 to 80 degrees ($200, mpulseputter.com).

  2. The Heavy Putter E3-DF has a higher center of gravity designed to align more closely with the equator of the golf ball ($170, heavyputter.com).

  3. The Yes! GrooveTube's slit-window and center sightline combine to indicate correct eye position ($250, yesgolf.com).

  4. Rear tungsten weights and an aluminum-groove face insert are among the new features in the Nickent Pipe II ($150, nickentgolf.com).