By Ken Ruggiero
Niagara Gazette — “You drive for show, but putt for dough.”
“It’s not how you drive, it’s how you arrive.”
These are two of golf’s timeless phrases that emphasize the relative importance between the drive and putting. While we delight in observing Tiger or Rory drive a golf ball 350 yards off the tee, the fact remains that putting is the most integral ingredient to any low score.
Think of it in simple mathematical terms. Most golf courses have par scores ranging from 70 to 72 strokes for 18 holes. Literally half or more of those shots are intended to take place with the putter.
Players often have a personal rapport with their putters. Bobby Jones, America’s first golf superstar, had his “Calamity Jane”. Ben Crenshaw used “Little Ben” for most of his career. Dave Stockton, the prince of putting, used “Psychedelic Sally” for decades.
Lefty Bob Charles, one of the game’s great putters, used the same Bullseye for more than five decades. Loren Roberts, known to informed fans as the ‘Boss of the Moss,' used a Cobra for most of his career.
Not every player manages to stay married to one putter over a lifetime. Some players hold an intense love-hate relationship with their flat stick. An indecisive Mark Calcavecchia, for example, sometimes carried two putters in his bag at the expense of a long iron. There were other occasions when he finished the day without ANY putter in his bag, due to an unprofessional fit of rage earlier in the round.
In today‘s marketplace, the variety of putters obtainable has grown significantly. There are short ones, long ones, and really long ones. There are thin blade putters and putters that resemble alien spacecraft.
This leads to the question, “Is there one that’s best for me, or is it all just hype?" The short answer is that putter characteristics do affect your success on the moss and yes, it really does matter.
In today’s game, serious players should get fitted. Here are just a few of the characteristics of a putter that are certainly important:
1. Lie Angle. Your putter’s base should be flat on the ground when you are addressing your ball. How a player positions his/her hands varies from player to player, and so will every player‘s lie angle calculation.
2. Loft. Yes, putters have loft, some more than others. If you play on fast greens, you don’t want a lot of loft on your putter. Conversely, if your greens are slow, then a more lofted putter, say three or four degrees, would be more appropriate.
3. Length. Putters come in a vast variety of lengths. I personally have always preferred a short shaft because I like my arms to feel ‘long’ over my ball. You must get a shaft length that suits your stance and feel.
There are other features to consider, such as balance and head weight. To get the best chance for success on the greens, get a putter that suits you.
PUTTING TIP: If there is anything I think great putters have in common, it is that they are NOT mechanical about the skill. Brad Faxon, a fantastic putter, says that he sees putting more as an art form than a motorized skill. He considers his putter a “paintbrush” and when he putts, he likes to visualize the roll of the ball, it’s curve and path, rather than lining up with exactness and striking a putt robotically.
I’ve tried it and I’m putting very well and tension free. If you can convince yourself that putting is not ‘life or death’ and you simplify, your putting will get easier, and more efficient.
Here’s a question I received by a reader concerning a previous story:
“Ken, you cited this rule for Eric Compton concerning the use an older golf ball. I have lots of golf balls in my bag! How do I know their age? Wouldn't an older ball be to Compton’s disadvantage? What is the purpose of this rule?”
-Marty Stevens, Niagara Falls
There is nothing in the Rules of Golf that prevents a golfer from switching to a different brand of golf ball (i.e., from a Titleist to a Bridgestone) at the beginning of each hole. The average player (you and I) can change ball models during play. However, there is something in the Rules of Golf that says a tournament committee can impose such a rule.
All PGA Tour events are played under that "one ball rule” (in the rulebook, it's in Appendix 1, Part C), so Compton was under obligation to follow it. The "one ball condition" requires the player to use the exact same brand and type of golf ball throughout the round.
This rule is in force for competitive purposes. The PGA feels that allowing players to switch golf balls during play could give a player an unfair advantage.
Golf balls, due to their construction, each possess their own uniqueness. As such, a player could choose a ball that flies high with the wind and one that flies low against the wind. In Eric Compton’s situation at Zurich, he had no advantage when he inadvertently used an older ball on one hole, but that’s not the point.
The point is that the one-ball rule was breached and Compton was honorable enough to call the penalty on himself. Got it?
Until next week, keep it in the fairway.Ken Ruggiero is a local golf instructor and has been writing this column for the past 28 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.