While in golf vernacular a putter is known as the "flat stick," it's anything but that. Every putter made has some degree of loft built into the face.
That's because even on the fastest of greens the ball is sitting slightly down in the grass. Loft is necessary to lift the ball out that depression and get it rolling as quickly as possible. And it's loft, not necessarily grooves, that contributes to the quality of that roll.
A putter's length and lie can be fitted to you fairly easily. But getting fit for putter loft is a lot trickier. Here are some things to consider when you're ready to fine-tune your putter to your putting style…
Next time you watch golf on TV pay attention to the close-ups of balls rolling toward the hole. You'll see a marked difference from putt to putt as some balls track with a tight end-over-end roll while others look like they're wobbling their way to the target.
While face angle and sweet spot contact contribute to roll, it's largely the loft at impact that will give you the tight roll that makes the ball look like it's hunting the hole rather than rocking toward it.
Here's what happens on a 10-foot putt according to former USGA Technical Director Frank Thomas: the clubhead approaches the ball at a speed of approximately three to four miles per hour with impact lasting a little more than ½ millisecond. Putter loft lifts the ball off the surface of the green and imparts a small amount of backspin. The ball remains in flight for about four inches before it hits the green and skids for about 10-12 inches before taking on its true roll.
His description hints at why fitting putter loft can be so tricky. Because it isn't the built-in loft of a putter that matters, it's the loft at impact that counts. And because that's only 0.0005 seconds, it's very hard to measure precisely without very sophisticated equipment.
Aiming for the Ideal
There seems to be a consensus among the experts that the ideal loft at impact is somewhere around three to four degrees. Where there's not a consensus, however, is in the lofts built into putters by different manufacturers. While some makers choose not to publish loft specifications, a look at some that do shows quite a spread:
Maker Line/Model Standard Loft ----- ---------- ------------- Odyssey All 3° Scotty Cameron All 4° YES Putters All 2.5° Bettanardi A Series 3° B Series 4° TaylorMade Monza Corza 2.5° Mezza Monza 2.5° All others 3.5°
Scotty Cameron is firm in his conviction that four degrees at impact is the ideal as is a vertical shaft at impact. In his Putter Studio he keeps a putting area surrounded by high-speed video cameras that let him measure and assess a player's dynamic loft at impact. As a result, some of the PGA Tour players who make the pilgrimage to his studio come away with some interesting lofts:
Player Putter Loft ------ ----------- Ben Curtis 4.5° Peter Jacobsen 3.4° Davis Love III 4.2° Mark O'Meara 3.8° Brett Quigley 4.5°
Putting guru Stan Utley maintains that most players have too little loft on their putters and subconsciously compensate by hitting up on the ball. This leads to a little "flippiness" with the hands that obviously becomes very difficult to repeat consistently. Utley likes to feel like he's stroking down and through the ball with the shaft leaning slightly forward at impact. Thus, his putter carries 5.25° of loft.
Fine-tuning to the tenth or hundredth of a degree is probably something beyond the ability of most of us (or our clubmakers) to achieve. But there are some things you can do to begin to dial in the right putter loft for you.
Loft Fit Factors
Here are some suggestions on ways to assess and tweak your putter loft:
If you employ any sort of forward press in your putting stroke (as does Utley), you may want to consider a putter with more loft. The more forward you press, the more loft you're likely to need.
The broader blade of Bermuda grass greens, even when tightly mowed, seems "stickier" to me. I think the ball is sitting a little lower in that kind of grass. I also think that's why certain putters with greater loft have always worked better for me on Bermuda greens. If you putt them regularly, you might want to think about more loft.
The Dew Line
Next time you're on the practice green early enough to find it covered in dew, pay attention to the line made by the ball as it comes off the face. You'll see how long it's airborne and you'll also be able to detect any bouncing early on in the roll. If it is bouncing off the face, you know your loft is off.
It may be too high and your lofting the ball too much, or it may be too low and you're driving the ball against the depression it's in and pinching it. Either way, you need to further assess your loft.
You Got a Friend?
Probably the best way to determine your ideal loft is to use your pro or clubmaker to help you out. Have them stand facing you and try to gauge your shaft angle at impact. If it's leaning forward, you'll want more loft. If the shaft is vertical at impact, three to four degrees should be ideal for you.
It might help to make a cardboard "gauge" about three feet high by two feet wide with vertical lines on it about three or four inches apart. Put this down in front of your toes and let it lean back on your knees. As you make your stroke your pro can watch or videotape your stroke to see how much "lean" there is in your shaft at impact.
In the End…
I had my putter tweaked last year to five degrees of loft and putted better than I had for a long time. Stan Utley calls loft the most important specification for a putter. Maybe it's time to give your flat stick a lofty look.