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Putter Loft: Why it’s Important

Mar. 26, 2007     By     Comments (19)

Length, lie and head weight are the putter specifications most think of when it comes time to choose a putter. But loft is more critical than you might imagine.

Bag DropWhile 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…

Loft Dynamics
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:

Forward Press?
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.

Green Grass
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.

Discussion

  1. Tyler says:

    Great article and I couldn't agree more. I had my putter fitted at a Golf Galaxy (they were running a special) and my confidence has improved greatly. My distance control is better, my ball is rolling much better and putting is one of my strongest parts of my game right now.

    I don't remember the exact specs but my putter now has just over 4* loft and I actually had it lengthened to 35" since I stand pretty tall over the ball. I also have a forward press at address and getting my putter was one of the best things I have done to my golf game.

  2. Alexis G says:

    Great article.

    I noticed that I putt much better on faster green than on slower ones.

    On faster ones, the roll is true. As a consequence, I manage to visualize the putts, I "see" the ball roll & curve.

    On slower, thicker greens, I have a tougher time getting a true roll, and as a result, I have a hard time visualizing the next putt, and get in a bad putting day.

    Should I conclude that I do not have enough loft at impact? My putter is a Scotty Cameron Studio Design, so it has 4 degrees of loft... Would I benefit from a ball slightly forward of my stance?

  3. Jack Waddell says:

    Alexis,

    Here's what I'd do in your situation. I'd take an old putter, or find one that matched my "fast green" putter in length, lie and swingweight, and have it bent to 5 degrees or more.

    I wouldn't change ball position. That will only encourage an upward blow that may or may not consistently contact the sweet spot you are used to on your "fast green" putter. If you are happy with your stroke on fast greens, there's no reason why an apapropriately-lofted putter wouldn't work for you on slow greens.

    Or, you could just hit it harder. :smile:

  4. Jack: Another great piece. I think manufacturers are starting to pay more attention to putter loft, either out of advancements in understanding of how the ball rolls or out of respect for a golfing public that is increasingly well-educated about the physics of the game. For example, the three putters in Odyssey's Black Series all have different lofts that are calibrated to the location of the CG on each putter. Seems like a no-brainer.

    What cracks me up are the crazy "negative loft" putters that come out every couple years. All they do is pound the ball down into the little indentation that it's already in, which causes a different kind of skidding and can throw a putt off-line from the start.

    Anyway, thanks for another column of loft-y ideas. Time to get out and give those Scottys of yours some work.

  5. What cracks me up are the crazy "negative loft" putters that come out every couple years. All they do is pound the ball down into the little indentation that it's already in, which causes a different kind of skidding and can throw a putt off-line from the start.

    I know you remember the teardrop putters? They effectively have a wildly different loft depending on where you strike the ball on the putter's face! :-)

  6. Jack Waddell says:

    Just for kicks I dug through my "golf stuff" drawer in the workshop and found my putter loft gauge. The three vintage Pings I measured (an old Cush-In, B61, and Scottdale Anser), all seemed to measure around 5+ degrees. Which makes some sense since greens were hairier in the 60s/70s. My new Redwood Anser was clearly 4 degrees. My faithful Bermuda-grass-only Fat Lady Swings mallet was almost 6 degrees (in an earlier Bag Drop I mentioned how it came to be altered).

    Don't take all this as gospel, since the gauge seems pretty crude to me. But, as a relative comparison, and seeing as how some makers are down to 2.5 degrees, it would appear lofts have come down along with grass height on greens.

  7. Doug Hardman says:

    #1 - Great article.

    #2 - I think loft is more subjective than scientific. Let me explain...

    Depending on the stroke and ball placement, any player can loft/de-loft any club by as much as 2°. This effectively takes an average-joe with his off-the-rack putter and makes the club anywhere from 2° to 6°.

    I've done pretty extensive research with high speed video (1,000 frames a second… not just slowing down regular video) and found that the same putter with 4°, placed just 1" 'back' in a stance can have dramatic effect on the ball's rolling dynamics, when compared to a ball struck dead-center of the stance. 1"-2" forward, and you have a completely different scenario.

    The reason that the tour players have loft/lie dialed in so precisely is because they have VERY consistent strokes. More than likely, the ball placement is EXACTLY the same on each and every stroke.

    Again… great article. I thought I'd just add my $0.02.

  8. Jack Waddell says:

    Doug,

    You make an excellent point that's probably spot on. Which is why some people can putt lights out with a YES putter at 2.5 degrees of loft while others do better with a Scotty at 4 degrees of loft.

    While a much less scientific corroboration of your observation, I know that when I play slower Bermuda greens I move the ball much more forward in my stance. That, obviously, adds loft and probably helps the roll on the thicker-bladed grass.

    Thanks for adding this thought to the mix.

  9. Doug Hardman says:

    I'm going to be at my studio tomorrow taking high-speed video for some upcoming reviews. I'll do a couple of comparisons and post a link to a video to illustrate the differences I'm talking about. 3.5-deg putter at center stance, -2" and +2". (If it's OK with Erik that is...)

    It's really pretty interesting when you see it all side-by-side at 500 frames-per-second.

  10. Ryan Browning says:

    This is an portion of an article written in the USGA Greensection Record which is a turf management publication from the United State Golf Association. "Two very interesting reseach projects were completed in 2002 at Michigan State and 2004 at the University of Connecticut that came to the same conclusion- golfers are not very good at determining green speed, and they become even more challenged as green speed increases. At Michigan State, researchers found that golfers of all skill levels could not distinguish difference in green speed of 6" or less. Also,as green speed increased, distances of as much as 12" became less distinguishable. At Connecticut, a survey approach was used for a two-month period with more than 300 samples taken to determine if players (all skill levels) knew the green speed of the hole they just finished. They did not."

    Seems to me that putter loft should be of the least concern considering the inability of most golfers to accurately determine green speed. Development a consistent putting stroke should be first and foremost.

  11. Jack Waddell says:

    Ryan,

    I'm a little surprised, but not shocked, at the test results. I'd be curious whether putt distance was a factor or whether the players were simply asked to guess a Stimpmeter number after playing the hole.

    Still, loft is very important. Proper dynamic loft gives you the best chance for a repeating roll and that, especially given the apparent difficulty in juding green speed, is just a critical element in making the best putts you can as often as you can.

  12. John Hensley says:

    My friend has a scotty cameron studio with a 4 degree loft. I used it on 4 holes today and came up about 3-4 short on 20 foot putts evry time. Usually I go by about 18" to 2 ft.

    Would I need to forward press my hands or just use less loft. I am not clear on this issue. I do not normally forward press.

  13. ron van rootselaar says:

    If you putt on hairy bermuda greens late in the day... yeah you might need loft. Any green with a stimp over 11 the ball does not rest in the grass.

    I have just put the finishing touches on my negative loft putter and the skip is greatly reduced compared to all regular putters including the over priced Scotty Cameron crap. One reason he has so many tour players is that it is a trendly thing to do which breeds confidence among the pga peer group.

  14. ron van rootselaar says:

    More negative loft news

    I have been comparing my new putter with scotty cameron and odyssey putters and achieve less skip and bounce than they do both through the fringe and on slow-regular speed greens (6-9)

    Donald McKenzie you need to try it before you chastise the pure theory of proper roll.

  15. Donald McKenzie you need to try it before you chastise the pure theory of proper roll.

    It sounds to me like you might need to learn to putt properly. Negative loft doesn't make sense physically or in practice unless you're adding enough loft (shaft leaning forward at impact) to more than offset the negative loft on your putter.

  16. Double Gee says:

    As always the so called 'experts' spout rubbish ! - having tried umpteen putters in recent years to try and accommodate my strong forward press ....THE ONLY ONE THE WORKS WONDERFULLY WELL IS A NEGATIVE LOFT PUTTER!

    I have a Q Roll putter and the green-hugging roll is simply amazing. According to the above article a negative loft with a forward press doesn't work..... how wrong that article is!!!

    The worst putter I have tried was a C Groove putter. The sharp grooves with a forward press point downwards at impact and the back spin is awful.

    Take my advice and try one out and then tell the experts to shut up and ship out!

    p.s. I am 10 handicap player who has a 17 handicap long game but single figure short game - i would back my putting up against the best (if Sergio garcia is reading this, contact me for lessons ;)...... )

  17. brittsal says:

    i use a 3.5 degree in the winter on florida bermuda greens and a 4.5 degree in the summer. they work for me.

  18. rjvanro says:

    regarding negative loft...

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x8mrb1_dave-stockton-putting-at-the-taylor_sport

    Stockton is past negative 3 degrees at impact . .. so obviously it can work.

    Naysayers should open their minds to the possibility.

  19. Rasheed says:

    hey jack.. what kind of putter would u use one medium speed greens? last year i played a ping 1/2 craz-e, and this year i am starting out with a scotty cameron studio select center shaft putter with 15gram weights in it.. i felt like when i went ot courses with faster greens, i was blowing putts way past the hole with the ping putter.. do u think the scotty cameron w/ the 15 gram weights would be sufficient for all kinds of greens?

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