Long putters - the broomstick-style flatsticks like Bernhard Langer has used for years - have been part of the golf equipment landscape for the last couple decades. Some players swear by them, and some would never touch one. The last few years saw a spike in the use of mid-length putters, also known as "belly" putters for the tendency of golfers to anchor the end of the shaft around their navel. Mid-length putters have the benefits of a long putter, mainly taking the wrists out of the putting stroke, while providing for a more traditional stance and stroke.
An interesting new twist on the belly putter idea comes from New Zealand's Puku Golf Company. Puku - which is Maori for belly - makes mid-length putters with an innovative design that allows golfers to adjust the length of the putter. We had the chance to try one out, and here's our gut feeling about it.
The standard length of a putter is 34 or 35 inches. Puku's three models are 36 inches… or 40 inches… or 45 inches… you get the picture. The unique adjustable grip section of the Puku putters allows you to set the length of the putter anywhere between 36" and 50".
The adjustments are easily made with a simple T-shaped tool Puku ships with each putter. Fitting yourself to the ideal length is a simple matter of trial and error. First, you use the tool to unlock the grip. You then telescope the grip higher or lower until you find a comfortable position, and you use the tool to lock the grip back in place. If you roll a few practice putts and it doesn't feel right, try it again. The grip slides smoothly up and down the putter shaft when it is unlocked, and stays snugly in place when it is locked. It took me only a few minutes and a dozen practice putts to find that I was most comfortable at just under 41".
Like other adjustable clubs, the Puku putters conform to USGA and R&A rules (unless you adjust them during a round, which is a no-no). Be sure to do your tinkering and adjusting on the practice green.
Aside from being adjustible, the Puku grip is also dramatically different. It has a reverse taper - instead of being thickest at the butt end and getting thinner toward the clubhead, the opposite occurs. The Puku grip is relatively thin at the butt end, then gets much thicker toward the clubhead. Puku intends this to be more ergonomic, and it does seem to help keep the hands more quiet during the putting stroke. The black soft rubber grip also has yellow notches down the sides. You're encouraged to use a black marker to cover the yellow notches where you are most comfortable gripping the club as a reminder of your ideal grip. A nice touch.
The shaft is a thick, True Temper parallel model that is quite stiff and heavy. The clubhead is cast from 303 stainless steel with a face that is double-milled to ensure flatness. Each of the three models in the Puku line - the FIO, the LCY, and the JME - are oversized heel-toe-weighted blades with sleek curved hosels. The putter heads weigh a hefty 420g each, compared with the 320-340g weight a standard length putter is apt to have. Each putter has a curved "rocker"-style sole with the Puku logo in raised, polished letters to serve as a design aid and to help the putter glide through the fringe or fairway grass if you putt from off the green.
The Puku putters aren't exactly a Bullseye, an 8802, or an Anser. The three models don't pretend to be anything other than contemporary, with lots of rounded corners and swooping angles. They look rather space age, like maybe something from an episode of The Jetsons - and that's not a bad thing. I'd describe the putters as having a friendly look to them. But if you're a traditionalist, you probably won't take to them. (Of course, if you're a traditionalist you're probably thinking that anchoring the putter to your body should be against the rules; talk amongst yourselves.)
The electroplated putter heads of the Puku putters are also quite minimalist compared with so many of today's busy-looking alignment putters. The FIO and JME models each have a single small dot on the topline for aiming, while the LCY model has a black sightline. The JME model I tested also has a black line that runs along the top line parallel to the leading edge of the putter. This subtle touch helped me confidently square the putter at address.
The curved hosel is also very distinct, and works well with the overall look of the clubheads. You can't see any of the hosel at address, thanks to the curved design and the shaft-over-hosel connection. Each model in the Puku line is face-balanced, which is good for players with square-to-square putting strokes.
Each Puku putter comes with a zippered headcover made of black velour with the Puku logo in yellow stitching, along with the T-tool for adjusting the putter's length and a very long ball-mark repair tool. Puku also ships a four-page guide to belly putting with each putter. It has brief sections on how to use a belly putter, from adjusting the grip to different styles of grips - standard, left-hand low, split, or "Claw" - you can try using with the reverse-taper grip on the Puku putter. The guide has instructive photos and is clearly written. If you've never tried a belly putter before, this is a very helpful part of the Puku package and a thoughtful inclusion.
Feel and Sound
I tested the JME model and found it to have good feel and sound. Frankly, you're not going to get a ton of feel from a putter this heavy nor with this stiff a shaft. You do get a sense of where you've struck each putt, which is a plus. Sound-wise, the JME model made a high-pitched "tink" sound when struck on the sweet spot, and a more muted sound on poor contact. This reminded me in a positive way of older Ping putters I used when I was growing up. The sound wasn't loud or abrasive, but it is different from the softer sounds of insert putters.
Once I had my Puku JME putter dialed in for length, I locked it up and headed for the practice green. I was able to find a comfortable stance and stroke fairly quickly - hands a little bit lower than with a standard putter, also standing a little taller than usual. But it still took me a couple 20-minute practice sessions to get a feel for distance control and to gain confidence in my stroke. After decades of putting with standard putters, it took a while to convince my grey matter that there was another way of rolling the rock.
After draining several 15-foot putts on the practice green one afternoon, the JME and I hit the course. I felt a little uncomfortable on the first few holes, but the Puku never let me down. After those first few holes, I was just as comfortable using the Puku as a standard putter.
Did the Puku shave several strokes off my game? No, but I can see where it would be a great help to someone fighting the yips or having a crisis of confidence on the greens. The heavier weight of the clubhead encourages a more relaxed stroke, and anchoring the putter to your body really helps keep your hands, wrists, and arms neutral. You just let the Puku do the work, and you get a sense that the putter is swinging itself.
Another nice side effect of using the Puku JME putter is that it seems to work as a great putting training aid. Much like swinging a heavy club can help your full swing, practicing with the heavy Puku putter helps my putting stroke. Using a standard putter, I have tightened my stroke and have less wrist action than before. I fully intend on using the Puku on the practice green on a regular basis, and on the course every once in a while to keep my stroke in good shape.
I think Puku has some great ideas behind its putters. I've been lucky (knock wood) to have always considered myself an OK putter and have never felt the agony of the yips. But I know people who grit their teeth every time they address a putt because they have so little confidence in that part of their game. I heartily recommend the Puku putters to players like this. The putters perform well, are very versatile and could turn a weak part of your game into a point of strength.
And if the idea of an adjustable grip sounds intriguing to you but not the idea of a belly putter, keep your eyes open for standard-length versions of the Puku putters in the near future.
Puku putters are available in the U.S. through pukugolf.com. Each of the three models is available for $290US in right- and left-handed versions, and shipping is included in that price (an extra $15 gets you express shipping).