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Wilson, within the Staff line, has made good irons for the last several years, although they have not done as well with their hybrids and woods. They also have the new TW wedge that has gotten good reviews.
Adams has such a reputation as making clubs only for old guys (a rep not helped by the fact so may Champions Tour players endorse them), but really make great clubs now for people of all levels. I know several pros are now playing their new Pro line (Pro Black maybe???) and I was really impressed with their Idea Pro and Idea Pro Gold sets. And for the hacker the A# line really does the job of helping average to bad players play better. Their hybrids are still among the best lines sold and now they are finally making some woods that are getting some positive reviews in the Speedline series (at least the drivers - not so sure about the woods).
The only downside is that many players feel like they have more control over the head with a shorter shaft because their hands are closer to the head. However, it's really a personal choice. Look at Robert Garrigus, who I would guess is a little over 6 foot and is using a putter that is 29 inches (maybe shorter) and of course now lots of players are using belly and long putters with success. It's all about finding a putter that fits you comfortable, confident putter stance and stroke instead of adjusting your stance and stroke to fit your putter.
I read something a few years ago about Tom Watson and he says he is a 'sweeper' more than a 'digger', taking small, shallow divots and then only with his wedges and irons. I have not watched closely enough to notice how big his divots are, so I'm not sure.
I used to be a 'sweeper', but about a year ago I changed my swing and started taking divots. My ball striking has improved so much it's scary since I began doing this. I very seldom catch a ball truly 'fat' now, although my misses are now thin ("Thin to win" as I heard Jack say one time). I also get much better control, more consistent ball flight and much more spin. Taking a divot itself doesn't mean much other than it's indicative that you have hit down and through the ball.
As you stated, choosing a putter is a personal preference and he best thing you can do is just try as many different models and configurations as possible. However, some things to think about
Insert vs. no insert - this has become a big personal choice thing for many golfers. Most inserts are a little softer than the metal used in the rest of the putters and will create a different sounds and feel than non-insert putters. Some people believe that distance control is easier with insert putters, but others will dispute that. Personally, I have found insert putters easier to control distance with. They might even cause forward spin a little sooner than non-insert putters, but that depends on several factors. This might be a good place to start with your selection process - decide if you prefer the insert or not. Of course not all inserts are the same so you need to try different models.
As for the question about 'milled', this is often an misunderstood term. This comes from a process post production where the face is machine milled to give it a perfectly flat surface. This is not in regards to the process of making the putter, which is...
Forged vs. cast - This is how the putter is made. Cast is a process where hot steel is poured into a 'cast' to create a shape. This process is often cheaper and most putters on the market are created in this way. Forged is a process of starting with a single piece of metal and shaping that to create the putter. Many people claim that forged putters are superior in feel, sound and quality while others will dispute it. Scotty Cameron putters are forged while Odyssey putters are cast. Most of the difference in sound and feel is more about the material used than the process itself (cast materials are often 'harder' than forged because a softer material is easier to shape in the forging process). Again, try both and see what you prefer.
Face weigting - For the most part their are 2 designs for weighting in the face of putters - heel-toe weighted, heel weighted and face balanced. The biggest difference in these is with your putting stroke. A h-t weighted putter has majority of weight in face in the heel and toe (with different percentage distributions of this weight across different models) as opposed to face balanced which evens the weight across the face. Most believe a heel-toe weighted putter is better for strokes that are inside-square-inside as it helps square the face for this stroke. If your stroke is more square-to-square it's believed that a face-balanced model works best as this helps keep the face square through the stroke. This is another important factor to consider based on you stroke and what feels right to you.
Hosel/shaft configuration - How the hosel connects to the head is a huge factor and one often overlooked. There are so many different designs from the plumbers neck to various shaft bends and offsets. Mostly the important thing is to find one that you like the looks of. For most inside-square-inside strokes a heel shafted model of some variety seems to better fit this stroke, while a center-shafted model often seems a better fit for square-to-square strokes, but it's such a personal thing that no rule really applies. It all comes down to your stroke and what gives you the best results.
Blade vs. Mallet - another big difference and again something that really seperates putters. Mallet putters are usually more forgiving on off-center hits (higher MOI) and may be easier to align because of their design, but many players find they get better 'feel' with blades (partially because of the MOI) and for those with inside-square-inside strokes they often think a blade is easier for this stroke (although lots of people with this stroke use mallets as well). Square-to-square stroke playes sometimes prefer mallets (which are often face balanced).
Other thing to also be aware of, although I will not bore you with too many details:
Length - do not overlook this, make sure you get right length for your stroke and do not adjust to fit putter.
Loft - putter lofts differ by a few degrees and based on your stroke (and the types of greens you play) it can help with smoother roll.
Overall weight - personal choice, but some find heavier putter easier to control while some feel lighter gives better feel.
Grip - larger grips help take hands and wrists out of putt while smaller can give better feel.
Try a lot of different putters with different configurations until you find what you prefer. After years of playing with lots of putters, I have settled (at least for now) on a 35 inch, center-shafted, face-balanced, insert mallet because it fits me best and gives me the most confidence.
All changes and improvement take patience and time. Many people don't improve because they aren't improving on a timeline they like and give up or change something else. If you're doing the right things (and your instructor will know this better than anyone on here and probably better than you), just stick with it. Chances are one day soon you'll have one of those rounds where all these changes just start to 'click' and the scores will happen. I went through this myself about a year ago with irons.
I would highly recommend a hybrid - probably a 4H (around 23* loft) since that is what usually replaces a 3i distancewise, although in some brands/models you might find a 3H fills the gap. Because there are so few standards in golf equipment this can be a guessing game at times. I have always found a 4H is close to the same distance as a well struck 3i, but with a higher trajectory and MUCH more forgiving. A 7W might also be a similar gap filler but might be longer (like 3H). Because hybrids have shorter shaft they are usually a little easier to hit than woods, though.
The best thing you can do is just try several models out and see which you like the feel of best. If possible, either try them on a real range or on a launch monitor so you can get an idea of distance and ball flight and how they fit what you are looking for. The TM Rescues are nice and are very popular so they are worth a look, although I have found others I prefer including the Mizunos I own and the Adams Idea Pro models.
If your ball striking is consistent enough then you should definitely look for something in a 'players iron' just because they tend to have a slightly higher center of gravity and thus a little lower trajectory ball flight. I am personally a huge believer in Mizunos, but most manufacturer's make something that will work. As for shafts I think the TT Dynamic Gold shafts are probably the best choice as they are a little heavier and not tip soft. I had always struggled with a really high ball flight until I switched to my currently MP-60's with DG S300's.
Last week I had my first 4 putt (almost a 5 putt) in at least a year, maybe a couple years. It was a par with big sloped green and I was a long way off on a green that is normally much faster than other greens on course. The green was wet and slow despite being a downhill slider so my first putt came up about 20 feet short (yea, I know I'm that good). Second putt was still about 6 feet short (on days when that green is fast that's about the point where putts will often end up rolling 10 feet off the green). My third putt I made sure not to be short again and it just slid across top of hole and rolled about 4 feet down and the across the slope leaving a relatively easy fouth putt up the hill with very little break. I just barely got that one in as it rolled around cup to drop.
A couple years ago I had my only 6 putt ever on a hole that was cut on the very edge of a steep slope - 4 inches past hole from above would be 10 feet past). The greens were lightening fast that day (long dry spell). From 10+ feet below the hole I hit 2 straight putts that didn't quite get to hole and came back to me, each further away than the last. My 3rd putt ran about 10 feet past as I wasn't about to come up short again. 4th putt was 4 feet short as I was trying to baby it then my 5th putt just rolled over edge and ended up down the hill again, about 12 feet or so. But being the clutch player I am I was able to hole that 6th putt.
You're going to lose some distance by going to a 15/16* hybrid over 3 wood. Just because it's the same loft doesn't mean it'll have same distance. You'll probably give up 10-20+ yards of distance (probably closer to the 20+). I would recommend looking at a 4W instead. It's much easier to hit off turf than most 3W and will be longer and higher than most 1H/2H. I played a 15* hybrid for a while, but because they are a lower trajectory and shorter shaft it lost quite a bit of distance. I finally broke down and bought a 17* 4W and have loved everything about it. It's as easy to hit as a 5W off turf, but is longer than that. I don't think I've lost much distance over the 3 wood at all (maybe a little off tee, but even that is minimal).
For these type of greens it helps to the ball rolling forward as quickly as possible. The backspin that is generated by the initial stroke slows the ball down and also causes bounces and unexpected results often on imperfect greens. There are a couple ways to do this. One way is to either buy a putter with more loft or have your putter adjusted to add a degree or 2 more loft. Another is to check out the putters that claim to generate top spin off the face (including the new Nike Method putter). The best way without buying a new putter may be the forward press. Just set up to ball as you normally do, but before you strike ball press your hands ahead of ball then strike ball, keeping your hands ahead. This creates a little top spin quicker because of catching ball higher on the face. For many players this tends to create a truer roll due to top spin happening sooner.
While working on your trajectory and creating additional spin, start playing to the front of the green distance instead of middle (usually take about 10+ yards off middle distance for front) or work on controlling the bump-n-run shots to let it hit short of green (when carry is not forced). I play with a guy who hits it very low but he simply plays to front or even 10+ yards short of green for his shots and has some success.
I'm not real picky overall, but have a few things I do not like. If a course has a lot of blind tee shots (especially blind 2nd shots) and lots of sidehill fairways I am probably not going to like it. Among my favorite courses would include 'target golf' courses, links 'style' courses and mountain courses. As long as the course is fair and gives some options I do not mind it. In most cases I would prefer the rough not be too tall and thick unless the fairways a pretty wide, though. I hate losing a ball when you know about where it's at but simply can't find it because of rough. At times I prefer shorter courses, but if course is a little more open I prefer the extra length. And as far as the 'look' of the course, I just prefer that every hole looks and plays a little differently than others - elelvation changes are a plus.
While it mostly depends on your swing speed and launch angle, you'll probably want to avoid any of the 'premium' balls because they are not designed for distance due to the softer cover. You'll want a ball with a firm cover and higher compression, and most likely a 2 piece. Something along the lines of the Pinnacle FX Long. With a faster swing speed a harder compression ball with firm cover will launch lower and with less spin, thus rollling out a lot. A lot of the balls that now claim to be 'longer' are actually a softer compression ball with firm cover and this may well be true if you're swing is not really fast. When it comes right down to it the individual ball isn't going to make that much difference unless your swing speed is at one extreme or the other.
FAQ's about balls:
Compression and Hardness test:
I've had a lot of rounds over the years that fit into that category as well as the oppsite (good score, but played bad). If I feel like I hit the ball well and just missed putts or got bad lies or just felt like I got some bad bounces then the score is irrelevant However, on those days where I played badly but got lucky breaks (ball hitting tree and ending up on green type things), made lots of long putts or holed chips then I just don't feel like the score indicative of my round.
Yesterday I didn't feel like I played particularly well, but shot a 79 (par 71, 68.1/121). I had 4 double bogeys, 2 bogeys, 2 birides and 8 pars with only 29 putts. Actually, when I was adding up the score I had shot much better than I had thought (I had expected to be close to 90), but wasn't really happy because I had those 4 doubles (all were result of bad tee shots) and bogied 2 that should have been birdie chances (both inside 80 yards off tee in fairway).