How to Select a Putter

There are several factors that need to be considered when you shop for the right putter, each of which plays an important role in how well you’ll perform on the greens.

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In Behavioral Theory, there’s a term called “overchoice,” which was first coined by Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book Future Shock. Basically, it describes the phenomenon that occurs when consumers become overwhelmed when presented with an overly large number of options to choose from and therefore struggle to make a decision.

If you’ve shopped for a putter recently, then you may be able to relate to this. In fact, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine that Toffler may have come up with the term while shopping for a putter! The display of putter options at your local golf retailer is a dizzying array of shapes, lengths, shafts, hosels, and even colors. How’s a golfer to choose?

This article will help you with that decision. There are several factors that need to be considered when you shop for the right putter, each of which plays an important role in how well you’ll perform on the greens. It would be nice if you could simply choose the putter that looks the best to you. But, unfortunately, it’s not usually the case that selecting a putter simply based on aesthetics is sufficient. You need to be a better-educated shopper to ensure that your new putter is not only pleasing to your eye, but also maximizes your effectiveness.

Here's the factors to consider when shopping for the perfect putter:

  • Looks
  • The arc of your stroke
  • Feel
  • Length
  • Lie Angle
  • Price

Looks

Although selecting a putter based only on how it looks would be ill-advised, it’s certainly an important factor, nonetheless. Putting is a part of the game that requires confidence and it’s simply hard to be confident if you don’t like the way your putter looks.

Essentially, there are two putter shapes that you’ll find: blades and mallets.

A Blade putter is the traditional style of putter head that’s been around since golf began. It’s defined by its relatively conventional, simpler, and thinner head shape. Until relatively recently, the blade dominated the putter market. In fact, it wasn’t until the mid-1970’s when the mallet was first introduced, offering golfers a choice in styles for the first time.

And while there have certainly been modifications to the blade over the years aimed at making it more playable (e.g., when Ping introduced the Anser putter in 1966 with its unique cavity back design and offset hosel), they have always maintained their somewhat straightforward, minimalist look. In fact, this understated design is precisely what attracts many golfers and is often why blade devotees prefer this style over the bulkier mallet.

Mallet heads are generally larger than their blade counterparts and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Some golfers may be predisposed to this bigger profile because they simply prefer the look, and others may feel that having some extra weight behind the ball inspires confidence.

But, more importantly, the shape of mallet putters provides a couple of significant technological advantages over blade putters. Due to the mallet’s added size, designers are able to incorporate features that can’t be accommodated nearly as well on a blade. The extra “real estate” available on a mallet offers them the ability to re-position weight around the head in a way that makes it more stable at impact, and to optimize the placement of the center-of-gravity to produce better launch conditions.

Typically, in blade putters, a toe-side mishit will tend to twist the putter face open at impact, while a heel-side mishit will twist the head closed. In either case, accuracy will suffer.

Mallets, on the other hand, are better able to resist this tendency to twist open or closed, even on a mishit, so that they can stay squarer to the intended line. This resistance to twisting is referred to as the putter’s Moment of Inertia (MOI) and is what makes mallet putters more forgiving than blade putters. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that, because of this significant advantage that mallets offer, they have overtaken blades in usage, both among amateur golfers and even on the PGA Tour. In fact, sales of mallets now outpace sales of blades by a factor of 2-to-1.

Because amateur golfers often mishit their putts, it is highly recommended that they look for putters with a high MOI when they are shopping. And since mallet putters almost always have higher MOIs than blade putters, it’s recommended that most amateurs opt for a mallet putter.

The Arc of Your Stroke

Before you even begin shopping for a putter, you should first identify what kind of stroke path that you make when you putt. Golfers will naturally have one of two types of stroke path: either a path that moves in an “arc” shape or one that moves more or less in a straight line back and through. Have a friend stand behind you, looking down your target line, as you take some practice strokes to help you identify which is your natural stroke path. Here’s why it’s important to know that information before you head to the store.

Like a golfer’s putting stroke path, the putters themselves also exhibit a natural tendency to move in certain ways when they are swung, based on their design.

Blade putters, because they are usually “toe-balanced” (meaning there is more weight at the toe end of the putter), will tend to naturally open slightly on the back swing and close slightly on the through swing. Because of this inclination of blade putters to move in an arc, they are best suited to golfers who also have a corresponding tendency to swing their putter in an arc. So, golfers who had previously identified that their stroke tends to move in an arc should seek out a putter that is in sync with this natural stroke path (i.e., a blade putter).

In contrast, the natural tendency of mallet putters is to move more in a straight line, on the back stroke and through the ball. This is because mallets are usually “face balanced,” with weighting that helps it to limit face rotation during the stroke. So, golfers who had previously identified that their stroke tends to move in a straight line (with less of an arc), should seek out a putter that is in sync with this natural stroke path (i.e., a mallet putter).

Feel

Feel is an important consideration when choosing a putter, although it’s one that you don’t hear talked about very much. Some putters will have a relatively firm feel at impact, while others will have a softer feel. Yes, feel is obviously a subjective perception, but it makes sense to know which your preference is before you begin shopping, and to then include that criterion in your selection process as you test some putter candidates.

Insert Face vs Milled Face
Insert Face vs Milled Face

In addition to it being a basic preference, though, there actually are reasons that one may be more effective for you than the other. If the greens that you typically play on are slow, then you may find more success with a firmer putter. But if you usually play on very fast greens, your touch may be enhanced by choosing a softer feel.

What is it that determines if a putter has a firmer or softer feel? That comes down to the type of face technology that is used in the putter. Today’s putters usually feature one of two face types, either one with a complex “milled” pattern, or one that employs a face insert. Although it’s no longer a universal fact and there certainly are exceptions, milled putters will typically transmit a firmer feel to the golfer, while face inserts will usually feel softer.

Length

To be a consistently effective putter, it’s important that you set up properly to the ball at address. Ideally, you want your eyes directly over the ball (or just slightly inside the ball), and you want your arms to hang down directly below your shoulders. Being in this position allows you to see the putting line better, to aim the putter face directly to your intended line, and to make a smooth, tension-free stroke.

But it’s impossible to assume this correct stance if the putter you are using is not the correct length. If the putter you use is too long, it will force you to stand too upright causing your eye-line to fall too far to the inside of the ball. A putter that is too short will do the opposite. You’ll be forced to bend over too much from the waist, causing your eye-line to fall outside the ball. In either case, you won’t be in the best position to visualize the correct line and to make a proper stroke.

Its hard to overstate the importance of getting fit for the proper length. With putting strokes consuming over 40% of your total score, you’d think that golfers would want to make sure that the one club they use more than any other would be properly fit. But that’s not the case. A large majority (about 80%!) of amateur golfers use putters that have the wrong length based on their height, arm length, and putting stance.

Unless you’re familiar with the fitting process for putter length, it’s easy to fall victim to buying the incorrect length. Typically, you’ll find putters come in one of three lengths: 33”, 34” or 35”, but by far the one you’ll see most in stores is the 35” length, which explains why about 80% of all putters sold are that length. But unless, you’re over 6 feet tall, a 35” putter is likely the wrong length for you.

Here's an interesting fact that should highlight this for you: the average height of a PGA Tour player today is approximately 6 feet, and yet the average putter length on Tour is 33 ½”. And yet most amateurs, regardless of height, use a 35” putter, simply because that is what is marketed as “standard.” You need to do what the pros do. Figure out what length is ideal for you based on your height and ignore what the stores sell as the standard length.

Fortunately, determining your ideal putter length is not difficult and is something you can do yourself right from your home. Check out our article here on how to measure for your perfect putter length. Then, when you shop for a putter, you can zero in on only those that match your ideal length.

Lie Angle

Like feel, lie angle is another important factor in putter selection that is almost never discussed. Most golfers are familiar with how lie angle works on your irons and the importance it plays in allowing you to make consistent contact that launches the ball on your target line. However, the issue is rarely brought up as an important consideration in putter fitting. But it should be.

An overly simplistic explanation would be to simply suggest that all golfers who are shopping for a putter make sure that the putter head lies perfectly flat on the ground when you’re at address. If the toe of the putter is elevated higher than the heel, the head is basically aimed to the left, and you’ll always struggle to start your putts on the correct line. If you find that you tend to pull a lot of putts to the left, one immediate suspect to check is if the toe of your putter is elevated. Similarly, if the putter heel is raised off the ground, the head is actually aimed to the right, and you’ll tend to miss a lot of putts to the right. Only by having a putter head that sits perfectly flat on the ground can you ensure that your aim is correct.

For most amateurs, simply making sure your putter head is level to the ground will be sufficient. But for those who may want to dig a little deeper into the putter lie angle issue, here’s a “pro tip” offering a more technical and detailed explanation that describes the importance of getting the lie angle right:

It starts with accepting the instructional principle that, to be a good putter, it’s essential that the angle of the putter shaft at address is in line with the angle of your forearms. In other words, there should be a continuous straight line all the way from the putter head up to your elbow. If you study the best putters in the world, they almost all exhibit this setup position.

However, there is an angle issue that you should be aware of when trying to establish this straight-line setup position.

The fact is that the lie angle of almost every putter shaft on the market is about 71°,

Lie Angle
Calculating the lie angle

which is the angle that the shaft is relative to the putter head (a shaft that is perfectly vertical would be at 90°). But while the shaft is at 71°, the angle that almost every person’s forearms hang when standing erect is anywhere from 73° - 76°. You can begin to see the problem. While you ideally want your forearms and the putter shaft to line up at address, this reveals that there can be as much as a 5° difference between the two (76° vs. 71°). This differential can obviously make it difficult to line the shaft up with your forearms.

Since you can’t change the angle of your forearms, the answer would be to get a putter that has a shaft angle that matches your forearm angle. So instead of going with a standard, off-the-rack shaft angle of 71°, you should experiment with a shaft angle that matches your forearm angle, which is 73° to 76°. Getting those two angles sync’d up should result in an almost immediate improvement in how you roll the ball.

Most club fitters have the kinds of tools that can bend a putter shaft, and you may want to seek out a fitter who can increase your putter shaft’s lie angle to match up with your forearm angle.

Price

It would be foolish to suggest that price should play no role in your selection criteria. Obviously, it does with putter prices ranging all the way from sub-$100 models up to $450 for premium models from Scotty Cameron, Bettinardi, Evnroll, and others.

If you can afford one of the premium brands, you can be assured you’re getting a putter with high-grade materials, unparalleled craftsmanship, and a prestigious reputation - our personal ideal choice would be any of the clubs from this list of Scotty Cameron putters.

But you shouldn’t assume that you need to buy one of these high-priced models to get a quality putter that will work for you. There are literally hundreds of putters on the market, so regardless of the price range that your budget will allow, there are dozens of more wallet-friendly models that will meet your selection criteria for looks, stroke arc, feel, length and lie angle.


Final Thoughts

Too often, golfers select a putter based simply on how it looks to them, without regard to the important factors that will determine how it performs. Rather than buying a putter that looks good to you but doesn’t meet all your criteria, and then struggling to conform to it, you should understand up front what factors are ideal for you and then buy a putter that conforms to you. Hopefully this article has helped you to determine what those factors are.

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