YOU GIVE WAY TOO MUCH CREDIT TO YOUR HANDS
Feel… what a subjective measurable when you are talking about putters. Let us take a deep dive in to the topic. Feel in my opinion should be classified in two categories, feel as it relates to hardness and feel as it relates to tangibles such as weight and length.
Feel as it relates to hardness is a particularly interesting topic and preference for this subjective measurable is all over the board. But, what I have noticed is so many players (and perhaps media hype leads to this) don’t fully understand “feel”. When I get a chance to talk to customers about feel I challenge them to put some headphones on, or ear plugs and notice how every putter “feels” the same. The reason is you hands really don’t have much to do about feel. You can get some feedback from your hands when you hit it off center and you can feel the head torque because of the off center hit. When it comes to feel as it relates to hardness – that is your ears doing the work.
THE HYPE AROUND FEEL
I have noticed a lot of hype around putters feeling soft, and that soft translates to quality. Is that true? To some a soft feeling putter is the only way to go, and that comes down to preference and I argue has nothing to do with quality. There are many ways to make a putter feel “soft”. The main two methodologies is to manipulate the material that makes contact with the ball. This family can include polymer inserts, sound dampening materials such as silicon around a metal insert, embedding that material in the face etc. I personally don’t have anything against polymer / plastic based inserts but I tend to feel more confident with a machined metal surface as you remove variables such as how that insert is adhered to the metal, the true “flat” surface, and how that insert is going to react to age and outside factors. Important to note, some great players have done great things with polymer inserts so their success overrides my personal trust factor.
The other way to manipulate sound is to reduce the surface area that makes contact with the ball. This can be done with “deep milling” patterns, or groves in any surface material. Think of it as if you were throwing a tennis ball at a solid stainless steel wall and you would hear a sound you would expect. Now, if that wall was made up of thousands of tiny stainless steel pins it would make a completely different and softer sound. The material hardness is the same, but the surface area making contact with that ball is reduced and it produces a different sound.
On the other side of the spectrum you can make a putter “ring” by implementing a “sound slot” or “floating face” in the bottom of the club that goes in the face of the club or that is visible at address in the flange. Or, you can simply find a model with a thin putter face by design that makes a higher pitch sound. Reminder, hardness is processed by our minds through the sound we hear, not the hardness we feel in our hands.
Other outside agents that manipulate sound is the ball you play, the putter grip you use and even in some cases the shaft you use. All can create different frequencies to our ear, and change the perception of hardness.
WHAT SOUND IS RIGHT FOR ME?
Alright, at this point when you are at your local golf retailer and rolling the rock on some nice flat carpet like conditions you may be changing your comments to “this putter sounds good” instead of “feels good”. The ideal sound for you is all about personal preference. Personally, I like a putter with a lot of sound feedback. The high degree of sound feedback lets me process a clear sound difference between a 3 footer and a 10 footer. I take that sound feedback as my feel and try to replicate that sound. I also find that higher pitch sound putters often give me the not so pleasant sound feedback on off center hits – so this influences my practice to try to hit the dead center every time because my ears tell me when I am not.
On the opposite side of the spectrum I think I can say for players who like the soft sound, they probably also like the nice smooth stroke they are trying to achieve. I can see how a softer sound translates in to a more fluid, even tempo stroke.
Think of some of your favorite players on tour:
Luke Donald: Soft Insert – Slow long stroke
Tiger in his prime – Smooth milled flat surface, short pop stroke
Both get it in the hole as good as anyone has ever seen, two completely different strokes and different putters. Personally, I think you should decide what you are trying to achieve in your stroke, and find the putter that mirrors the tempo you are going after.
And remember, don’t practice with your headphones on – your speed control is better when you can hear the contact.