Putting is, in many ways, the simplest skill in golf. Being a good putter comes down to three basic skills – controlling the initial direction of the putt, gauging the speed, and reading greens. Our company was founded on the basic engineering principle of spreading the mass in the putter head to increase the Moment of Inertia (forgiveness) and help off-center hits roll on a line and with speed more similar to center hits.
A very interesting challenge is understanding how the putter might help a player start the ball on the intended line more consistently. Different players line up better with different head shapes and alignment features. This doesn’t necessarily mean having a perfectly square alignment at address – even most of the best putters in the world have a bias in their address alignment. We need to measure the ability to regularly hit the intended start line. This field of understanding how the shape, colour and features of the putter affect alignment is part engineering, part psychology and part physiology. We have been enhancing our research by using tools such as eye tracking glasses (which tell us exactly where a player’s gaze is focused before, during and after the putting stroke) and partnering with academic experts in the field to dig deep into this interesting area.
We have done research aimed at identifying some general rules we could use to categorize players who would perform well with particular alignment features. We asked a large group of players to try putters of all kinds of shapes, sizes, colors and alignment cues. We then used a technique called “cluster analysis” that groups together players with similar preferences and performance outcomes. For example, it would identify that “John” is pretty similar to “Jane” in terms of optimum putter alignment archetype – they are in the same “cluster”. What we found was that the vast majority of players fall into four different archetypes based on the primary feature they use for alignment.
These are the four archetypes:
Players who use the top rail as an alignment aid will typically pair this perpendicular alignment feature with a small line behind it but sometimes they prefer a simple dot or even nothing at all. Often players will comment that they like a very “clean top rail”; other lines and shapes on the putter can be considered distracting to this golfer.
This group of players predominantly use a ball-width alignment feature such as parallel lines a ball width apart or some kind of optigraphic shape such as the hole in the middle of the Fetch putter shown above. Some blades can have ball-width alignment lines too. This player will often use language such as “this putter frames the ball really well”.
Players who putt well with mallet-style putters find great value in the length of the alignment feature. For some players, a long alignment style can become distracting, but for this group it helps provide confidence in the alignment. We hear comments like “alignment is automatic with this putter”.
Front to Back
This final group of players putt best with an alignment feature that extends all the way up to the ball. Often this player will comment that the top rail actually gets in the way of effective alignment. Research we did a few years ago showed that this was an underserved area in our putter line, which led directly to many of these designs.
Over the years we have found that many players don’t give much thought to why certain putters “suit their eye”. With a little prompting on which of these four alignment archetypes they identify with most, we can help many golfers narrow down their choices in the putter corral. Our research indicates when a player perceives they can line up their putter easily, they usually have better performance. In this area, a player should feel confident about trusting their senses.
Putter designs can satisfy two or three of these types of features. When we design a range of putters, our team tries to offer a range of putters to suit each alignment archetype, all stroke types (from straight back straight through
to strong arc), and a range of head weights to offer assistance with stable short putting or skillful lag putting.
Visiting the putter corral can be somewhat overwhelming for many golfers, with such a vast array of putter styles to choose from. I hope that by reading through this article you can find the alignment archetype that best suits you, and marry that to the rest of the fitting elements to ultimately allow you to Play Your Best.
Paul Wood, PhD
Vice President of Engineering
Paul coordinates a department responsible for club design, product development, innovation, testing, prototyping and manufacturing engineering. He joined PING in 2005 after completing a PhD in Applied Mathematics at St. Andrews University, Scotland. He began his career as a research engineer, studying the physics of ball flight, the club-ball impact and many other aspects of golf science. He was part of the team that created both the iPING and nFlight fitting tools.