New putters an ace in the hole

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:38 PM ET

ORLANDO, FLA. -- It has been lost in the shadow of the big-headed, ever-expanding, big-ticket driver. But the lowly putter is about to come out of that shadow. This year's PGA Merchandise Show just might be the coming out party for the putter.

On Wednesday's "Demo Day" on the range and practice greens of the Orange County National Golf Centre, some of the biggest crowds were around the stations for the putter manufacturers.

The technology gurus, having pretty much come near the end of the metal wood technology curve, have turned their attention to the putter. It appears the biggest gains to be had in technology (and, thus, new club sales) are in the putter market.

Studies about how the ball reacts off the putter face are providing clubmakers with the information that is fuelling their quest to make a new generation of putters.

"Over the last 40 years, there have been many changes to the game of golf," said Larry Garcia, the founder and vice-president of Q-Roll Golf, a putter maker. "Every single thing has changed -- spikes, bags, caps, sunglasses. But as far as putters go, since PING introduced the Anser putter in 1966, not much else has changed.

"You go in pro shops and putters are head and toe weighted with a lofted face. There have been some unique alignment features (like Odyssey's popular 2-Ball), but nothing much else has changed."

Oh, but, it's changing now.

The hot technology at this year's show involves developments to reduce the skidding and hopping of the ball off the putter face and redistributing the weight throughout the club. Reducing the skidding and hopping, the thinking goes, will keep the ball on line better and help with distance control.

Q-Roll and Aserta Sports are using two different approaches to reduce skidding and get the ball rolling sooner off the club face. Both involve having the energy of the strike transferred to the ball above its equator, encouraging topspin and a forward roll.

What they're saying:

- Q-Roll uses what it calls "radius face technology." Rather than the 4o of loft on most putter faces, the Q-Roll's leading edge is its top edge, striking the top half of the ball. The company claims that gets the ball rolling forward faster and that's "critical to distance control," said Garcia, "when you don't have the ball slobbering and sliding across the green."

- Aserta uses what it calls "Inverted Mass Technology" to put most of the mass of the putter above the ball's equator. In its newest model, the mallet-headed "The Monster" -- which begins shipping to retailers in March and will list at $199.95 US -- the company uses lightweight aircraft-grade aluminum in the sole (70 grams) and heavy, "weapons-grade" stainless steel for the top and face (280 grams). "This is not a phony gimmick," Aserta Sports president Richard Selmeier told the Sun. "What the ball is supposed to do is roll forward with top spin and we've created a tool to do that. It produces a much more determined forward roll."

Another club coming out this spring that's creating a buzz here is the Heavy Putter ($285-$400 US, depending on the model). It is what the name says it is. The head weighs between 450 and 550 grams (it comes with interchangeable weights) compared to 330-350 grams for a conventional head (think of it being about a quarter pounder with cheese heavier than a typical putter).

The trick is there is also a weight (about 250 grams) in the grip end of the shaft to raise the balance point of the putter closer to the hands.

"The higher weight of the club targets different muscles and creates more of a pendulum stroke," said inventor Steve Boccieri. "Without the weight in the grip end, it would be like a bowling ball on the end of a string. You wouldn't be able to control it."

The new putters are carrying moderate price tags compared to the new generation of drivers. It used to be you would putt for dough, but now, if you want to embrace the latest technology for the flatstick, you're going to have to have dough for the putter.

Golfers have shown they're willing to shell out $600 for the newest driver technology and that's a club that you'll use maybe only 12-14 times a round.

If you think about it, $200 or $300 for a club you are going to use for about a third of your strokes is probably a better investment. Especially when a good flatstick has the potential to knock more strokes off your game than that big stick.

chris.stevenson@ott.sunpub.com


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