The Putter Grip:
"Unique"

The putter grip is indeed unique. This is because the putter is the only club in the bag where the grip does not have to be circular in cross section.

Prior to 1908 there were no rules governing clubs, but as the game grew there was a need for some regulation. In the late 1940s the rules relating to the putter grip were changed. The grip still had to be substantially straight and plain, but it could now have flat sides.

When I was learning the game as a youngster all grips were leather and there was no choice. The putter grip was a long strip of leather that was spiraled around the shaft and bound in place by twine.

It was not uncommon for the grip to work itself loose and unravel during the round thus changing the playing characteristics of the club. Prior to 1956 this was not a problem as the rule stating that "the player or other agency shall not change the playing characteristics of a club during a round" was not yet in force.

Nevertheless, to prevent such an unfortunate occurrence I secured my putter grip at each end with a tack hammered into the hickory shaft. As leather grips soon became shiny, a useful golf accessory was a resin bag similar to that used by bowlers. The resin rubbed on your hands helped you to maintain a secure grip on the club.

In 1949 a certain Mr Thomas Fawick, an industrialist and inventor, got the idea that rubber might make a good material for a golf grip. To promote his idea he started a company in Akron, Ohio named Golf Pride.

Initially the first rubber grips were moulded on to the shaft, but in 1953 the slip-on grip was developed providing a viable alternative to the leather grip. It was cheaper and easier to fit.

In 1958 Tommy Bolt won the US Open using Golf Pride slip-on grips and this helped to hasten the decline of the leather grip.

The purpose of the grip as described in the Rules of Golf is to enable the player to obtain a firm hold. How firm you should hold your putter and how you should grip it is a matter of preference. There is no one correct way. After all in golf it is a case of how many, not how, that counts.

Before the advent of rubber grips all putter shafts were circular in cross section and were fitted with a spiral leather grip. The most popular way of holding the putter was the reverse overlap grip. This was simply a variation of the Harry Vardon overlapping grip used for the full swing.

With the dawn of rubber grips and the concession that putter grips could deviate in design from other grips, manufacturers were free to experiment with new shapes.

The development away from the customary circular grip was fueled by the improvement of putting surfaces and the resultant change in the style of putting.

One of the earlier grips was the flat-sided pistol grip. I have in my collection an old Kel Nagle Bulls Eye putter fitted with this grip. By today’s standards it feels more like holding a pencil in your hands.

The most popular putter grip design is the paddle grip. It is oval in shape with a broad flange at its front. The broad flat surface allows you to extend your thumbs straight down the shaft as an aid to squaring the putterface. Most off-the-shelf putters are fitted with this grip.

For golfers with arthritis in their hands there is a jumbo grip. This is basically a standard paddle grip, but with a wider cross section.

Recently there has been a sea change in the direction of super oversize grips. The Rules allow a cross section of 1.75 inches, and manufacturers have seen an opportunity to use this provision to increase sales.

You now have grips that are wide enough to fit both thumbs comfortably side by side on the grip. The main argument advanced for the super oversize grip is not to provide the arthritic golfer with further relief, but to help all golfers to quieten their wrists during the putting stroke.

One of the faults of putting on fast greens is overactive wrists. This has lead Andy North, dual US Open winner, to express the view that "the key is not a new putter. The key is a better putter grip".

It is claimed that the oversize grip reduces grip pressure as well wrist action. The argument is that a smaller grip requires more tension to hold the club firm. This is a disadvantage as too much hand tension can lead to tension in the putting stroke.

When large money is at stake it doesn’t take much to get a professional golfer’s attention. Anything that promises to prevent the wrists in putting from hinging and rolling is worth a second look.

It was this claim that drew K J Choi to the SuperStroke putter grip that was featured in an infomercial on the Golf Channel. He went on to win the 2007 AT & T National at Congressional Country Club using this rectangular shaped grip on his Odyssey putter.

I have bought a number of different super oversized grips for testing. Without getting too technical it is important to know that a heavier grip will make the putter head seem lighter.

It may take some time to get accustomed to the new feel. New composite materials in the pipeline promise to bring down the weight of the grip in the future.

In the meantime the biggest problem for the weekend golfer is a problem of space. The putter won’t fit conveniently into a stand bag unless you ditch other clubs. Even a cart bag with an external putter tube can’t accommodate the wider grip.

However, when you are sinking putts and raking in the money bets, this may seem small potatoes.


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