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Magic Putter?

Choosing golf's magic putter is one of the most important decisions you can make in golf; that and choosing a reliable driver.

The putter for all its vexations, is a thing of the confidence, of the affections.

Henry Leach, English golf writer - The American Golfer, August 1918

Being ill-fitted to your putter is an automatic recipe for bad putting. Cary Middlecoff in his book Master Guide to Golf ventured that "the selection of the putter that fits your game is a delicate affair of courtship and marriage."

Having a magic putter in your hand is not new to the game of golf. The American Golfer in February 1921 contained excerpts from Willie Park’s book The Art of Putting published the previous year. On the subject of choosing a putter he had this to say.

"The first consideration is to get the right club with which to putt. There are many different kinds of putters. There are broad-soled, narrow-soled, bent-necked, straight-necked, long-shafted, light and heavy putters. In fact, there is practically no end to the variety, but the merits claimed for them are extremely doubtful. A great deal depends upon the club. People often hear the expression, 'A bad workman blames his tools.' That may be so; nevertheless, a good workman must have good tools."

Stories abound about the love-hate relationship formed between golfer and putter. Bobby Jones used a simple offset blade putter named Calamity Jane after the famous woman sharpshooter from the Old West during the late 1800s.

In the 1927 British Open which he won, he was hoisted high "on fervent shoulders and holding his putter, Calamity Jane, at arm's length over his head lest she should be crushed to death." On another less auspicious occasion he is reported to have thrown his putter over the heads of the gallery and into the woods.

Bobby Locke, considered by many as a genius on the green, used to sleep with his hickory-shafted steel blade putter on tour to avoid any chance of it being stolen. He referred to his putter as his 'pay-off club'.

More recently Craig Stadler is quoted as saying the reason why he was using a new putter was because the old one didn’t float too well.

What makes for a magic putter? There are many hundreds of putter models from which to choose. They range from the conventional to the extraordinary to the exotic. There are putters with heads of all shapes and sizes.

If you are a high handicapper you should probably avoid classic blade styled putters as they are more difficult to use, and don’t have good alignment aids.

There are putters that offer an assortment of replaceable faces and changeable weights. There are custom-made putters out of jade, marble, petrified wood and a variety of agate. If you want a wooden putter with a wooden head or hickory shaft, there are a number of models to choose from.

So how do the professionals choose their magic putter? For Brad Faxon the sound at impact is important as he regards this as being part of feel. His Scotty Cameron putter is well worn with a strip of lead on the bottom. A narrow slit in its sole about half an inch deep running the length of the blade gives him the sound that he wants.

Greg Norman writes in his book Advanced Golf "My preference has always been for a putter with the shaft near the heel. Although I have tried the center-shafted Bull’s Eye at various times, I have always come back to my perimeter-weighted putter in the end. It gives me a better feel for the stroke, with its shaft close to the heel."

For other tour professionals it is one that feels good on the day? They flit from putter to putter like butterflies gathering nectar. Of course it helps if you don’t have to pay every time you change your mind. However, the really good putters find a true friend and stick with it through thick and thin.

Ben Crenshaw, inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2002, has putted throughout his career with a Wilson 8802 blade putter that his father bought for him in Harvey Penick’s shop for $20. It came to be known simply as 'Little Ben'. Ironically Crenshaw won both his Masters titles using a Cleveland blade putter, not his trusty 'Little Ben'.

Todd Sones, one of the top 100 teaching professionals in the United States and author of the book Lights-Out Putting, estimates that 80 to 85 percent of the people that he tests are using putters that don't fit them.

You should bear in mind that, if your fundamentals are wrong, you are just as likely to putt badly with a $300 top-of-the-range putter as with one bought second-hand for $40. Following others and the marketing hype in golf literature is not a good way to choose your magic putter.

The best advice is to buy an inexpensive second-hand putter that you like the look of, either a heel-toe weighted putter in the style of the Ping Anser 2, or a face-balanced mallet putter and have it custom fitted by a club fitter to match your height and arm length.

What you are trying to discover are the correct specifications for you in terms of your magic putter’s length and lie angle. This is because when you set up to putt, you want your eyes to be over the ball, and your arms to hang naturally under your shoulders. Once you know your specifications, you can splash out, should you wish, on a more expensive model.

However, a final word of caution. You can’t buy a good putting game. Nor can you inherit it. You still need to learn how to make a fundamentally sound stroke that is easy to repeat under pressure.

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