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Finding the right putter

by Dave Pelz, golf instructor

Imagine wearing shoes that are too small and hurt your feet but you keep them on because the price was right or they’re in style. Crazy? Golfers do something like this all the time by using putters that don’t fit.

Maybe the putter was a gift or it looked good in the store. Doesn’t matter. Putters are like shoes: If they don’t fit, they hurt! I don’t mean a putter will hurt you physically, but it will hurt your game. And that pain can be even worse.

Some golfers even spend years trying to use a putter that was built to fit someone else: They adjust their stance and stroke to fit the putter instead of the other way around.

To do your best on the greens, you need a putter that is custom-fit to your body size, stance, and stroke. Here’s what to look for.

The angle doesn’t lie
I’ve taken my preferred putting posture—eyes above the putting line (Aimline) and hands directly under my shoulders. As you can see by where the grip touches my hands, both putters are the proper length. But neither has the right lie angle—the angle of the shaft coming out of the head: One is too upright (above my hands), the other too flat (below my hands). Having spent years developing a stroke that swings my hands under my shoulders (so the putter moves straight back and through along my Aimline), I’m not about to use a putter that forces my hands onto another path.

Just as important is to keep my eyes directly above the line, the position that produces the most accurate putter aim. When both my eyes and hands are in these ideal positions, and my posture (back angle) is comfortable, a properly-fit putter (correct lie angle and length) will slip perfectly into my hands.

Body putter basics
If you use a “body putter”—like Vijay Singh, Fred Couples, Paul Azinger and many other pros—length and lie angle remain important. From this photo (right) you can see that a more upright putter moves me closer to the ball. You may be able to find a body putter lie and shaft length that positions your eyes above the Aimline.

If you’re considering a longer putter, spend a few minutes in the shop trying different lengths. Then take a few putters to the practice green and put each one through a 10– to 15–minute putting session. That should be enough time to learn which length and lie angle works best for you. You may want to ask your pro to check your hand and eye positions and watch your stroke mechanics.

On the leather
Many golfers switching to long putters neglect to check grip position (below).The grip must be at the correct height on the shaft so your hands are “on the leather” without any adjustments. Your pro should be able to replace a grip that doesn’t fit you perfectly.

Stick with your pick
Now that you know what a properly fit putter looks like, I suggest finding two (or more) that suit your body and posture—one with a conventional-length shaft, the other with a longer shaft. Take them to the practice putting green and test your feel and performance with each one: Measure the percentage of short putts (3- to 6-footers) holed and how close you lag the long ones (from 40 to 60 feet). Play enough contests or games with both until you know which one lets you putt best.

As soon as you are sure which one is better, commit to that putter for the rest of the year. Use it when you practice and when you play: Don’t even touch another putter! You want to become totally comfortable and secure with your one and only.

It’s just like wearing shoes that fit and make your feet feel good. Use a putter that fits and you’ll be thrilled as putt after putt finds the hole.