Brought to You by Ben Crane
Whether you have just decided it is time to switch up your putter, or you need a replacement for your old one that is now at the bottom of a pond, you owe it to yourself to look into mallet putters. These large-headed putters are now a driving force in the industry, and for good reason. Mallet putters can help make our good puts better, and they may actually reduce the damage of our worst putts. So is a mallet putter right for you? Let’s find out.
When you get down to the nuts and bolts, there are really only two types of putters: blades and mallets.
The conventional blade-style putter hasn’t changed much in the past 50 years. It is essentially the same flat stick that has existed throughout the history of golf. A blade owes its simplicity to the uncomplicated task for which it was designed. After all, how difficult is it to roll a ball?
The issue is not that there hasn’t been innovation in conventional putters. In their modern incarnations, these relatively small clubheads have incorporated scientific principles to help the ball get rolling with less of the hopping and skipping that can throw putts offline. However, blade putters lack the real estate to allow engineers to tinker. That’s where mallet putters come into their own.
It doesn’t take much experience in the game of golf to see the difference between conventional putters and mallets. A mallet putter is considerably longer front to back than a blade. This extra space accomplishes a few things that are impossible with the much smaller conventional flat sticks. Here are some benefits of mallets.
It’s not for nothing that mallets are larger than blades. Their additional size gives mallets extra heft, which affects the effort the golfer has to make in the hit. Mallets promote a pendulum swing, one in which the ball simply gets in the way of the stroke. The first thing many players notice when they try a mallet for the first time is how much better they can control the distance of the putt. That speed control is a direct result of simply letting the clubhead do the work.
When you compare one blade to another, it can be difficult to pick out many differences at all. Thanks to modern manufacturing processes, there are new materials and designs available all the time. Blades are certainly incorporating many of these innovations, but not nearly to the extent that mallets are. Mallets give engineers the ability to push weight far from club face, increasing stability and forgiveness of less-than-perfect strikes.
There is a reason why some of the most popular mallet putters in the game look as though they were invented by mad scientists. Manufacturers know that there is literally nothing that struggling golfers will not try if they think it might help them get the ball in the hole. They are freed up to push the envelope, allowing function to lead and aesthetics to follow. The results may appear convoluted at times, but they are the result of a marriage between computer aided design (CAD) and physics that has only recently become possible.
In putting, we are simply rolling a ball along the green. It is seemingly simple but deceptively complicated. One of the problems that we all face when putting is the difficulty in getting the ball rolling quickly. Just watch below video of the ball coming off the face of Rickie Fowler’s putter.
That skidding is universal, and it is one of the things that makes distance difficult to judge.
Skidding may be impossible to eliminate, but that hasn’t stopped engineers from trying. We can all reduce skidding with an altered putting stroke. Delofting the clubface and hitting up on the ball are combinations that many golfers employ, and they can certainly work wonders (as this video proves). But using your hands to manipulate the putt is inconsistent at best, which is why manufacturers lean on science to accomplish a quicker-rolling putt.
The concept of perimeter weighting on golf clubs dates back to the mid-1960s. It was the brainchild of Karsten Solheim, the founder of Ping and the inventor of the Anser putter. The original Anser was no accident. Solheim had set out to use simple physics principles to improve putter performance. That he succeeded is evidenced by the quick adoption of the Anser by PGA TOUR players of the day, and Ping continues to update the model.
Perimeter weighting is the practice of moving weight toward the toe, heel, sole or crown of the club. It effectively increases the size of the sweet spot, reducing the negative consequences of off-center hits. Almost all modern putters employ the concept of perimeter weighting, but the mallet styles are able to take it to extremes not possible in a blade.
This is a physics principle that describes how easy or difficult it is to cause an object to twist. If you’ve ever hit a driver off the toe and felt the club head flex and then flip the ball left of left, then you know how detrimental a twisting golf club can be. This problem is universal across golf clubs, which is why manufacturers tout their clubs’ stability. The more stable a club is on off-center strikes, the higher its MOI will be.
An objects mass is directly related to its MOI. More massive objects are inherently more stable than lighter ones, which is basically common sense. We can intuit that a mallet will generally be more stable than a blade based on its size alone. Additionally, manufactures can use the extra space allowed in a mallet to push weight to the perimeter and increase MOI further.
Because they have high MOI and larger sweet spots, mallet putters are far more forgiving of mis-hits than any other putter yet invented. Toe and heel strikes roll truer to the intended line, and they have closer to the intended distance.
If you struggle on the greens, you may be missing the center of the face by more than your putter head can tolerate. It doesn’t take much of miss to make a big difference in the way a putt rolls. A putter with a higher MOI might make those misses less problematic.
Mallet putters are more stable than blades because they are larger and heavier. That innate stability can stop the putter head from twisting on hits made out toward the toe. This stability is a basic characteristic of all mallet-style putters, but some are inherently more stable than others.
Do not assume that because a putter head looks bigger or weighs more than another that it will automatically be more stable. Engineering and innovation rule the day, and both are evident in a mallet’s design. The manufacturers that use science to improve their designs share their thinking in their marketing. A little research can separate the tech wizards from the blowhards.
You can make all the perfect strokes you want, but they won’t sink putts sent down imperfect lines. This is another obvious truth, and manufacturers have placed alignment marks on putters for generations in an effort to alleviate poor alignment. With their added space to the rear of the clubface, mallet putters are able to incorporate ever more inventive alignment aids.
The first club designer to use non-linear alignment aids was Dave Pelz, whose invention would go on to inspire Odyssey’s original Two-Ball putter in the early 2000s. Pelz had used scientific principles of vision and awareness to reinvent the process of alignment. Suddenly manufacturers were free to explore any idea with the potential to improve alignment, no matter how odd it might seem on paper.
In many ways, mallets and blades are quite similar. Many of the options available on a one style are also available on the other. Likewise, most of the terminology that pertains to mallets is universal among putters. None of these options is purely aesthetic. Each one can and will affect the way a putter performs, and whether it will work for you.
This term refers to the amount that a putter’s toe will hang below the heel when the club is resting on its balance point. If the toe hangs, the club is tow-weighted, which means the face will naturally work closed as the clubhead passes through the hitting zone. If the clubhead rests parallel to the ground with the face pointed skyward, it is a face-balanced putter.
To find the balance point of a putter, simply hold the shaft with only your index finger. You will need to find the point on the shaft where the weight of the head no longer pulls the club down, which will be closer to the clubhead. With the club resting, check the position of the tow. Is it hanging down or balancing evenly with the heel?
A putter that is face balanced will not work closed through the strike. These types of putters are generally better for players who swing the putter head down the line, rather than swinging on and inside-to-inside arc. There is debate over whether a down-the-line swing is possible. But whether or not these players actually swing down the line, they certainly feel like they do. Using a tow-weighted putter can wreck this feeling, leaving these players searching for the line.
As mentioned, putters with toe hang work closed during the through swing. Players who use an arcing swing tend to do better with toe-weighted putters, which complement their in-to-in swings. When these players try to putt with face-balanced putters, their misses tend to be pushes.
Not so long ago, it was common to see putters with extra-long shafts. These so-called belly putters were used for anchoring the butt of the club to the body, promoting a pendulum swing. As players who anchored were invariably looking for help with iffy putting strokes, belly putters were almost always mallets.
The USGA outlawed anchoring in 2016, though it left out any mention of shaft length. Belly putters can be unwieldy without anchoring though, which is why almost all putter shafts now measure 34 or 35 inches. Shorter players may want to use the shorter length, but shaft length just isn’t quite the consideration it was before the anchoring ban.
Deciding on a manufacturer and model rightfully consumes most players’ attention, but there is another piece of the puzzle that can unlock the potential hiding in that miraculous clubhead. The shaft is the engine that propels the clubhead toward the ball. Getting its characteristics right can reduce stress and may even coax a few more yards from your drives. Getting them wrong can lead to frustration and climbing handicaps.
Heel-set putters have the shaft attached close to the heel of the putter head. This is typically the position of clubs with toe hang, and it is a good way to decide if a putter will match your stroke. There are other ways of balancing a putter head, though, so do not assume that a heel-set putter also has toe hang. Until recently, face balancing was ubiquitous among mallets, but that is no longer the case.
These clubs have their shafts attached more or less in the center of the clubhead. Positioning the shaft this way tends to balance the club face, making these the clubs of choice for players who swing straight back and straight through. Again, there are other ways of balancing the clubhead besides setting the shaft in the center, but it is a reliable indication.
Offset putters incorporate bending of the hosel and the shaft to place the player’s hands in front of the ball at impact. These putters are often called double-bend, because of the way the shaft bends twice to achieve the desired amount of offset. Sometimes prescribed to accommodate eye dominance, offset putters can also cause some players to push putts. However, golf is as much art as skill, and putting is based more on feel than full swings are. Players should play putters that feel right to them, offset or not.
Face inserts are the place where science has improved putter design the most. Thanks to high-speed video, companies are no better able to see the skidding off the face that all putter heads produce. Face inserts – made from some other material than the rest of the head – may address roll or simply the feel of the putter at the strike.
Manufacturers can manipulate the ingredients in face inserts to adjust feel, but they impart quicker roll with grooves cut into the face. These grooves are not placed haphazardly though. Using CAD, many manufacturers are now able to precisely engineer the depth and width of their face grooves, all in an unending search for instantaneous roll.
Grip design is less of a daunting decision when looking for a putter, because it is the easiest mistake in a purchase to correct. We can always change our grips, and doing so often promotes a light touch. Still, understanding your options will give you the best chance to putt better on your first round with your new club. If you have a preferred style (Like Tiger Woods does), by all means stick with it. But don’t be scared to experiment.
The classic putter grip – flat on top, tapered to the shaft – is made the way it is to match the classic reverse-overlap putting grip. It keeps the hands set in their position, and keeps them quieter than a round grip would be able to do. Still, some players find a classic grip stifles their feel, especially if they have an unusual grip.
The pistol grip is flared where the heel of the top hand meets the club. The added width helps players feel as though the club is simply resting in their hands. Players who get white knuckles from wringing the grip may get some help with the flow of their swing with a pistol grip.
One of the newer innovations, but one that has quickly achieved cult-like popularity – is the non-tapered oversized grip. Because they are so large, these grips quiet the hands during the stroke. They are not intended only for players with large hands. Players with handsy swings tend to add loft at impact, as they flip the club at the ball. Quieter hands allow the player to use the putter’s true loft.
With the EXO line, Odyssey puts lightweight 6061 aluminum at the center and heavier 17-4 stainless steel at the edges to push weight farther out to the perimeter. The Microhinge face insert gets the ball rolling while retaining that distinctive White Hot sound. This elevated MOI means increased stability to help keep putts online and rolling. Players can choose between face-balanced and toe-hang options. Odyssey indicates that their putters are toe-weighted by putting an S at the end of the model name.
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The star of the O-Works show is undoubtedly the Microhinge face insert. Milled from a solid plate of stainless steel, these inserts are then set in elastomer to give that classic Odyssey feel. Toe-hang or face-balanced options exist for every model, and moveable weights on the sole help to fine tune balancing to match swings more precisely. Muted yet vibrant color scheme puts the class in classic, and the trusted alignment aids (like two ball) are there in force.
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TaylorMade’s Spider, the club that Jason Day rode to a PGA Championship victory in 2015, is updated and yet much remains the same. Thirteen separate pieces push weight as far to the perimeter as possible, giving the Spider impressive MOI. The Surlyn polymer insert provides a soft feel, and 12 face grooves get the ball rolling sooner. With a simple yet pronounced alignment line, the Spider looks more subdued at address than pictures can duplicate. The Double-Bend shaft option is face-balanced, while “L” Neck and Short Slant are toe-hang models.
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The classic shapes speak to the Tour-Preferred lineage. While the body is milled from 303 stainless steel, TaylorMade’s aluminum face inserts provide the noticeably loud hit. The milled grooves in the face promote forward roll, but it isn’t as immediate as some others. The Ardmore model adjustable weights for fine tuning face balance along with a three-quarter offset and classic good looks that don’t shout game improvement.
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From the first name in perimeter weighting, the Sigma is a club that hides its forgiveness well. The Tyne H model uses a plumber’s neck set in the heel to give the head a slight toe hang. The result is a club that prefers to ride on a slight arc, but nothing too severe. The head is a bit heavier (370 grams) than most others on this list, but that also helps to raise MOI. The real attraction here is the milled aluminum insert, which has grooves of varying depths that help off-center strikes roll as far a pured putts. The insert rests in a bed of PEBAX elastomer, cushioning impact and providing a soft feel.
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Mallet putters can help anyone roll the ball better. Where once they were seen as remedial help for players with the yips, golfers of every skill level are now embracing mallets. They all do it for the same reasons. Mallets use science and engineering to erase the ill effects of poor strikes, meaning fewer putts left in the jaws and more of them rattling in the bottom of the cup. If you aren’t using a mallet, you are adding pressure to your short game, whether you can afford to or not.
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