Putting and initial forward roll: theory and practice
If you think about your putter for a minute, you might discover one of the many paradoxes of golf: Your putter is lofted, but everyone says that initial forward roll is key for keep putts on line.
So…why are putters lofted? Most have a 3- to 6-degree loft. (The range can be from -5 degrees all the way up to 10 - beyond 10 and you have a chipper.) The average putter loft is around 3 or 4 degrees. The loft works to get the ball airborne just a bit, so that it will roll along the top of the grass. On slower greens (i.e., greens that aren’t mowed as tightly), it helps to have more loft.
Loft also helps to get the ball up and rolling if you’re putting from the fringe or off the green. Thirty years ago, most putters had about 6 degrees of loft. Because of the decreased loft in today’s putters, more pros use fairway woods when putting from off the green.
Of course, if you have a forward press at contact, you’ll take loft off any putter.
Still, in general, the more quickly the ball begins to roll forward, the better chance it has of staying on line. But how do you know if it’s rolling forward?
A couple weeks ago, I received the Yes! Golf Victoria II mallet putter for review. Yes! Golf developed the C-Groove technology, which is a sort of rainbow-like array of grooves in the center of the putter face. These grooves are supposed to impart immediate forward roll. The Victoria II has 2.5 degrees of loft, by the way.
To test this claim (which seemed at first glance to be true there on my living room carpet), I laid a heavy paperback book flat on the floor, placed the ball about four inches in front of the bottom of the book (toward the bottom of the pages, not the spine) and struck a soft putt, without lifting the putter up at contact (it took a little practice).
Interestingly, the ball, even struck softly with a straight-on blow, hit the book and literally stuck to it, spinning so wildly forward that it nearly climbed over the top like a monster truck over a junked car.
Well. That was pretty cool. So I tried a couple of other putters I had lying around. With the Castlehawk Lex-1 putter (a company which, I believe, is sadly now defunct), the ball bounced first off the book, then rolled back to it. I took this as evidence of somewhat less forward roll. With the Zen Oracle Tour putter, the ball again bounced off the book but didn’t appear motivated to go back to it – sort of like a high-school student.
Now, I haven’t seen this test for forward roll described elsewhere, but because I rarely come up with original ideas, I’m assuming some version of it (probably a much more sophisticated version) has been developed already. Nevertheless, it did convince me that the Yes! Victoria II (a more detailed review of which will be appearing soon) does indeed impart that coveted forward roll.
And it might not be a bad little field-test when you’re demoing putters at your local pro shop.
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