I confess, I’ve had as many as 20 putters in my basement collecting dust. I bet you do, too. So do most serious golfers.
“I hear that from people all the time,” custom putter-fitter David Edel told me. “I say, Well, you’ve been trying to fit yourself for a putter on your own and you don’t know what you’re trying to do. It’s a black art, an enigma.”
To quote the artist formerly known as Homer Simpson: “Doh!”
The reason we’ve got all those putters? We’re stupid. We’re suckers. As Edel said, we’ve just been blindly guessing.
You’ve probably been fitted for clubs and know your swing specs. You know your shaft flex. You know your clubhead speed. You probably know your loft and lie angles and maybe even how much bounce on your wedges works for you.
So how is it we don’t know anything about our putters? How do we not know a single spec about what we need for the most important club in our bag, the club we use for more strokes per round by far than any other?
The longer I went through David Edel Golf’s putter-fitting process, about a 30-minute exercise for David’s guys, who specialize in this, the dumber I felt and the less sense it made to pick a putter off a rack because of how it looked, the shape of the head, the feel, the setup, the name or maybe even the sale price.
What Edel’s fitting does is identify the flaws in your setup and stroke. Then the putter is tweaked to compensate for those flaws. So if you tend to aim right, your Edel putter will take your error into account and will instead aim slightly left so you’re actually aimed at the cup. The Edel putter is designed to fix your mistakes and thus make you a better putter.
That sounds hard to believe but it didn’t take long to convince me. Step one in the fitting process was arguably the most eye-opening part. An Edel rep had me set up with a putter behind a ball as if I was trying to make an eight-foot putt. The putter face had a reflector on it. When I said I was done aiming, he removed the ball and turned on a laser positioned directly behind the cup. If I lined up correctly, the green laser light would beam back right over the cup.
Oops. My laser reflection hit six inches left of the cup and eight inches off the ground. It was shocking but yes, I had lined up with my hands behind the ball, causing the putter face to tilt upward and to the left. I was not even close.
Forget the excuses. The Edel golf rep isn’t there to repair my setup, he’s there to build a putter to compensate for it. One alignment test doesn’t say it all. The rep had me try an assortment of different putter heads -- mallets, heel-shafted blades, center-shafted blades. Each club led to a different result in my aim, the laser proved, some models worked better than others for me. As we worked through a variety of possibilities, I noticed my laser reflection creeping closer toward the cup. The Edel rep was responding to my tendencies and fixing them, slowly but surely.
Then came another shocking experiment. The Edel rep used a Sharpie pen to draw aiming lines on the top of the putter. He tried a variety of them. What possible difference could this make, I wondered? Oops again. A big difference, it turned out. Whether he drew a single aim line atop the blade or a double line or even a triple line dramatically affected my aim, the laser proved. Once, instead of drawing a line on the top of the blade -- in this case a mallet model -- he placed the lines behind the face on the bottom of the putter that rested closest to the ground. I liked that and it felt comfortable… but it threw my aim wildly off. Are you kidding me? It made that much difference.
Next came the feel test. I was supposed to roll putts as close as I could to a string that was laid across the green about ten feet away. After each series of putts, the rep tweaked some part of the putter. He tried different heads with different weights. Once we settled on a head, he tried placing different weights in different portions of the shaft.
I might have been skeptical at first but I’d already stood with David Edel while we watched another customer go through this test. As his rep made changes in response to the customer’s putts, Edel uncannily predicted what the customer’s next putts would do -- come up long or short or get close based on what he knew his rep had done to change the club.
Part of this process is to determine what kind of putter the player is -- that is, what kind of stroke he uses. One type of putter, a radial putter, adjusts the length of the backswing to the length of the putter. Another type, what Edel calls a linear putter, is more of a feel putter and that player keeps a similar length backswing and adjusts for the distance with speed or acceleration.
“No one is doing what we’re doing, the whole process,” David Edel said. “We adjust weight in the shaft for different rhythm rates and putting strokes and their transitions. If they’re too quick with the hands, we can slow them down with weighting. We even tweak shaft flexes.”
By the end of the putter fitting, you’re left with a putter designed and built specifically for you and your flaws.
“The golf industry is trying to sell putters,” Edel said. “I’m trying to sell putting improvements. That’s a big difference. It’s a three-dimensional mode of how a person can construct a putting game.”
David Edel Golf offers a similar fitting system for wedges, where the grind and bounce angles and lofts can make a marked difference in performance. A lot of bad wedge play, Edel figures, is the wrong equipment in the right hands.
“Everybody thinks a wedge is a wedge but it’s not,” he said. “People are confused by it. Nothing humiliates anyone worse than hitting two good shots up by the green and then chunking or blading a wedge shot over the green. They don’t know why it’s happening, but it’s probably their wedge and the methodology.”
The wedge-fitting system naturally led Edel Golf into iron-fitting, too, so now they make and sell full sets of irons.
David Edel Golf is based in Austin, Texas, and has more than 65 certified club-fitters across the country. Those names are listed on its website. If you buy an Edel putter after a fitting session, the price will run anywhere from $395 to $800 depending on the putter model.
Edel is a tall, athletic and fair-haired guy who looks like he could play strong safety in football. He got into putter-fitting early when he was trying to be a competitive golfer and realized he had aiming problems of his own. After teaching for a few years, he took a job in his family’s hotel business in Oregon and quickly realized he didn’t like it. So Edel started making putters and it eventually led to this custom-fitting business, which he began in 1996.
Edel has some counterintuitive and possibly controversial beliefs. For instance:
Round grips on putters are better than flatted grips.
“I asked Mississippi State University’s PGA program to do a study on putter grips,” Edel said. “I believed a round grip was better and they proved it. They tested everybody in the PGA program, using a round grip versus a flat grip and the round grip aimed putts an average of four inches straighter.” I have been using flat, pistol grips on my putters for years. After three rounds with my Edel model’s round grip, I was won over. To my surprise, I really like the round grip now.
Current popular putter heads are too heavy.
Oversized putter grips change a player’s hip canter. And therefore, they also change a putter’s aim, Edel says.
Putter length affects aim.
“Putter length is a variable,” Edel said. “The farther the ball gets away from the player, the more the player tends to aim right. The shorter the putter, people tend to aim left. So cutting down a putter can have an adverse effect on touch, based on weight, and on aim.”
You can believe him or not. I highly recommend the fitting process.
Where is the Edel putter, a half-mallet model, that was custom-built for me?
Where else? In my bag.