ORLANDO, Fla. — Stop me if you've heard this one about the putter with the face bulge that causes a golf ball to start rolling quicker and truer than — stop!
Sorry, you haven't heard this one before. You only think you have.
No, a putter with a rounded face isn't new. You may remember the TearDrop putter from the '90s or the Tru-Roll putter from the mid-2000s. The TearDrop had a rounded face and a curved tail that resembled an airplane wing. The Tru-Roll looked like a cylinder on a shaft.
The Radius Roll putter is the latest, greatest incarnation. It comes as a milled blade putter, including a center-shafted version, or a hybrid mallet with a heel-shafted model.
Inventor and Radius Roll founder Rick Monroe got the idea for his baby 20 years ago, commiserating over another poor putting round as he sat in the players' lounge (that sounds classier than bar, doesn't it?) at the Broken Arrow Golf Club in Lockport, Ill. In between drinks (probably sasparilla but that's just a guess) he absent-mindedly kept hitting one golf ball on a tabletop with another ball in his hand. After a number of tries, he noticed how well the second ball rolled after being struck by the first ball. Round meets round equals roll. Hmm.
That concept was filed away for future use and when Monroe finally retired for real after turns as a club pro, an engineer and an educator, he decided to try to create the perfect-rolling putter.
"They didn't invent the idea and I didn't, either," Monroe said. "Ben Hogan actually came up with this concept in the early 1950s. The other putters had rounded faces but they didn't have all the other specs correct. I spent five years developing and designing this until I got it right. So we didn't invent it but we did perfect it."
The concept is simple. You want the leading rounded edge of the putter to strike the golf ball at the ball's equator line, or fractionally above it, to create an almost instant roll. With traditional flat-face putters, which often have up to four degrees of loft, slow-motion video cameras and tests show that the ball skids and skips and travels in the air as much as nine inches or more before returning to the ground and rolling, possibly off-line by this point after that aerial jaunt.
"I was in the bar at my course, where a lot of good ideas are born," Monroe said with a laugh. "I was sitting with a buddy, hitting one ball against the other and a light bulb went on. Now why is it every time I hit this ball with the other ball, it rolls off it so perfectly? I thought about shooting pool and how energy is transferred and I started putting things together. A few years ago, I made a prototype and realized that just having a radius face isn't the whole answer. It's only part of the equation."
The dimensions of the putterhead also matter. And whatever Monroe figured out in that department is a trade secret of Radius Roll.
There is no argument that the Radius Roll putter gets the ball on the ground quicker and rolling sooner than traditional flat-faced putters.
"With a flat-face putter, every one puts the ball in the air from eight to 12 inches, you just don't see it," he said. "You can look at the video at 1,600 frames per second. Or you can go out on a dew-covered green early in the morning, hit that first putt and see how far it flies before it starts leaving a trail. The ball is in the air and it has reverse spin on it like a wedge, although not to that degree."
It wasn't until he was staring at the reality of retirement and the unbearable notion of watching television all day that he decided to get serious about his idea from almost two decades earlier. He got that first prototype ready by 2008 and has been refining it since while trying to market it.
"Everybody experiences a sort of aha moment with our putters," Monroe said. "It takes two or three putts and the person looks up and says, 'What the hell is that?' It feels like putting through butter and the ball rolls perfectly."
He began to sell the putter in 2009. The early models were made in China but because they were effectively made by hand by craftsmen using early 20th-century tools, no two models were exactly the same, a fact that bothered Monroe, who found a factory on Chicago's south side to manufacture his putters to a much higher quality standard.
The suggested retail price is $249. You can find them online at www.RadiusRoll.com or you can go to the Monroe's shop in Lockport, Ill. He does custom fitting, too.
The irony is, now that he's working to get the Radius Roll business on, well, a roll, he doesn't have much time to play golf, which is supposed to be what you do when you retire.
"Last year, I had to make a decision if this was going to be an actual business or a very expensive hobby," Monroe said. "I chose business."
Hogan would probably agree.