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Putters deserve some love, too

Golfers love their drivers. Of all the clubs in the bag, it's the captain. The big toe. The club that gets the fancy head cover shaped like a pit bull or alligator. It's the first club used on the first hole. Golfers waiting on the tee compare drivers. Who has the newest model of oversized heads? Who has the lightest driver? Who has a fancy colored shaft? Then there is the putter. The poor, poor putter. The pinkie toe. Usually the smallest club in the bag, the putter seems to get little attention. It's just a blade used to knock a ball in the hole after the big swings have been taken. But it's the most important club in the bag. Some golfers find a putter and use it for years. Others have no problem changing putters until they find the right one. A prime example came in 2007. Mark Calcavecchia went through six putters in as many days before buying one at a retail golf shop and winning the PGA Tour's PODS Championship at Innisbrook. The putter is a sometimes overlooked piece of golf equipment. Finding the right one is a matter of taste. Here are some putters to look at if you're thinking about changing flat sticks.

The blade

These kinds of putters have been around since the 1800s. Think miniature putters. The shaft is usually on the heel of the club, and the blade has no grooves. It also has very little sweet spot, which means you must hit it dead center to get the proper roll. While some pros use variations of the blade, very few use a straight blade in competition.

Center-shafted blade

A variation of the blade putter. As the name implies, the shaft is in the middle of the blade. And most have a line on the top to indicate the center. It is the same thickness from heel to toe, and most have a smooth face to get the ball rolling. These putters work best with a straight back, straight through stroke.

Offset, heel-toe weighted

These are the most common and popular putters, especially for those buying them straight off the rack. They are generally more forgiving of mis-hits. The blade is weighted on each side, which caters to the inside-straight inside motion most golfers have.

Mallet

The striking feature of these putters is the half-circle shape. The shaft is either on the end or in the middle. The mallet can either be a heavy hunk of metal or lightweight titanium, but the idea is the same. It works best with a pendulum type of swing to get the ball rolling on line. It might take some getting used to, but some golfers swear by them.

Getting the right size

Finding the right size putter is just as important as the style. The traditional style is about a 4-foot shaft, but the length depends on the arms. Smaller arms require a longer shaft. Longer arms require a smaller shaft. The key is not to be hunched too much on the putts.

Then there is the belly putter. This is a longer shaft that fits into the stomach, or belly button, and provides a fixed point at the top. The putter is taken straight back and through the ball to keep it on line.

The largest is the broomstick style, which is usually for golfers who want to stand up during putts or who have back problems. The shaft goes up to the chin, in most cases, and is held in two places. One hand is near the top while the other hand is near the middle of the shaft.

Local putting guru

St. Petersburg's Bobby Grace has dedicated his life to making the perfect putter. It might be a little like chasing a rainbow, but for nearly 20 years, Grace has tinkered in workshops trying to get it just right.

And even when he gets it right, like he did in the early '90s, there is still a drive to make one even better.

Grace, 50, went from making putters in his garage to national recognition when Nick Price used his "Fat Lady Swings'' to win the 1994 PGA Championship. Grace had 27,000 orders within two weeks.

"There's no question that got me going,'' Grace said. "People want to use what the pros use. That's why it's important to get it into the pros' hands.''

In 1995, Annika Sorenstam won seven tournaments with a smaller version of the putter. The success of his first putter led to jobs with Cobra and MacGregor. He's now back on his own and has a shop in Pinellas Park.

He says his latest putter, the Shiloh, has three separate sweet spots. The theory is if the ball isn't hit dead center, it will still roll true due to pads on the club face.

"It's a real advantage to golfers,'' Grace said. "I'm surprised it's not illegal. But it conforms to all USGA rules.''

Grace is in Memphis this week for the PGA's St. Jude Classic. Like 16 years ago, he is trying to get pros to test his new putter. Some, such as Y.E. Yang, Kenny Perry and Fred Funk, have given it a try. He hopes more will try it and, perhaps, win a major championship.

He could catch lightning in a bottle twice. But one thing is for sure, Grace is never going to stop trying.

"The driver is kind of the he-man thing,'' he said. "Everyone wants to hit it 300 yards. Marketing drivers is big business and what everybody sees on TV.

"Putters are a little harder. But if I can get the right putter in a player's hands, I bet out of 100 golfers I can get 99 to putt better.''

Putters deserve some love, too 06/09/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 9, 2010 10:37pm]

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