Quick quiz: What kind of putter does British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen use? Answer: A Ping Redwood (but who really cares?) Ask the same question about what kind of putter Tiger Woods uses, and many know it's a Scotty Cameron Newport 2. And when he changed to a Nike Method-001 Classic Blade Putter for three rounds of the British Open last week, it made big news. Forget about his indiscretions off the course, Tiger changed putters! And it wasn't just any putter. It was a groove putter, which literally has patterned grooves on the face that supposedly keep the ball closer to the ground than smooth-faced putters and give the ball more speed. Actually, it was a pretty shrewd move by Woods and his biggest sponsor, Nike. Woods won 13 majors in the 11 years he used the Scotty Cameron putter. If he is going to switch to the Nike putter right before a major tournament, then it must be good, right? So what's all the fuss about grooved putters? Do they really make a difference? And if Woods uses it, does it cause a demand for the putter? We look into it.
What's the big deal?
Grooves on a clubface provide spin and allow golfers to control the ball as it lands on the green or fairway. But grooves on a putter face is relatively new technology.
The idea is the grooves grip the ball as it's struck and start it rolling right away. On smooth-faced putters, the ball sometimes jumps off the putter and skids before it begins rolling. It can also cause backspin, whereas the groove putter produces an overspin.
Woods told reporters last week the change was needed to putt the slow greens of St. Andrews.
"I've always struggled on slower greens (but in my practice rounds here) I haven't had to make that much of an adjustment because the ball is coming off a little bit quicker. This putter … with the new groove technology … rolls the ball better,'' Woods said.
Of course, he switched back to his regular putter on Sunday. But grooved putters were thrust into the golf mainstream when Woods put one in his hands. Like most new equipment, there are good points and bad.
"It gives it an early roll off the putter face, reduces drag and promotes overspin early,'' said St. Petersburg putter manufacturer Bobby Grace. "We've experimented with that and seen some good results. The grooves do work like they say they do, early roll and all that. But we've seen good and bad results. What about when you don't hit it in the sweet spot? We've seen some catastrophic results from that.''
And Grace isn't buying the theory that groove putters work best on slow greens.
"I think Tiger used that as an excuse, the slower greens,'' Grace said. "I don't think that's a true statement. I think he wanted to put it into play then because Nike would throw him a big bone. We'll never know that, but we've studied this technology. It really has nothing to do with fast or slow greens. Even with what he says is slow, he still knocked some putts by the hole 12 or 15 feet. None of that added up.''
Grooved putter market
While Nike got some publicity for its Method putter, it's not the first or only grooved putter on the market. Yes Golf makes a C-groove putter, which has concentric edges that claim to cause an over-the-top rolling motion.
TaylorMade makes a Ghost putter, which gets its name because it has a white head. But it also has an anti-skid groove system. And then there are Guerin Rife putters, which also feature grooves on the face. The putters range from about $150-$250.
Nike certainly got a boost by having Woods switch to its Method putter, but it hasn't caused a run at the local golf store.
"It got people talking about the groove putters, but they've actually been around for a while,'' said Mike Nicholson, owner of Southern Golf in St. Petersburg. "If he had done well with it, there might have been more of a demand. But it hasn't really been a hot seller. Actually, the Ghost Putter that Justin Rose and Paula Creamer used to win has been a better seller.''
Grace knows the importance of getting a pro to use your product. He has spent his career trying to get pros to use his putters. Most famously, Nick Price used a Grace putter to win the 1994 PGA Championship.
But what about when a player does poorly with your club, like Woods did last week?
"That was a huge blow,'' Grace said. "Tiger actually got nowhere in that whole thing. Nike got notoriety the first and second days and still left the public with it in their brains.''
Groove putters used to be a novelty. But when pros started using them, and winning with them, the race to produce groove putters was on. Stewart Cink won the 2009 British Open with a Method putter. And Lucas Glover won last year's U.S. Open with one.
Expect to see groove-style putters more often at golf shops.
"It's no longer a technology that is protected,'' Grace said. "Everybody's in the game and each thinks their way is better.''