Understanding Putters: Loft, Lie, and Length

September 5, 2012

Perhaps one of the most commonly-referenced (but still misunderstood) aspects of a putter is the “L,L,L”–also known as the loft, length and lie. Multiple theories abound for what these numbers should be. Although many theories exist, one always must keep in mind that there is no single right answer when it comes to putters. Ultimately, the thing that works best for you is what should be used. However, the theories surrounding putters should point someone with little or no knowledge in the right direction, and should provide a person with the greatest chance of success in a given set of circumstances.

The common varieties of putter lengths (for standard putting) are 33 inches to 35 inches, but there is a catch. Not everyone measures putter length the same way. Some measure the length to the ground while others measure to the sweet spot; some measure to the end of the grip cap, others to the end of the shaft. Moreover, even though these lengths are common, there is no hard and fast rule about someone using a set length putter. Robert Garrigus on the PGA Tour used to use a 26-inch putter. Angel Cabrera won the masters with a 39-inch putter. Neither of these players is abnormally tall or short, but they used what they felt gave them the best chance of making putts.

Why are these numbers important? A putter that is the “wrong” length will put your hands in an uncomfortable position and will increase the chance that you try to correct your discomfort with wrist movement. Common advice in any putting stroke is that wrist movement causes inconsistencies when putting. Most putting theory states that the putting stroke is, essentially, a very simple action. The putting stroke can be accomplished without a great deal of hinging. It is so simple–and low energy–that a simple rotation of the shoulders can propel the ball the required distance. As such, common teaching holds that a player should seek to putt using the “big muscles”–such as the back and shoulders–rather than “little muscles”–like those in the wrists and hands–because it is easier to consistently rotate about a spine than to consistently twitch a pair of wrists. As such, a putter length that is comfortable is a key part of the analysis. A comfortable putter length can help a player remove any corrections that might be needed from a player twitching wrists. If a putter is too short, the player’s hands will be far away from his body; if a putter is too long, the player’s hands will feel cramped up against his body.

However, what is “comfortable” is in the eye of the beholder. Most instruction on putting says that the player should have his eyes directly over the ball or just inside the line of the ball (illustrated by the green dotted line below). It is also best if the forearms make a straight line with the putter shaft when viewed from the back (illustrated by the red solid line below). How this fits you depends entirely on our personal dimensions (arm length, height) as well as how you approach the ball (standing taller, more crouched over, etc).

Moreover, the lie angle plays a big part in how a player sets up to the ball. As LG pointed out in his post about getting fit for iron lie angles (here: https://thepowerfade.com/2012/07/10/review-lie-fitting-with-brian-razzari/), an improper lie angle can cause misses to one side or another depending on whether the lie is too upright or too flat. Although the “standard” lie angle is around 70-71 degrees, players are all over the board on lie angle, and I have personally heard everything from 64 to 76 degrees. In no event may a lie angle be more upright than 80 degrees, however, according to USGA rules. Much like length, the lie angle you choose depends entirely on how you approach the ball.

Finally, the loft of a putter can be a tricky topic in some circumstances. Scotty Cameron designs all of his putters with 4 degrees of loft, and this has become the standard loft largely because he is the most successful putter seller of all time. However, the loft depends entirely on the player, and “standard” is not standard. Scotty Cameron states that 4 degrees of loft is needed because of the weight of the ball. When the ball is at rest, he states, it forms a depression on the green, and 4 degrees of loft is needed to lift the ball out of the depression at impact so that the depression does not affect the roll.

While this may have been true 20-30 years ago, it is probably not too true today. Modern greens are typically much firmer and faster than those of the early 90s (when Cameron started his own putter-making business). Modern greenskeeping has done wonders for even the muni golf player. In reality, the ball on modern greens typically will not sit down into a deep depression. As such, putters as low as 2 degrees stock (such as Piretti putters) are now surfacing and gaining great market share for the “great roll” they put on the ball (we’ll touch on this in a later chapter).

However, like length and lie, the loft of a putter is something that is unique to each player. Many pro golfers “forward press” their putts, meaning their hands are in front of the ball when they start (and finish) their strokes (see photo below of Phil Mickelson’s forward press). Forward pressing serves to “de-loft” the putter face, meaning that these players must account for the loft that they are losing by changing the static loft of their putters. (For those that may not know, “static loft” is the loft of the putter as measured. This is to be contrasted with “dynamic loft,” which is the loft of the putter when used. A player who forward presses will have a “dynamic loft” that is less than the static loft because he is effectively de-lofting the putter face). On the other side, a player like Zach Johnson (see image below) actually needs negative loft on his putter because he reverse-presses the shaft at address and impact. As such, his dynamic loft is higher than his static loft.

The main point here is that there is no one way to set up your L,L,L. You need a static loft that matches your stroke (whether you reverse or forward press), a length that makes you comfortable, and a lie that matches your setup. The best way to ensure you get all of these facets right is to get fit for a putter. Science And Motion (aka “SAM”) putter fitting is probably the most expansive putter fitting, but there are many other ways to be fit. Edel fitting has been described as a fairly comprehensive way to measure your alignment before the putt. PING makes a putter app that can be used on any iPhone or Android phone. And many local pros are competent to fit putters even without scientific instruments or fancy calculations.

In the end, it’s all about finding something that works best for you, and, even if you don’t go to a pro for a fitting, a trial and error with various different lofts, lengths, and lies can do wonders for your putting stroke. I encourage you to take some time to examine your stroke and figure out what equipment setup would help you the most.

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