Understanding Putters: Toe Hang

September 12, 2012

One aspect of putter fitting that was often misunderstood years ago but has recently gained some good press and understanding is the concept of toe hang and what it is there for. It seems like when I was growing up, every new putter coming out was face balanced, and advertised as such, as if face balancing were some sort of great thing that cured all ills of the putting stroke. In reality, little is further from the truth. Face balancing only helps people whose stroke fits a face balanced putter. We’ll talk more about this in a few minutes. What this doesn’t mean, however, is that a particular style of putter will work for everyone.

Now, we need to be clear on this: the theory posted below is only general theory. There is no hard and fast rule that someone follow the advice below. If you find something that works for you, go with it. However, the theory below will help you maximize the chance that your putter works for you. The thoughts below will help you select a putter that works with what you do rather than you trying to fit your stroke to make a certain putter work.

There are generally accepted three types of putting strokes: Straight Back Straight Through (SBST), Arc Stroke (or “gated”), and Inside Then Down The Line (IDTL). Although there are many different ways to swing a putter, these are the three that are most common and are most taught. Teachers like Dave Pelz advocate for the SBST stroke, which is exactly what it sounds like; the putter travels straight back on the backswing and straight through on the follow through, and the face stays square to the target at all times. Other teachers like Stan Utley advocate for the gated stroke, which is called “gated” or arc because it resembles a gate swinging on a hinge. The putter face opens and comes inside the line of the putt on the backstroke, closes until impact where it is square to the target and on the target line, and then closes and travels through impact to the inside of the line. IDTL may be the most used option (see e.g., poll at http://www.golfwrx.com/forums/topic/646692-which-stroke-type-do-you-use/). For this stroke, the putter travels inside the line of the target on the backswing and then down the line on the follow-through. It allows the player to combine the best parts of the swinging gate and the arc stroke. Many good putters use this method. A comparison of stroke types is shown below (arc in red, SBST in green, IDTL in orange).

Which stroke type you choose is up to you, and this blog is not here to give instruction or to pick a preference for one stroke type over another. But, you might be asking: what does this have to do with face balancing?

Well, the answer is pretty simple: toe hang and “face balancing” should be chosen to match the stroke type you use.

But you might be asking “what is toe hang?” Toe hang is, simply put, a quantification of where the toe points if a putter is allowed to hang naturally. It gives the player an idea of where the shaft axis is located compared to the center of gravity of the putter head.

That’s a lot of jargon, so I’ll take it one at a time.

The Center of Gravity (COG) of any object (literally anything, not just a golf club) is just the center of its mass–or, in simpler terms, it’s the balance point. If you take an ink pen and try to balance it on your finger, the point where it balances is the COG. This is because the mass (or weight) of the ink pen is evenly distributed on both sides of that point. If there are 10 grams of weight to the right of your finger, there are 10 grams of weight to the left, and the ink pen balances perfectly at that point. If this is not true, there is no way the pen can balance on your finger. The imbalanced weight will make the pen rotate so that the heavier side dips and the lighter side raises up in the air until the pen falls off your finger.

While a pen is just a thin line, the COG can be found on any object. When you see a waiter balancing a set of plates on his arm, he has lined the COG of each plate directly over his arm (very skillfully) so that he can carry multiple plates. Just like the plates, a putter head has a COG, which is the point where the mass on the heel side is about balanced with the mass on the toe side. This point may not be in the exact center of the putter head in some cases.

The toe hang is a representation of how the COG of the putter head interacts with the axis of the shaft. When describing toe hang, the typical way of measuring it is based on how the putter head hangs as related to a clock. If the putter is face balanced, there is essentially no toe hang because the face points to the sky when it is allowed to sit freely. In other words, the toe of the putter does not hang down, meaning that the toe of the putter points to about 3:00. This occurs when the COG is in line with the shaft axis (more on this later). If a putter has toe hang, then the toe falls down so that the face does not point directly up when it is allowed to sit freely. In some cases, where toe hang is pronounced, the toe will point toward the ground and the face will point along the horizon. In other words, the toe points to about 6:00.

The picture below represents the toe hang of a putter:

(see, http://www.golfwrx.com/forums/topic/402148-what-is-toe-hang/)

As you can see, when allowed to fall freely, this putter aligns itself so that there is about a 45 degree angle made. This is typically referred to as “1/4” toe hang or “4:30” because, if the putter head were the hand of a clock, it would point to 4:30 on the clock.

For a face balanced putter, the face will point directly to the sky, as seen below:

For a putter with toe hang, the face can point “1/4” as shown above or a number of other places. For example, the putters shown below have “full” toe hang, meaning they can’t hang any further, or nearly full toe hang (the putter on the right is about 5:00):

Putter makers have many different offerings of toe hang along the spectrum of what one might need, as seen below. One old Scotty Cameron putter even had some HEEL hang, meaning it was beyond face balanced!

(see http://media.titleist.com/images/titleist/pdfs/US/2012/sales/2012_Art_of_Putters.pdf)

The way toe hang occurs is that the shaft axis is offset from the COG. If the shaft axis and the COG are aligned, the putter is face balanced. If the shaft axis and the COG are misaligned, some toe hang will occur. The extent of the misalignment determines the amount of toe hang.

This makes sense, if you think about it. No matter what object you hold, if you let it go freely, it will fall in a way that the center of mass points toward the ground. As seen with reference to the 1/4 toe hang picture above, if the COG is offset from the shaft, the COG tries to get underneath the shaft when it is allowed to fall freely. As such, when the COG is aligned with the shaft, it is already under it and the toe of the putter does not need to hang down to align the shaft and the COG. If the COG is misaligned with the shaft, then some rotation occurs when the putter is allowed to fall freely so that the COG can line up with the shaft axis. (don’t worry if you don’t understand this explanation–it’s not necessary to understand this part).

So what does this have to do with putting?

Well, as we reviewed earlier, players using various stroke types should select putters with different toe hang to match their strokes. If you putt SBST, a face balanced putter will help you make your SBST stroke. An SBST player will not want to feel any torque in the putter head due to the offset of the shaft and the COG. The SBST player won’t know what to do with this information. It will only tell him that he’s doing the putting stroke wrong, when really he is not. Having the shaft axis aligned with the COG prevents the SBST player from feeling torque which would be negative feedback for the type of stroke he is using.

Meanwhile, a player that swings the putter with a strong arc stroke should select a putter with more toe hang. A strong arc player wants to know that the face of the putter is opening and closing during the stroke. The torque the player experiences by virtue of the shaft being offset from the COG tells that player that the face is moving, which is what that player wants to know during the stroke. If a strong arc player uses a face balanced putter, he will get no feedback on the location of the face. As such, he’ll be lost in the stroke and won’t know how fast the face is opening or closing. This lack of knowledge will prevent him from timing the release of the face with impact to the ball. Players between SBST and strong arc (for example, IDTL and weaker arc players) should choose putters with less toe hang but not fully face balanced.

As stated earlier, the whole point is to get the ball in the hole. If you are an SBST player and use a heel shafted blade (like a Wilson 8802, which has a lot of toe hang), you can surely putt with that putter AND be successful. Likewise, if you have a strong arc and use a face balanced putter, nothing says you must follow the rules. However, if you are looking for a putter and don’t know what to select, the best advice you can get is to select a putter with toe hang that matches your stroke so that you maximize the chance of finding a putter that works best for you.

Comments are welcome.


4 Responses to “Understanding Putters: Toe Hang”

  1. Ian Hardie Says:

    Great explanation of how this works, I enjoyed reading it.

  2. Readers may find it interesting to note that Stan Utley actually states at the beginning of his presentations, ” I teach SBST on plane” and he adds ” I want to see face angle square to path thoughout the stroke.”

    SBSTOP is actually an arc, the plane dictated by the shaft angle. The face appears to open and close but is in fact square to the relative path of the stroke.

    That toe hang aids or resists rotation is something that golfers should ponder relative to how much their hands are in their putting strokes. A talented golfer who powers the putting stroke from their shoulder plane can putt with most anything as a result.

  3. Blessed Chimbgha Says:

    Great explanation on toe hang. Very informative and useful.

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