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Putting technology to work

Ping are pioneering a new method of matching a putter to your style of stroke, while the company’s fascinating new putting ‘app’ offers golfers with an iPhone some essential feedback about their technique. Dominic Pedler reports on the latest developments in putter technology.

Fit For Purpose - A new Path For Anser

Few models of golf equipment can claim to have dominated the industry over several decades, but the Ping Anser putter, in its various generations, has been a fixture among pros and amateurs without interruption for 45 years.

And that’s just the Ping branded originals, with variations on the distinctive ‘stepped’ heel-and-toe weighting flanking a central cavity also adopted by legions of rivals. Of course, the Anser has seen some stylistic tweaks down the years – from materials and hosels to inserts and finishes – while the latest Anser Milled series launched this autumn is re-conceived with seven models each offering a subtle variation in weighting – or, more accurately, balance – to match your style of stroke.

Here the style of stroke refers specifically to the type of ‘arc’ you make with your putter in the swing.

Does your swing path follow a straight line ‘back and through’, keeping the clubface as square possible to the target line throughout? In which case you will want to consider a ‘face balanced’ putter that helps to maintain a neutral, totally square clubface attitude throughout the swing.

Or do you swing back inside the target line, opening the face before rotating it back to square through impact? This type of stroke requires the toe of the putter to close as you swing through, hence putters balanced with ‘toe-hang’ can encourage the necessary momentum. OK, so face-balanced and toe-hang putters are not new, but Ping have come up with a simple system that raises awareness of this fairly sophisticated fitting issue while instantly directing golfers to the models which they are likely to be best suited. Not to be confused with their colour-coded dot system denoting the lie angle on their irons, the Fit For Stroke putter system uses three colours of shaft sticker to denote putters whose balance complements what Ping divide into three main categories of putter swing path. There is one fully face-balanced model targeted to the first category of Square-to-Square strokes (or more specifically those whose closing ‘arcs’ are less then 3.5 degrees inside the target line); four ‘mid-hang’ models catering for a ‘slight arc’ (3.5-7.5 degrees); and two with more pronounced toe hang for arcs of 7.5 degrees or more.

“We did thousands of hours of player testing and other research over the years to scientifically prove that when a golfer’s putter balance matches their stroke type their consistency goes way up and they make a lot more putts,” says Ping chief John Solheim, introducing the new system showcased in the Anser Milled series.

Nor do you need to go to the company’s Gainsborough clubfitting HQ to see what category you fall into, given the rise of the brilliant iPing app which we discuss below.

While the Fit For Stroke concept is the headline story, the luscious construction of the putter itself and is well worth appreciating. Indeed, the new Anser Milled are now the top of the range models that will actually see off the previously most coveted Redwood Anser.

As well as a new satin nickel finish for a modern non-glare look, Anser addicts will notice on close inspection that each model sports subtle differences in topline thickness and in the contouring of the trademark heel and toe ‘steps’ and toe radii. In our tests we were particularly taken with the precision “double” milled face whose visible score lines hardly qualify as grooves yet nevertheless promote an excellent roll, as well as a notably softer and more responsive feel than we expected from 303 stainless steel with no insert.

It goes without saying that the new series are already a hit on tour, with Mark Calcavecchia being first in the winner’s circle with his Anser Milled 3, while Hunter Mahan’s model came within a whisker of becoming The $10 Million Dollar Putter when his sudden-death birdie effort for the FedEx jackpot slipped agonizingly by.

Ping Anser Milled guide price £239.

Modern Mallets - SCOTTSDALE TO SYDNEY

Ping have diversified extensively beyond the Anser shape over the years and moved more recently into the exotic mallet market. This continues with the launch of the Sydney, an oversize multi-material showstopper with an aluminium body (to keep the weight down for such a large structure) but with judicious tungsten weighting at the extremes (in the form of three 8g plugs) for a freely flowing, face-balanced action for those with a straight stroke.

A bold red alignment bar on top of the durable nickel coating completes the lavish offering which putter design geeks may feel has been is inspired by the similarly widebodied Rossa Spider. But, hey, when you think of the legions inspired by Ping…

Other new Ping models for 2012 include seven new offerings in the Scottsdale Series notable for their charcoal PVD finish and special TPE thermoplastic elastomer insert which feels as good as in the originals. Like the Anser Milled, all these models are conceived within the Fit For Stroke system and cater for straight, slight arc and strong arc strokes, as denoted by blue, green and red shaft stickers, respectively.

Ping Sydney putter £199; Scottsdale Series from £110-199.

App of the Gods - iPING Putting Gizmo

Quite apart from the great new lines of putters, Ping’s putting technicians have been working overtime with a special putting improvement tool that ingeniously exploits the technology in the iPhone4 and equivalent iPod Touch.

iPing is an app that you download for free and which, by attaching the device to your putter in a £25 cradle that clips on to the shaft, gives you immediate feedback on your type of stroke, your face angle at impact, and the efficiency of your tempo. In a eureka moment for golfing gadgetry, Ping engineers realized that these fourth generation mobile devices are already designed with on-board accelerometers and gyroscopes that measure linear acceleration and detect rotational speed – ideal technology for capturing data on the position and movement of a putter head.

Each session on the app consists of five putts over a recommended distance of 10 feet, with the gadget recording both the data and highlighting what areas you need to work on.

My first attempt revealed a fairly pronounced arc in my stroke (7.5 degrees reflecting the amount the face rotates during the forward stroke), but also a 2-degree open face at impact and a putting tempo of 1.5. This latter figure is the ratio of the speed of the forward stroke relative to backswing and Ping regard a figure of 2 (i.e. coming through twice as quickly as you go back) as ideal. Having these figures at your fingertips is not only an eye opener about the state of your stroke but obviously allows you to work instantly and effectively on your game; in Practice mode, you can even isolate each individual aspect to focus on separately.

The iPing also measures your consistency in each area which contributes to the calculation of your effective Putting Handicap reflecting a rolling average of your previous sessions. This is a clever touch as it creates an immediate challenge for you to strive for improvement as you monitor your progress. But the iPing’s trump card is the way it ties in to Ping’s new Fit For Stroke initiative (discussed above) with the software making a specific recommendation on the style of putter best suited to your stroke according to the data it has just collected from you.

In my case, the Strong Arc data guided me to those red decal models with toe hang and, having settled on the heel-shafted Anser 6, and quickly saw my putting handicap drop from 5 down to 3. Not bad – though I witnessed one rival golf journalist drop from 3 to a pro level -3 by following a very similar strategy.

“iPing will help every level of golfer see better results by adding more consistency on the putting green,” said John Solheim, Ping Chairman & CEO. “Besides that, it’s a lot of fun to use.”

It certainly is. You could think of iPing as a mini launch monitor for your putting even if it, admittedly, it doesn’t have the sophistication of expensive electronic putting systems like Quintic that additionally cover spin, roll and launch angle. Nevertheless, iPing has impressed many top pros and become somewhat of a cult item on tour for its practicality and immediacy. Indeed, you can even compare your own figures with pre-loaded data from of a selection of top tour stars at the touch of a button.

iPing is not the first golfing instruction app on the market but given the clout of this particular company (not to mention the pat on the back it received from Apple itself) it has brought instant credibility to this medium and surely opened up exciting new digital training avenues to explore.

For more details on all the above visit www.ping.com

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine





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