GEL putters - Get your game in the groove!
I've been very faithful to my putter. My dear old Ping has been with me for twenty years and it's only my third flat stick in forty years of golf. Probably because I knew it was me, not the putter, who missed the short ones and misjudged the long ones. But I am about to divorce it and marry a groovy young model, all dressed up in bright colours. It was love at first strike.
I'm talking about the recently launched GEL (for Groove Equipment Ltd) putter, which is taking groove technology to a new level.
If you are not familiar with the concept you might now be asking why anyone would want grooves in a putter. Surely grooves produce backspin?
Well, yes and no. Golf is a funny old game, although, as the caddie said, "'tweren't meant to be". Grooves on irons and woods do indeed produce backspin, but on a putter, properly designed, they produced topspin, and topspin is your best friend on the greens.
When you hit the ball with a normal, flat-faced putter, it does not immediately begin to roll. The loft of the putter causes it to 'jump' and the ball begins its journey by either backspinning or skidding over the surface. Depending on the length and force of the putt, the ball can cover up to two feet before topspin takes over, during which it is easily deflected from its line as well as being hard to judge for pace.
Alec Pettigrew (left), with GEL staff professional David Gleeson at this year's Open Championship at Carnoustie
According to Alec Pettigrew, founder and CEO of GEL Golf, “When a touring pro strikes a putt, the ball appears to hug the green and hold a tight line to the cup. It is the result of a finely tuned putting stroke which produces a forward roll early in the putt and something most recreational golfers lack. Our grooved putters will help golfers of all abilities get the ball rolling straighter and with a truer roll.”
Grooves on putters are not new - famous putting coach and club designer Harold Swash developed the concept with his C-groove Yes! putters in the mid-90s, and they have achieved numerous tournament successes, including majors. Since then, with the technology proven, many other companies have taken up the idea, so what is special about GEL putters?
"Any grooves are better than no grooves, but horizontal is better than 'C'," says Clive Wood, Managing Director of GEL's UK distributor, Assay Golf. He goes on to explain that the secret is in the GEL putter's soft aluminum insert with its computer-controlled, precision-cut, horizontal grooves. The insert has been made larger, and this, together with the horizontal grooves, makes for a bigger hitting area, more forgiving on slightly off-centre hits. Running a finger down the clubface you can indeed feel the sharp groove edges, tilted slightly upwards, which grip and lift the back of the ball, creating topspin roll almost immediately off the clubface.
The sharp end of the GEL Diamond putter, with its precision-cut grooves
The putters also feature a lower face loft than normal - just 2.5°, versus the 3.5° to 4° found on most putters - which optimises the roll of the ball, while the best test-performing Emerald model also has top-weighting to create more topspin.
But we don't just have to take the company's word for it.
Independant testing by the Quintic Consultancy, specialists in Sports Video Analysis Software, Sports Biomechanics and Performance Analysis, using a robot arm and ultra high-speed video at 250 frames per second, has shown that GEL putters outperformed five well-known brands, including other grooved putters, by up to 20% in producing topspin, or forward roll. (See the test results here.)
But while the figures are convincing, a putter must also feel right, so I chose a classic-looking Jade model, very similar in shape to my Ping, to try on the office carpet.
GEL putters are heavier in the head than most, either 360g or 400g, depending on the model. This compares to something in the low 300g for most putters on the market. As a result they are reassuring to heft in the hand, and a single practice stroke told me it would be much easier to hit smoothly through the ball, rather than at it, a boon to those of us who tend to dribble the short ones and have left many a three-footer short.
With ball this time, one putt was enough to seduce me. The ball seems to linger on the clubface insert a fraction of a second, rather than just bouncing off. The sound, too, is quite different from a steel, flat-faced putter; more of a gentle thud than the tinny twang I am used to.
The strike was comnforting and solid, and I felt I was in control of the ball. I liked the Winn polymer grip, soft and pleasantly tacky, and found it encouraged a lighter hold on the putter, something I always find very difficult. Just a few more putts and I had a real feeling of confidence. I could see the logo on the ball tracking end over end, with the ball seeming to home in on the hole.
Early the next morning I gave it a sterner test. On a dew covered green, where the skip and skid can be expected to be even worse than usual, the improvement was instantly evident. A satisfying, almost immediately unbroken line in the dew attested to the end over end roll of the ball imparted by the grooves.
I tried a few short ones. Four three-footers from the points of the compass all dived confidently into the hole. I made three of the four six-footers I tried next, sadly getting over-confident, looking up and pushing the fourth. I tried again and made all four, head well down...
I loved the feel of the heavy head, and was shocked at how uncomfortable I became when I reverted, in the name of science, to my Ping to hit a few for comparison; the lighter head was so much harder to control and stroke smoothly.
Left: the top-weighted (and top-performing) Emerald, with its easy alignment feature
Right: the elegant mallet head of the Topaz
Time for some longer ones. If anything this was even more of a revelation. Having once been told by a disgruntled foursomes partner that my putting showed all the touch of an elephant in boxing gloves, it was a joy to be rolling them close from long-distance, and actually feeling that I was going to do just that. Once again, the heavy head seemed to drive smoothly through the ball, with no conscious "strike" on my part. I was actually getting them "inside the dustbin lid" from twenty and thirty feet, and had no problems holing out. Three putts goodbye.
I gave myself a long, very straight one - the sort I hate the most. It rolled, and rolled, and rolled perfectly true, and went in dead centre.
I've never been a fan of putting practice - probably why I'm so bad, but this time I took great pleasure in spending an hour and a half getting to know the new love of my golfing life.
A fellow early-riser on his way to the first tee watched me for a minute and said I shouldn't be "wasting" them on the practice green. I wan't bothered, and told him so. I knew there were plenty more where they were coming from - that's the feeling you get with this putter.
I did try two other models from the range, which share all the same technology and superb feel, but I am happy with the Jade. It is not the best performing model in the range, according to the scientific tests, but I don't care. It works for me, the classic shape fits my eye, it feels great and I have confidence in it. You cannot really ask more from a putter!
There are six men's models in all and each comes in 34" and 35" lengths:
Emerald: 400g, blade putter with a back- and top-weighted head, with easy-alignment markings. This was the best perfoming model in the independant tests. Available L/H and R/H.
Diamond: 360g, mallet putter, also with easy-alignment markings. L/H and R/H.
Jade: 360g, traditional blade, face-balanced. R/H only.
Opal: 400g, centre shaft, with even weight distribution. R/H only.
Ruby: 360g, another traditional blade, toe-heavy. R/H only.
Topaz: 400g, over-sized mallet with perimeter weighting. L/H and R/H.
For ladies, Emerald and Topaz are supplied in both L/H and R/H models, with 33" shafts. All other specifications are as for the men's range.
The colour scheme of these eye-catching clubs - baby-blue insert in the face, blue and yellow grips and headcover for men - won't appeal to everyone, except possibly Swedish nationalists. The names, too, come from precious stones, and we all know players who would feel their masculinity threatened if they ventured onto the course with them. Too bad. Depending on your skill level, putting represents 40-50% of all the shots you hit in a round, so swallow your pride and start holing some putts. Or get your pro to change the grip.
The only drawback I see with the flamboyant colours is that your playing partners will very quickly cotton on to the reason for your new-found putting touch, and go out and buy themselves one. And then where's your advantage?
Ladies, by the way, get a deep pink and blue look on their models, which I suspect they will find very appealing.
Left: the ladies' Emerald model, with pink face insert and blue and pink grip
Right: the innovative putter headcover with magnetic closure
The colourful headcovers also have a nice touch. Instead of the usual pop-stud or velcro closure, a pair of magnets invisibly - and silently - do the job. Very neat.
The RRP for a GEL Putter in the UK is a very affordable £99.99 - a great deal less than most putters boasting sophisticated engineering technology. Distribution in the UK is growing, but if you cannot find one at your local pro or golf store, you can buy online at www.gelgolf.co.uk, where you will also find more about the technology behind the putters and full details of the range.
For readers outside the UK, details can be found at www.gelgolf.com.
With Christmas approaching this could be the most rewarding golf gift you ever gave or received. Meanwhile I'm off to enjoy my putting honeymoon with Jade.