To get an accurate description of what a golfer really believes the perfect putting instrument should be, go to the dictionary and look under the word "fetish." The definition goes something like this: "An object supposed to possess magical powers or to be endowed with energies or qualities capable of bringing to successful issue the designs of the owner."
These are high standards of hopefulness and, despite continued and feverous searching, few such perfect golf clubs are ever found. Those that do turn up seem, strangely, to lose their powers within a few weeks. As a natural result, especially on the professional circuit where missed putts often cost a great deal of money, a serious, sophisticated competitor will change his putter almost as often as he will his socks. Fortunately, or unfortunately, there is a tremendous selection of putters from which to make a choice.
There are, broadly speaking, two basic types of putters: the blade, in which the head is a half-inch thick—or less; and the mallet, so called because the head may be anywhere from one-half inch to three inches thick. The variations, however, are endless: Cash-in, Bull's Eye (formerly the Rocking Chair), Blue Goose, His Own, Troon, Caliente, Jackpot, Gold-boy, Axaline and Jet Line are some of the names attached to the more popular brands.
This year it seems that constant putter-switching is in for an unprecedented surge because each of the first four events of the winter was won by a man who had just switched to a new implement. Ken Venturi won the Los Angeles Open wielding, for the first time in competition, a model of his own design, built somewhat along the lines of the well-known Cash-in. It features a brass blade with a slight goose neck that enters the blade about¾ of an inch from the heel. Ken is pretty well satisfied, especially after his final round 63 at L.A., that his putter has the magic power all right. What he needs now is a socko name to create brand image and pep up sales.
The tour's second event at Tijuana was won by Ernie Vossler, who had abandoned his mallet putter for this particular tournament and was using an Axaline, a chunky, brass-blade putter that concentrates a lot of weight in the head. Billy Casper, one of golf's finest putters, has also become an ardent switcher and used the Axaline for a brief period. After the third round at Thunderbird, Casper discarded his old mallet-head putter and fired a final round 67 with the Axaline. He stayed with the new weapon long enough to miss three three-foot putts in the San Diego pro-am and now he employs a putter with a Bull's Eye head on a five-iron shaft.
The Bing Crosby was won by saturnine Art Wall, using a new putter, and the Thunderbird Invitational by Arnold Palmer, putting with an old blade attached to a new, outsizedly thick shaft. Wall, long considered something of a touring eccentric because he remained slavishly loyal to the same old battered blade he had been given in 1945, suddenly decided to cast aside 13 years of tradition and won his first tournament of the year playing with a malleable aluminum-headed, glass-shafted Troon mallet putter.
"Maybe I made a mistake in not going to this mallet sooner," Wall admits. "I may stay with it now."
In a variation of the orthodox switch, Palmer audaciously yanked the old shaft out of his flanged blade putter and, midway through Thunderbird, substituted a thick wooden shaft that has about as much "touch" as a broom handle. It worked, however, and Palmer, thanks to only 24 putts on the final day, shot a 62 to win the event by three strokes.
Currently, though the Bull's Eye (a blade-type used by about 25% of the field) is still the most popular putter on the tour, the trend seems to be definitely in favor of mallet heads. "With a mallet," says Jimmy Demaret, "you can mis-hit the ball a little and still get a good roll."
Fred Hawkins, determined to have the final, iconoclastic word, is cynical about this whole, frantic switching business. "I use a blade," he says, "but I don't think it makes too much difference what kind of putter you use. If you have a good putting stroke you'll putt well. If you don't, then switching from one putter to another won't help very much in the long run."