The flange putter is a classic design that has managed to survive into the modern era. I dug deep into the archives for this 70′s era article covering the origins of the flanged blade. There are some great little nuggets buried within this text – some Toney Penna quotes, discussion of lofts and deadweights used by the pros, and some insight into the tinkering habits of some major winners. Jerry Barber, George Low, Jack Lowe, Roger Maltby – there are a lot of top names providing input here. Enjoy!
Flange Putters – The Bottom-Heavy Blades by Grant Rogers
Under the United States Golf Association rules, the choice of putters is almost unlimited. Their most specific rule is that the putterhead’s length “shall be greater than the breadth,” length meaning from the back of the heel to the end of the toe, and breadth being the horizontal line between the outermost points of the face and back of the head. Consequently, variations of design are allowed, making it easy for the clubmaker to come up with an incredible array of shapes and styles. In spite of the wide selection, however, putters fall into two basic categories: mallet and blade types. During the past few months in its series on putters, Par Golf has covered a plethora of “trick” designs in both mallets and blades. This month’s feature deals specifically with flange putters which are characterized by a projecting rim or collar on the back of the blade.
In researching information on the flange group, some interesting information surfaced regarding its evolution and well earned popularity.
Veteran clubmakers and pros generally argee that the Tommy Armour Ironmaster was the first really fashionable flange putter. Armour, of course, is the famous player who won several important events in Scotland, then emigrated to the United States to become a golf professional in 1924. After winning a major championship, he later earned a place in golf history as a renowned teacher. Toney Penna, a professional of note both as a player and teacher, was in charge of the design of Armour’s putter at the dawn of his career as chief designer for MacGregor. Penna’s association there lasted 32 years until he moved to Florida in 1964 to launch his own custom clubmaking company.
Penna recalls the debut of the Armour club as being 1937, which would make it seven years after Bobby Jones won the Grand Slam. “We made two types of end-shafted, one with a slight goose-neck (1/8 inch) and the other with a 1/4 inch,” Penna reminisces.
“The flange was wide, 1 1/8-inch, and the putter was popular because it set more properly on turf than a regular blade and was a combination of a blade and a mallet type. We made it available with all types of grips, including pistol and leather. MacGregor still makes that type of putter, but not with Armour’s name on it, and the putter is widely used and copied today. Flange putters are preferred by many tour pros, including Arnold Palmer, who took a couple right out of my bag during my MacGregor days.”
Jack Lowe, a veteran Los Angeles custom clubmaker who spent 30 years in the design of golf clubs with First Flight, said that the evolution of the flange also had a lot to do with the weight of the clubhead. “Blade putters, such as the Calamity Jane (Jones’ famed blade putter) were found to be a little too light so the flange was designed as a means of adding weight,” said Lowe. “Clubmaking technology in the 1930′s had not yet reached the stage where heel-and-toe balance of the clubhead could easily be designed and manufactured. Players had flange irons in those days, too, for adding weight to the clubhead. I recall Gene Sarazen came out with a set of flange irons and a flange putter. Walter Hagen, certainly one of the best putters of his day, had a flange putter which was then manufactured for him by the L.A. Young Co. Eventually, when the clubhead got too heavy for the flange, it was ground off at the heel and toe to lessen the weight.” (Editor’s note: Spalding likewise produced a flange iron.)
Lowe is recognized, along with Kenneth Smith, the famous custom clubmaker, as being among the first to design swingweight into clubs (Swingweight refers to the overall balance of the club and what is felt by the golfer when he swings.) Ironically, neither Penna nor Lowe today make putter at their custom clubmaking shops.
Another reason flange irons became a vogue in the 1930′s and 1940′s was that fairways were not watered like they are today and clubs had a tendency to bounce. Flared-back irons disappeared from the scene around the mid-50′s, but flange putters remained. Today the flange idea is strictly there for looks and feel, but both are vital ingredients in a player’s selection of a club. 1970 clubmakers have developed the finesse of heel-and-toe clubhead balances, particularly through casting processes. Therefore, the flange needs no longer to be there just for adding weight. Club manufacturers will no doubt agree with Jerry Barber’s theory that, “Players select a putter for the feel and the balance, while looks are a matter of personal taste.” The flange putter apparently embodies these qualities-for it has undoubtedly become the most sought putter by both tour pros and the golfing public.
Barber, one of the most skilled putters ever to play on the pro tour, has parlayed his name and reputation into a large-scale putter manufacturing firm. Several tour pros have had him make putters for them and among those who have on occasion ordered flange type from Barber are Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead, Lanny Wadkins, Miller Barber and Art Wall. Tour pros, of course, are famous for experimenting with putters of all types. Palmer, who is really into testing putters, has always favored the flange type. Nicklaus, who does little experimentation with putters, has always favored the flange type. Bob Rosburg, another tour pro noted for his putting who admits to using all kinds of wands, says he prefers the Tommy Armour flange type.
There’s another famous tour pro who uses a flange putter, and he’s done quite well with it. Although he’s more widely known for his flat swing, scoring ability, merrymaking, jokes and television commercials, this guy has done wonders with his flange putter. He spends a lot of time practicing with it, not only on the green but on the carpet of his room whether at home or in a hotel. His name is Lee Trevino. Yes, “SuperMex,” has consistently used a flange since 1968, the year he first made headlines in winning the U.S. Open.
“If you realize how much Trevino changes his other clubs, it comes as a surprise that he has used basically the same flange putter for more than five years,” said Ralph Maltby, an official with Faultless Golf Products, with whom Lee is affiliated. “Trevino will make many changes in his clubs, everything from grips to head shapes, drilling holes in clubs, bending hosels and shortening shafts,” Maltby commented. “But he stays with the same type of putter-just fiddling around with it, bending a little offset in it, and making a little more or less loft in the putter-head. We have made available a copy of his putter, called the Lee Trevino Sombrero. It’s end-shafted like his, but ours has a rubber grip while his is leather. The production model is slightly lighter and has a 1/2-inch shorter shaft length (35 inches) than Lee’s.
In recent years, the flange putter has evolved into a design with a cavity, either rectangular, square, or semi-oval, in the back section or center of the head. The most notable of these to burst onto the scen and become a hot seller was the Ping, manufactured by Karsten Solheim of Phoenix, Arizona. Pings provide a distinctive sound and feel on contact with the ball. In recent months, somewhat similar designs have started to pop up all over the place.
Since the selection of a putter is a very personal matter, putter popularity trends can shift just like with automobiles or clothes. In this era, it appears that the flange is becoming more and more of a favorite-as revealed by a look at the putter rack of most pro shops, in the catalogs of club manufacturers, and what’s in use on the pro tour. Is the flange there as a functional addition, as would be the case of an airfoil on an automobile, or for looks, as were fail fins on cars of the late 1950′s? Questioning of players and club designers would reveal that the flange is there for a combination of reasons: function, “feel,” balance, and looks. The latter reason should not be underemphasized as it can instill confidence in the putting stroke.
“The main feature of flange-type putters is that the greatest weight mass is below the horizontal center line,” says Gil Gividen, a PGA member who is on the professional advisory staff of Tap-In Putters in Tequesda, Florida. “The impact impetus is, therefore, below the center line of the ball, causing optimum bounce and roll of the ball. Speaking scientifically, the flange-type putter has better weight distribution than any other. If the head weighs approximately 10 1/2 ounces, it should more nearly approximate the swingweight (head feel) of the golfer’s other irons that he uses for chipping. This relationship enhances distance control and enables the golfer to be up to or past the hole more often on the longer lag putts.”
Headweight accounts for approximately 2/3 of a putter’s overall weight, which normally is from 15 to 18 ounces. A shaft will usually weight 4 or 4 1/2 ounces and the grip, 1.8 ounces. Jerry Barber told me that although most of the putters he sell usually weight 17 ounces, he personally uses a 19-ounce putter with a heavy head.. Most tour pros use an overall weight of 17 ounces.
The standard shaft length of a putter is generally considered to be 35 inches and is the size many pros use. The lie of a putter is usually 68 to 75 degrees. (The club lie is the angle the shaft makes when resting correctly in your hands at address). A standard lie will generally suit the average person. Only exceptionally tall or short golfers need worry about ordering a special lie. “Normal” loft of a putter is usually 2 to 3 degrees.
All things considered, the heel-to-toe balance of a putter is the most important factor influencing the stroke. It should provide a pendulum-like swing, thus eliminating completely any opening or closing of the face of the putter.
Like Jerry Barber, George Low is a firm believer that the proper putter is most essential for a player to putt well. Low, a former touring pro who has often been referred to as “the man who teaches the pros how to putt,” also has a line of putters bearing his name. Says Lowe, who has been called the world’s greatest putter, “Don’t let anybody con you into believing that anyone with a good stroke can hole ‘em with anything from a poker to an umbrella. If you are going to be a good putter, you have to develop a good repeating stroke with a putter that feels like what it should be – a sensitive instrument.”