How a putter fitting felt like falling in love all over again

Golf Equipment

In a golf career spanning four decades, Mark Townsend has just had his first putter fitting – and it stirred all the right emotions

You never forget your first love. Mine came about in the mid 80s and lasted four blissful years. We were rarely apart, our happiest times came in the summer months and, on two occasions, we even holidayed together.

It was the same place, Sitges in Spain, but that didn’t matter. The sun was on our backs, we were full of hope for the future – they were the happiest days of our lives.

And then one Sunday afternoon in 1988 she was lost to me. I can’t remember the turn of events as to where or when we were parted at Wimbledon Park. I would leave Have You Seen photos on trees dotted around the course but she was never to be seen again.

I am, of course, talking about my first putter.

She was a Tour Touch, which was an Anser lookalike – but a quarter of the price – and she was all mine.

The mind probably plays tricks but putts dropped in those days and, if they didn’t, they were struck in the hope that they would.

There wasn’t endless worrying about the consequences, more a joie de vivre. Live for the day was my modus operandi, these days it is more to lag anything outside six feet.

To that adolescent she was the only part of my life that didn’t involve any awkwardness in my mid-to-late teens.

From that Sunday onwards it has generally been a series of misfiring relationships. There have been a whole host of one-round stands, some of which have been cast-offs from well-meaning friends.

“We just want you to be happy, and you’re not,” they would say.

There has been the odd time where I have thrown money at the problem, carried away by a snazzy appearance, but it never lasted and we were both back on the shelf before too long.

I have gone back to exes, being reminded within the first 10 minutes quite why we had split up in the first place. I have briefly toyed with a weightier version and even experimented with a broom handle which I knew was wrong but I quite enjoyed the different experience.

In the interim there has only been one other true love. Her name was Lizzy Plus and we were brought together in Southport by Harold Swash’s grandson. Everything about her was right, she was the one who caught my eye when I saw her and her mates lined up against the wall, I was advised that we would get on and, for five years, we did.

All the years of hurt and misery over grip mismanagement and here was the answer

It was like the summer of ’86 all over again, this time we travelled the world together and she gave me my favourite moment on a golf course, a 15-footer to win a play-off of huge importance at Woburn.

But then the mask began to slip a little or rather her grip. I’m not sure what happened but things weren’t right – think Leslie Ash and that surgery – and there then followed three months of various specialists trying to put things right.

They couldn’t, we were done.

I have been seeing Sandy pretty much regularly the past three years, we didn’t have the best of summers in 2015 so had a bit of time apart, but we’ve been happy enough. There was the odd sensational high, a 30-footer for birdie in extra holes when it was so dark we had agreed to toss a coin if the hole was halved, but, on the whole, we’ve just been drifting along.

Things weren’t helped when an expert in the field – he’s coached a Masters winner – informed me that the grip, again, was wonky and that she was pointing left, probably due to a lack of care and attention from me. But, despite the lack of trust and, if we were being honest, much genuine affection, we’ve stuck by each other.

Sandy is now a thing of the past, it was all quite amicable, and in her place is an O-Works #1 Wide. Which might not trip off the tongue quite as easily but I’m hoping this is it.

At 46 it’s time to settle down.

Callaway Odyssey #1

 

So how did we arrive with, let’s just call her, the #1?

It all began a few months ago at a quite spectacular day at Headingley to celebrate the club’s 125th anniversary. The course was a collection of par 3s, beers, wines, cheeses, nibbles and, on the putting green, a competition to win an Odyssey putter.

Everyone had two attempts, the distance was around 45 feet and nearest the pin would win the putter of their choice.

My first effort was respectable enough (it was 10 feet short in truth) while the second was, if nothing else, good for line. It was mooted, rather unfairly I thought, that it should have finished up in a flower bed but it struck the pin full on and stopped a couple of inches away, much to the enjoyment of my playing partner who had just taken the lead at nine inches.

Before too long we were then to be brought together by Callaway’s Tom Gradwell, a club and putting fitter and someone who, I hoped, might prove to be the matchmaker for all my future happiness on the greens.

From the next half an hour I was after a) a putter that I loved the look and feel of; b) a putter I could trust; c) peace of mind that we were meant for one another; d) something fresh; and e) ideally a jazzy head cover.

You might wonder why someone who has played the game for 35 years, and worked in it for 15, has only had one putter fitting in all that time?

They always trot out that something like 45 per cent of our time is spent putting yet we are all obsessed with tweaking our driver 0.5˚ or sticking in an extra wedge.

Sadly we’re all as bad as each other.

“You will pick up a putter in the shop, have a practice stroke and that can be enough for some people. If there were 100 punters in a shop, five per cent at the most would get it right, it’s a complete guess. Yes, you want it to suit your eye but the length, grip and lie have to be right,” Tom explains.

“I have seen some real horrors, some putters that people make themselves, belly putter which have been cut down and so have heavier shafts and the weights are all out.”

We began with some 20-footers and Tom told me I have a neutral stroke, which I took as a compliment and immediately likened myself to Padraig Harrington, and I would therefore be more suited to something face balanced.

I had already had my eye caught by two models by the time the introductions were done and, thank the lord, the #1 and 2-ball both fell into this category.

We could immediately eliminate the toe hangers and we were down to just two. More putts, some loft and lie advice and some more putts from short range.

Both were fantastic, both had a noticeably incredible roll due to a revolutionary insert which encourages ‘incredible gains in topspin’ but I had been charmed very early in this process. It was always going to be the #1 Wide and, not that I needed much persuasion, but Tom was also on board with it.

As for the something fresh aspect the standard grip was a SuperStroke Pistol GT Tour which, to this philistine, was like turning on a light in a room.

All the years of hurt and misery over Lizzy’s grip mismanagement and here was the answer.

But Lizzy has gone (she’s actually still in my garage, I went and said hello just the other day) and I’m now smitten with a member of the Odyssey family.

And the early signs are very encouraging, so much that I bring her into pretty much every conversation as you do in the early days of a blossoming romance.

And all down to a putter fitting – who would have thought of such a thing?

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