In one of golf’s most famous images, Jack Nicklaus strides toward the 17th hole at Augusta National, arm raised after holing a birdie putt in the final round of the 1986 Masters. Usually cut from the photo is the putter above Jack’s head: a MacGregor Response ZT, which with its six-inch-long blade was about 33 percent larger than most putters back then.
Fast forward 30 years and club designers like ZT creator Clay Long—who works for TaylorMade—are looking back at Nicklaus’s dramatic victory not for its nostalgic value but as scientific validation of the oversized putters they’re building today.
“Big means greater inertia, more stability, and it always has,” says Long, whose new OS putters from TaylorMade are about five inches long, a quarter to half an inch longer than the company’s other models. “The physics behind oversized means more forgiveness on off-center hits. It’s the same reason drivers and irons have gotten bigger: more forgiveness.”
Scotty Cameron is another proponent of bigness: His new Futura X7 putters feature longer blades than earlier models.
“The larger we make it, the more forgiving it becomes with a larger sweet spot,” Cameron has said. “This also allows us to add more alignment lines. The more lines, the easier it is to line up the ball.”
One result of a longer face is a putter’s increased resistance to twisting at impact—a property known as moment of inertia, or MOI.
“Increasing MOI makes everyone a better putter,” says Jeff Ryan, co-founder of Cure Putters, notable for their large size. “Inside 20 feet, the number-one factor is face angle at impact, and the most important thing is increased MOI.
“MOI has been shown to be more efficient and improve performance in sports in multiple ways: Think bigger tennis racquets,” explains Ryan. “It takes out the mis-strike, leads to better distance control. Bigger is definitely better in a putter.”
At SeeMore, maker of the center-shafted putter Zach Johnson used to win last year’s Open Championship, owner Jim Grundberg wanted to go bigger but not lose the square-to-the-arc consistency his clubs are noted for. “About three years ago I said, ‘Look what Nicklaus did at the ’86 Masters. Why wouldn’t the world accept a bigger putter today?’ So we made our FGP blade putter—which is standard at about 4-1/2 inches—in different sizes, including one at 5.8 inches long. It retains all the same benefits, but because it’s longer and has extra heel-toe weighting, is more forgiving. It’s MOI that counts.”
Big putters are a small segment of the market, but like the clubs themselves, should grow. “It’s always been good physics,” says Long. “I have no doubt that two years from now putters will be bigger than they are today. Maybe not much bigger, but bigger.”