The Club Report: Bridgestone True Balance Putters
By Dave Wolfe
To Sell Stuff, You Need Stuff To Sell
It was a week or so ago when Tony mentioned that Bridgestone was planning on making a big golf market impact in 2015. While we don’t really know what the “big impact” will look like, I’m willing to bet that it will involve bringing new gear to the consumer.
OK, so that’s not the most revelatory of statements. If a company wants to sell stuff, they need to have stuff to sell. For Bridgestone, I believe that first of all it means that they need to get more gear out there for the consumer to try. People who have tried Bridgestone clubs always rave about them, but most of us will never find them in the local shop. I have a huge shop near me, and it is lacking Bridgestone clubs to demo. Hopefully improved access will be part of the 2015 plan.
Making existing designs available is a good start, but probably not a plan that will equate to big impact. For that, Bridgestone needs new gear. They need better gear. More innovative. They need golf gear that separates them from the other companies in the marketplace. They will need to standout in the already crowded shop for consumers to take notice. I’m sure we will see huge advertising campaigns like they’ve done with their balls. When the B330 swing-speed-fitted balls launched, they changed the ball marketplace. Their new club lines will need similar innovation if they are to do anything sustainable in the market.
Fact is, they need to take some risks. Some of their designs need to be on the edge of technology, and also on the edge of golfing consumer acceptance. The golf pool is very full already and Bridgestone will need to make some waves if they hope to hit open water. Slapping a big “B” logo on a boring cavity back iron or marginal driver will not get it done.
Although it’s not 2015 yet, Bridgestone is already showing the golf consumer that they are willing to take some risks. Today we will look at the Bridgestone True Balance putters. This line is a risky venture. Bridgestone is wading in uncharted waters. The True Balance putters are that different from other putters out there. When you swing one, you will feel something unlike any other putter that you have swung before.
I know that that last paragraph sounds like something a carnival barker would say. Come and see the True Balance putter. It’s right between the strong man and the bearded lady. Calling the True Balance design freaky is a bit over the top, but it definitely is not your usual fare.
Making a putter line that deviates from the field is a risky, but becomes less risky if the different and innovative design actually works.
Specifications: Bridgestone True Balance Putters
- Head Material: Stainless steel with dual layer groove insert
- Head Weight: 360 grams
- Loft: 4°
- Lie: 71°
- Shaft Weights: 103 g (steel) / 33 g (True Balance graphite)
- Grip Weights: 83 g (rubber) / 10 g (Standard EVA) / 20 g (Oversize EVA)
- Traditional Models: TD-01, TD-02, & TD-03
- True Balance Models: TD-01 & TD-03
True Balance Technology: The Grips
I am still working to finish up my degree in polymer chemistry, so I’ll defer to the internet for information on Ethyl Vinyl Acetate.
Ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) is the copolymer of ethylene and vinyl acetate. It’s an extremely elastic material that can be sintered to form a porous material similar to rubber, yet with excellent toughness. It is three times as flexible as low-density polyethylene (LDPE), showing tensile elongation of 750% with a peak melting temperature of 250°F (96°C).
This material has good barrier properties, low-temperature toughness, stress-crack resistance, hot-melt adhesive waterproof properties, and resistance to ultraviolet radiation. EVA has little or no odor and is competitive with rubber and vinyl products in many electrical applications.
Porex Plastic Manufacturing
I realize that most putter articles are totally devoid of plastic polymer discussion, but it is relevant with the Bridgestone True Balance line because the EVA grip is so atypical. I was very curious about the material, because it seemed like it was made from the same plastic foam as swimming pool noodles. As it turns out, I wasn’t far off as the noodles are made of polyethylene. Maybe that is far off. Again, not a polymer chemist.
Getting to the point, my initial take on the puffy yellow grip was that it was very light, and comfortable to hold, but potentially fragile as it gets used to putt, and also as it is moved in and out of the bag. Learning a little about ethyl vinyl acetate gives me a little more confidence in the longevity of the grip. Time will tell if it is truly a strong enough material to stand up to the rigors of play. More on the play experiences in a bit.
The EVA grip is available in both standard and oversize sizes.
Now I just need to go an look up sintering.
True Balance Technology: The Shaft
Graphite putter shafts have been around for a while now. Matrix has been making them for a few years. I believe that the Bridgestone True Balance line is the first retail putter line to feature graphite shafts though.
The huge difference between the other graphite putter shafts in the market and the Bridgestone True Balance shaft is weight. The previously mentioned Matrix putter shafts weigh in at 125-145 grams. The True Balance shaft is only 33 grams. For reference, the steel shaft is 103 grams.
The 33 gram shaft, combined with a EVA grip that weighs 10 or 20 grams depending on size, results in a putter where the vast majority of the weight is in the 360 gram head. That’s roughly 90% of the weight in the head.
True Balance Technology: The Circus Trick
The above photo shows one of the most interesting features of the TD-03 putter. You can set it on the ground, and it will stand up on its own. There is so much mass in the head that it anchors the club to the Earth, thus preventing it from tipping over. Bridgestone should run a contest where people take photos of the putter standing up in interesting places. I’d love to see where people would put it.
Anyway, there must be a point to the head heavy design. It must relate in some way to how it plays. The balancing is a great feature if you want to keep grass off of the grip when you are chipping, but for some reason, I don’t think that allowing the putter to stand on its own was the designers goal.
So what is the point of the True Balance putter’s unique head-heavy weight distribution?
“If you can feel the head, you can control the head”
Line, Roll, and Speed
I don’t have the skill of a tour player, and definitely not the knowledge of a Top 100 instructor. Even so, I am pretty sure that if someone can effectively account for line, roll, and speed when putting, then he or she will probably putt very well. If you struggle with one of these areas (or more than one), the True Balance system is here to help. Bridgestone says:
- Balance point less than 5″ from sole provides incredible feel and connection to the putter head, improving speed and distance control
- Naturally “gates” through the stroke and squares to the target, eliminating the most common miss of short, right
- Make more putts!
“If you can feel the head, you can control the head.” is the quote on the True Balance product page. I interpret this as an awareness of the position of the head, and what it is doing during the stroke, should allow the golfer to make sure that the head is in the correct position when it impacts the ball.
This is an interesting take. Bridgestone is marketing “incredible feel” with their putters, as opposed to something more traditionally marketed, like a unique alignment scheme. I suppose counter-balanced designs also market “feel”, but those go in a totally different direction. The counter-weight in the grip of a counter-balanced putter reduces the feel of the heavy head, where as the light grip and shaft combo dramatically emphasizes the heaviness of the head.
Could it be that an awareness of the head’s position could make you a better putter?
The new line features three models, the TD-01, TD-02, and the TD-03. This new True Balance technology is available in the TD-01 and the TD-03.
The TD-01 is probably the most atypical of the heads in the line, though it looks somewhat normal at first glance. The TD-01 is a compact, round mallet. It’s face-balanced, like you would expect, and its insert combined with it’s head shape and mass, delivers a responsive roll on the ball.
Then you look at the neck. That’s unusual. Slanted, long-neck hosels are definitely not a common feature these days. Then you add on the True Balance shaft and grip and all of the sudden you have a compact mallet that gets more original in its design in a hurry.
If you are a mallet player, and interested in the True Balance technology, this is your putter. The only drawback is that this model can’t do the stand-up-on-its-own circus trick.
Truth be told, I discounted the TD-02 when I first saw it. I viewed it as boring compared to the other two True Balance designs. It has a traditional grip, and steel shaft. To use that word again, it’s very traditional.
Brandt Snedeker made this one a little more interesting when he dropped his long-bagged Odyssey for it. That made me a bit more curious about the TD-02.
After rolling is for a while, I get why Brandt would switch. It’s he switched to the TD-02 because Bridgestone pressured him to use it. Maybe they did. I don’t know, I was not part of that conversation, but I believe he switched because the TD-02 is a great little mallet. Sure, bagging one more Bridgestone club does ingrain him deeper with the Bridgestone brand, but these guys still want to win, so they will only play what works.
Brandt is an excellent putter, with a unique “pop” style of putting. If it wasn’t a quality putter, and he didn’t putt well with it, I don’t see him playing it.
I’ll put it this way. If the new idea True Balance versions did not exist, I would feel very excited about what Bridgestone was bringing to market after rolling this TD-02. The TD-02 can’t come in a True Balance version, as its double-bend shaft bending doesn’t mesh well with that whole graphite shaft thing.
Don’t think of the rubber grip and steel shaft as a handicap though. The TD-02 is still solid. Though I didn’t have steel versions of the TD-01 or TD-03 to roll, I bet those steel versions roll very nicely as well.
Those of you who are interested in Bridgestone’s putters, but wary of the True Balance technology, should definitely start here. This putter should be in the conversation with any other similar mallet in the marketplace.
The TD-03 is Bridgestone’s take on the classic Anser design. It has all of the features and specs that we associate with that style head. It’s a little head heavier than competitors, as are all of the heads, but the heel and toe weighting, along with a roughly 4:30 toe hang, should make someone who plays this style of putter very comfortable.
The TD-03 does come with the True Balance options, and that steers it away from the just-another-Anser conversation. The head-heavy feel of the TD-03 will not be found in another model of putter in the shop.
This would also be the model that can do the standing-up circus trick.
How Does it Play?
For on course adventures, I selected the True Balance version of the TD-01. It had the True Balance shaft and the oversized version of the grip. Heading out to the course, I had two main concerns. How would the foam grip hold up to bag time, and how would the True Balance system work during play?
So maybe those two issues are not of equal importance, but the grip resilience and longevity really worried me. It just seemed like the foam would be easily cut, chipped, and on its way to being too damaged to comfortably play after not too many rounds of golf.
How did it hold up?
Not a mark after eighteen holes walking, and another eighteen riding. I still don’t know what EVA is all about, but it is definitely stronger than I expected. I still have concerns about a season of play with the grip, but maybe Bridgestone will have replacement grips available so it won’t really be an issue.
FWIW, I definitely preferred the oversized version to the standard version. The standard version seemed a bit undersized , with a fairly sharp underside geometry where it would interact with your fingers. It’s not that putting was hindered by the smaller grip, it’s just that I liked the larger, rounder grip better. Again, FWIW.
So how did it play? First of all, it was fun to have random people pick up the putter. The weight never failed to shock. I said before that the feel is different with this True Balance line. Not a single person could remember another putter that felt like this one. Most of them were also surprised at how it rolled the ball.
Again, so how did it play? Was it the king of line, roll, & speed? Line was good. The simple alignment system worked. Roll was excellent. The insert is lively and provides ample feedback should you wander the face.
Speed control is astounding. This was the part that I expected to be the most difficult and inconsistent. With the weight distribution being so strange, I fully expected to spend the rounds long and shore of the hole. Not so. The TD-01 was amazingly consistent with distance. I guess that means I was amazingly consistent with it, and usually speed control gets me a bit. For lack of a more concrete explanation, it just feels like you know how hard to swing the putter for various distances.
Maybe this is the result of increased awareness of the heavy head. I lean toward that explanation since the weighting is the big feature. Regardless, I was not alone in this feeling. Guys on the practice green also commented on how easy it was to hit the distance number. This also held true for the TD-03, by the way.
Take it for what you will but in the two rounds there were lots of one-putts, a handful of lip outs, and no three jacks. I was very impressed as this was not a putter that I felt that I had dialed in through practice. It just worked.
On a side note, putting with the TD-01 was unusually fun. I think that this is due to the almost absurd overall lightness and the bright yellow foam grip. One of the guys named it Mr. Foamy during the round. Another one wanted to know if it floated, perhaps for easier fishing out of a pond. For whatever reason, the Bridgestone True Balance putter added more lightness to the round than just it’s grip and shaft.
I really enjoyed putting with the TD-01, much more so than I expected to. The fact that the putts were also pretty good was almost secondary. Almost.
Are You Willing To Try New Things?
I just finished listening to a great TED Talk podcast about What is Original? The speakers had some very interesting ideas about if it was in fact possible to come up with something truly original. Most of the experts agreed that innovation is rarely truly original, but rather the best original ideas reflect a combination of prior ideas put together in new ways. In other words, new successful ideas build upon previously successful ideas.
Bridgestone has not come up with a totally new putter design with this True Balance line. I know that someone reading this is just waiting to get to the end to let us all know that the TD-03 is just an Anser clone. I’m not going to argue that, it definitely is derivative of the Anser.
However, I have rolled the True Balance putters enough to know that there is definitely something to what Bridgestone is doing. They have taken an idea, and built something new into it. I don’t know that the lightweight shaft and grip design will become a foundational design element that other putter makes will then “improve upon” down the road, but I do know that Bridgestone has made something that feels very different with these putters.
I really hope you can find these in your local shop for demo. Hopefully you will have a “wow” moment when you feel their weighting, followed by another “wow” when you roll some balls on the green.
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