Fact or Fiction? Looks Impact How Your Putter Performs
By Dave Wolfe
There is nothing in machinery, there is nothing in embankments and railways and iron bridges and engineering devices to oblige them to be ugly. Ugliness is the measure of imperfection. – H. G. Wells
Some of you are not going to like what I tell you today. You are going to dismiss what I have written. You will immediately jump to the comment section to let me know how much of an idiot I am.
I understand that impulse.
I really do.
No so long ago, I would have been shoulder to shoulder with you, torches held aloft as we stormed the castle in fury.
All I ask today is that you postpone your judgement until you have read the whole story and looked at the data.
What is this taboo topic? What subject am I psychologically easing you into? It’s not a complex statement, but it will be controversial. The topic for today is:
Aesthetic opinions do not affect putter accuracy
Yes, that’s right. I am saying that an individual’s views on a putter’s looks will not affect the putting accuracy of the person with that putter. One of the aspects of our Golf’s Most Wanted putter tests that some people have a hard time accepting is that aesthetic like or dislike does not influence accuracy.
In other words, you can make lots of putts with an ugly putter.
Some of you will tell me about the confidence you gain when you look affectionately at your attractive putter, and that this confidence makes you a better putter because putting is all about confidence.
Mental state absolutely influences putting, and other parts of our golf games too, but the all about confidence argument is flawed, and wholly unsupported by data.
cum hoc ergo propter hoc
For those of you not up on your Latin, that phrase translates to “with this, therefore because of this“. In other words, if two things are happening together, then they must have some kind of cause and effect relationship. It’s bad logic. Correlation does not prove causation. Let’s say that you get up at dawn every morning. One could argue that the sun coming over the horizon wakes you up, but using the same flawed logic of correlation and causation, you could argue that through the act of waking up, you caused the sun to come over the horizon.
When a positive correlation exists between two things, it’s entirely possible, even probable, that they may not be linked together in any way whatsoever.
I know…you still think that looks and accuracy still go together though, and that there is in fact a positive correlation. Let’s look at the phrase Positive Correlation.
A positive correlation is a relationship between two variables such that their values increase or decrease together.
Basically, if aesthetics dictated performance, their lines on a graph would follow similar paths. Aesthetic scores would increase and decline alongside the corresponding performance values. To take you back to algebra class, the lines would have similar slopes.
Lets now look at the accuracy and aesthetic scores from the most recent Most Wanted Mallet Test. Putters have been arranged on the X-axis from most accurate (Ping Ketsch) to least accurate (Odyssey Metal X Milled #7).
As you can see, positive correlation between accuracy and aesthetics simply does not exist. If we look at the blue aesthetic score line, the best fit line would be essentially flat, not at all matching the negative slope of the accuracy line.
There are some spots where accurate putters also scored aesthetically well, but we also see spots where you the data suggests an inverse correlation; aesthetic perception trends are actually the opposite of performance trends.
If how a tester perceives a putter dictates performance, then the Havok (rated most highly for aesthetics), would be toward the top of the pack, and the Metal X Milled #7 would never have finished last.
This is not the first time that we have recorded the lack of correlation. That actually occurred in last year’s Most Wanted Mallet test.
Case in point, I bring you the STX xForm3:
The STX xForm3 placed second in the 2013 Most Wanted Mallet competition, again, with the scoring based solely on accuracy. What was it’s aesthetic ranking? Dead last. Keep in mind that the aesthetic scoring is done after the tester has putted with it. Who knows how low the aesthetic scoring would have been if we had collected the data before putting?
Even more shocking, with the xForm3 only about 30% of the testers said that they would take the putter out for a round of golf. Keep in mind that they all, on average, were extremely accurate with the xForm3. When I asked one of the testers who putted very well with it why he wouldn’t bag it, his reply was “I don’t like looking at it.”
Basically he would rather miss putts with a pretty putter than make putts with an ugly one.
I seated ugliness on my knee, and almost immediately grew tired of it. – Salvador Dali
We had the reverse case as well in that mallet test. Here is the Barber Pole Waterville:
That putter ranked first in aesthetics. It deserved to. It’s a beautiful piece of metal. However, its accuracy score was second from the bottom. Also scoring aesthetically high in that test was the SeeMore SB2C, the last place finisher in accuracy.
Obviously liking the looks did not help the testers to be more accurate with these two. The super hot face of the Barber Pole and the likely unfamiliar alignment scheme of the SeeMore had something to do with it.
Aesthetics Do Influence Accuracy
Being physically attracted to a given putter won’t improve accuracy, but if the visual elements assist with alignment, accuracy can be enhanced. That’s a totally different story, however. That’s a story driven by data, not opinion.
Just this past week, Golfspy Tim and I were fortunate enough to travel to Ping Headquarters where we got to spend some quality time with Ping’s engineering team. I will have more to share about our trip and the Knowledge Environment at Ping in upcoming articles, but one of the topics we discussed was putter alignment schemes.
The engineers at Ping tested a whole bunch of alignment schemes and determined which ones promoted accuracy. There are three Ping putters in the market based upon this research. Two of them, the Ketsch and the Nome TR placed first and second in the 2014 Most Wanted Mallet Test. The third putter is currently competing in the Most Wanted Blade test. I’m keeping that one anonymous until the testing is over, but I’m very curious to see how it will perform.
Visual components can affect how you aim a putter, but your opinion that a particular putter is ugly is not one of those components.
All I’m Saying Is Give Ugly A Chance
Liking the looks may help you decide to buy a putter, but that visual affinity won’t put the ball in the cup. If you can bring yourself to think about this objectively, you’ll concede that it’s true. We have all had owned putters that we absolutely love the looks…and we’ve putted like crap with them.
For me, it’s the Zing. I love the looks of that putter, bagging new versions whenever they’re released. I like looking at it when I stand over a putt in the shop or on the course. Only after I miss long and 30° to the left do I remember that I just don’t putt that well with a Zing.
You don’t need to agree with me. That’s your prerogative. However, I highly recommend you trying rolling some putts with the putters you find ugly…maybe even hideous. It’s quite possible that one of those ugly ones will be the best performing putter you have ever rolled. By immediately dismissing it based on how it looks, you missed your best chance to putt like a beast.
Putting well can quickly turn an ugly putter pretty, just like poor putting can reveal the ugly inside your beautiful putter.
Familiarity is a magician that is cruel to beauty but kind to ugliness. – Ouida
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