There are two basic types of putter, those with a milled face and those with some sort of insert in the clubface. The question is, what exactly is the difference, and which option is better?
Milled putters display a complex milled pattern on the clubface where the design attempts to produce the best feel and sound. Insert putters have a soft insert, which could be some synthetic material, or aluminum compound, or even rubber, designed to soften the sound and the feel.
Precision milling is a marvel of modern engineering. Here, Bettinardi gives you a glimpse into the process.
So, Which is Better and Why?
The difference is not so much in the design and construction, but rather in the sound and feel. Feel is definitely subjective, and is linked directly to sound. A golfer feels that a putter is firmer if the sound off the face is louder or has a higher pitch.
By contrast, a softer, lower pitch sound will cause the golfer to declare that putter as “soft”. Inserts give golfers this exact feel, therefore insert putters are considered as being softer than milled putters.
With advanced technology, the variance between the two has largely diminished due to a process known as “deep milling” that makes for a very soft feel on the milled putters. Deep milling has the effect of allowing less contact between clubface and ball, resulting in a softer sound, which translates to a softer feel.
The fact is that it goes both ways, today you can find insert putters that are firmer than some milled products. Your choice is very personal, and only by practice and experience with different putters will you find what works and feels best for you.
There are a couple of ways to get to experience different putters, outside of the pro shop. Many clubs have “putting days”, where they bring out the latest models in the market for you to try. Your club pro might even allow you to try them on the putting green. This is a great opportunity to try both milled and insert versions.
Another option is to ask your friend, or partner, on the golf course to try their putter if you notice it is different from yours. There is nothing like the real thing to give you a good barometer for making a choice.
In general, an insert putter will have a quieter, deeper pitch sound that a milled putter. When it comes to feel, however, many other factors come into play.
Factors such as the weight and length of the putter, the thickness, the grip, the pocket/groove depth and position, the hosel location, and the ball selection will all have an impact on the feel/ sound of the putter.
It is argued that insert putters have better distance control than milled putters, studies and research however do not support this notion. The feedback from the putter would have a far greater influence on distance control and is largely affected by where you hit the ball on the face.
It is very difficult, on an insert putter, to determine where you hit on the face. There won’t be much of a difference in sound and these putters are generally very forgiving. Direction won’t be too badly affected but distance could be way off.
With the milled putter, if you miss the sweet spot the click sound immediately lets you know. You will tend therefore to develop a more consistent center strike and improve your distance control.
Another factor affecting distance control is ball roll. On longer putts, especially, the ball may skid or even become airborne before settling on a topspin roll. Ideally, you want the ball to leave the putter with topspin immediately for consistent results.
Skids and bounces, even backspin, can set the ball off on the wrong track. Your putting style will have a major effect on the ball roll.
If the putter has a higher loft, and the ball is placed to the front of the stance, it will be easy to get the ball airborne. The resultant bounce and delayed topspin will make distance control a problem. Placing the ball back in the stance with a lower loft putter will produce a skid, equally unsatisfactory.
Manufacturers claim that the face design will impart topspin on impact, and it is claimed that milled putters are better in this department. Again, as with distance control, the correct technique and feel will better determine the result than the type of putter.
In the final analysis, it comes down to feel, and feel is closely associated with sound. It may be that milled putters consistently give better feedback on the sound level.
Experiment until you find the putter that feels right for you, that makes you feel confident when you stand over the ball and line up your putt.
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Nick Lomas is the founder of GolfSpan, an avid golfer, not quite a pro but has over 15-years of experience playing and coaching golfers from all over the world. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience then it comes to choosing the right golf gear, and finding the right set up for your game.