Bridgestone Golf has invented a putter that can stand up to — quite literally — any putter on the market today. In the following golf conversation, Josh Kinchen explains how the “True Balance” putter is “counter” to everything you thought you knew about putter design.
Golf Conversations: Josh, I know we’re gonna talk about your new putter but first … for the average golf fan, I think it would be helpful to define some terms. For example, face-balanced, toe- balanced, MOI, counterbalancing, all that stuff. Let’s understand that and then let’s talk about what you guys are doing. Can we do that?
Josh Kinchen: Yeah, sure.
GC: Ok, let’s start with a face-balanced putter. What is that?
JK: The easiest way to determine if a putter is face-balanced or toe-balanced is to lay the putter shaft on a flat surface such as a table. You allow the head to hang off the end of the table; if the face points straight up to the sky, it’s face- balanced.
That kind of putter is typically better for a more straight-back-and-straight-through stroke. That being said, there’s nobody in the world that putts with a true straight-back-straight-through-stroke. You would literally have to cock your elbows out and get into a weird, awkward position.
GC: No wonder I can’t putt. And don’t call me weird!
JK: Straight-back-straight-through putters have less arc in their stroke. The face is not going to open and close as much. The putter is going to want to stay more square. The face-balanced putter is going to be better for that player.
GC: Ok, got it.
JK: Then you have toe-balanced putters. That’s just the opposite. Most of your Ping Anser-style putters, your Scotty Cameron Newports, your Odyssey blade models…
GC: Your Bridgestone Kinchens.
JK: Yes, your Bridgestone Kinchen models.
GC: Josh, you really need to have a putter named after you.
JK: Yeah, that would be fabulous. My goal, Robert, is to become the next Scotty Cameron, so we’ll see what happens.
GC: When you can start selling putter head covers for $800 then you’ll know you’ve arrived.
How about a divot tool for $285?
Ok, I interrupted you. Sorry. So we were talking about toe-balanced putters.
JK: Yes, if you hang one off a table, the putter will open up and it will not point straight at the ceiling. There are different amounts of toe hang but basically the putter will naturally hang down. Those putters are going to naturally open up more as you take them back. And they’re going to want to close more as you take them through the stroke past impact. Those putters are better for a guy that has more of an arc stroke. Tiger Woods, for example, has a heavy arc stroke, and that’s why he uses a blade-style putter. A Nike Method, I believe it is.
GC: Let’s not be mentioning other manufacturer’s products, ok?
JK: Yes, certainly.
GC: I’m trying to make Bridgestone look good here.
GC: Ok, so we did face-balanced and toe-balanced. The newest one is counter-balanced, right?
JK: Yes, the idea behind counter-balancing is to take weight, remove it from the head, and place that weight up in the grip. That is going to increase Impact Moment of Inertia. MOI can be measured across five axes of the golf club. The two most important when it comes to putting is Impact MOI – which is the face rotation. And also Swing MOI, which is measured across the entire length of the club.
Impact MOI is a very good thing because it resists twisting on off-center hits. But let’s be real here: you’re putting, not trying to hit a 300-yard drive.
GC: Or for some of us, even a 220-yard drive.
JK: So how far off the center line are you really going to be with a putter? Most players, if they miss a putt, they’ve missed it a millimeter or two on the heel or the toe.
GC: Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re saying this whole MOI thing is a bit overemphasized when it comes to putters?
JK: Yes. The MOI is a measure of the resistance to twisting of a golf club when force is put upon it. These guys are out there telling a marketing story about high MOI and they’re only talking about high MOI on one surface. They’re not talking about MOI as it’s measured across the entire length of the golf club which we feel is more important than just impact MOI. Again, you’re hitting a putter. Realistically, you’re gonna miss on maybe a millimeter or two.
The greatest putters of all time – Ben Crenshaw, Loren Roberts, Tiger Woods – those guys weren’t using anything MOI based. Putting is ultimately all about feel. That’s what we’re trying to do here.
GC: It’s all about, as we say in French, moi. Not MOI.
JK: Exactly. It’s all about the individual.
GC: Monsieur Kinchen, getting back to the counter-balance putters … there’s more weight in the grip, right? Is the weight equally distributed along the entire golf club?
JK: Each putter is different. Typically, there’s still more weight in the head and increased weight in the grip.
GC: What’s the idea behind putting more weight in the grip?
JK: The idea is to resist twisting at impact. So if you hit the ball off-center, then it will be more stable.
GC: And why have counter-balance putters come into vogue?
JK: Because the USGA didn’t like long putters which were becoming quite popular. The USGA saw a problem with that and they banned the long putter. Which will take effect in two years.
GC: But it wasn’t the long or belly putter per se. They didn’t like the anchoring aspect.
JK: Right. So there was a big push by the other companies to come out with a new technology to replace the long putter. That’s where counter-balancing was born.
GC: Is a counter-balanced putter longer than a traditional 34- or 35-inch putter?
JK: Yes. Typically, counter-balanced putters are 2 to 3 inches longer than your traditional putter. So if you putt with a 34-inch putter, you’ll probably get a 36-inch counter-balanced putter. Now we don’t make a counter-balanced putter because we don’t believe in it, but our competitors typically ask the user of the putter to grip down a couple of inches.
GC: I’m confused. So people who anchor the putter in their stomach won’t be able to that … so they’re gonna get a putter that’s slightly shorter than a belly putter but longer than a traditional putter … that they don’t anchor … and that’s supposed to somehow mimic the feeling of a belly putter? Is that what they’re talking about?
JK: Uhhhh, I guess…
GC: If you’re saying “I guess,” what hope is there for the rest of us?
JK: I guess it’s “to each his own.” Some players are doing some incredible things. Matt Kuchar pushes the grip against his forearm.
GC: And Bernhard Langer did that a long time ago when he won his 2nd Masters.
JK: I didn’t realize that.
GC: You kids today! You don’t know your golf history!
Ok, now let’s talk about Bridgestone’s revolutionary putter.
JK: The Bridgestone True Balance putter was born from what we saw as an opportunity in the market. Virtually every company is taking care of roll. There’s a roll-groove technology in the face with an insert … some sort of groove that’s going to get the ball rolling immediately off the face, right?
JK: And counter-balancing is the big thing now, which we just discussed. Counter-balancing is concerned with one thing only and that’s line. But nobody was taking care of speed. If you ask any instructor, they’ll tell you that speed is the most important part of putting.
With the True Balance putter, we’ve taken care of roll because we have a roll-groove insert. We’ve taken care of line because it naturally wants to swing like a pendulum and gate toward the target. Most importantly, we’ve taken care of speed. With the True Balance putter, you’re going to have an unreal sense of connection to the putter head like never before.
GC: What made your designers think, “Hey, let’s put almost ALL the weight in the head?” That’s kind of a radical idea.
JK: Putting is all about feel and speed and distance control. How do you increase feel? Counter-balancing seemed wrong to us; it’s doing nothing more than taking feeling out of the head. They’re taking feel and putting it up in the grip. So you’re swinging a putter, and all of the weight is 3 feet away from where you’re making impact. That was a silly idea. So we did just the opposite.
We worked with a world-renowned putting instructor to develop the product, as well as with a couple of patent gurus: Rich Parente and Steve Sacks.
GC: What year did the designers start working on this?
JK: They’ve been working on this project for approximately three years.
GC: Did the guys say, “Hey, the USGA is eventually going to ban these long putters and we have to come up with something different”?
JK: I don’t think it had anything to do with the USGA. I think the idea came from common sense: why would you remove feeling from the head when you’re talking about putting?
GC: There’s a putter that’s been on the market for many years called “The Heavy Putter.” Would that be similar to your product?
JK: No. Not in any shape, form or fashion.
GC: Don’t sugarcoat it, Josh. How do you really feel?
JK: “The Heavy Putter” is heavy across the entire club. It has a heavy head, a heavy shaft, and a heavy grip. It’s just a heavy putter. Our putter has a very lightweight grip. It weighs 20 grams; “The Heavy Putter” grip is 100 grams. We have a lightweight graphite shaft that’s only 30 grams. Their steel shaft is 120 grams. And our head weight is 360 grams and their head is 400-something.
GC: I tried “The Heavy Putter” many years ago. I played a round of golf with it and developed a hernia.
GC: Remember when Woody Austin broke a putter over his head? If he’d done that with “The Heavy Putter,” he’d still be in a coma now.
You know what’s really interesting about your putter? The thing stands up by itself!
JK: That was never our intention; it’s just a function of the design.
GC: Speaking of design, tell me about your models.
JK: We’ve got two different models: the blade is toe-balanced and the mallet is face- balanced.
GC: What sizes do those putters come in?
JK: The stock size is 34 inches and can be customized from 32 inches all the way up to 36 ½ inches.
GC: And how does one acquire a customized putter?
JK: Go to any Bridgestone authorized dealer. You can find that on our website.
GC: Are any of your staff players experimenting with the True Balance putter?
JK: Yes, we’ve got it in the hands of Snedeker, Couples, Davis Love, Lee Trevino, Nick Price. All of them are testing it now. We also have a few being seeded out on the European Tour. So we’ve got our fingers crossed and hoping it will pop up on TV soon.
GC: Snedeker has the reputation of being a great putter. If he started winning with the True Balance putter, that would be a feather in your visor.
JK: It certainly would.
GC: I’m intrigued with this putter. I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on one. ‘Cause I can’t putt to save my life.
JK: I’ll get one out to you.
GC: Thanks. I’ll take it to the course, demo it on video, and show Snedeker what he’s missing.
So when should we post this interview? How about Masters week?
JK: That’s ok with me.
GC: That’s prime time. That’ll cost you $5000.
Forget it, just send the putter. Thank you, Josh. Good luck with the True Balance putter.
JK: Thanks, Robert.
Several weeks later, Josh did indeed send me a “True Balance” putter. In the following video, I put the “TB” through its paces on an actual putting green. NOTE: Indio is to the viewer’s LEFT in the video.