Several years ago a broken right arm stopped my golfing for a while, and I passed the time pitching balls on the putting green one-handed. I used my left arm and a seven-iron. After stroking the balls toward the cup I had to knock them back off the green to start over. If I hit the ball firmly enough to get it off the green the slanted face of the iron dug into the putting turf. So I turned the iron around, using a backhanded stroke with my left arm, and struck the ball with its reverse side.
To my astonishment, the ball hugged the ground and rolled in a line as straight as if it were demonstrating the shortest distance between two points. And I had hit it with only a fraction of the force I used when the ball was struck with the regular face of the iron. Repeating the experiment, using the back sides of other iron clubs with more or less loft than a No. 7, I found the result was the same: the ball hugged the green and rolled straight.
When I analyzed what had happened it became evident that the reverse slope on the back side of the club imparted a forward spin to the ball. The club drove the ball forward while rolling over the ball, as one ball bearing rolls over another. The golf ball consequently moved forward with a spinning motion in the direction of its travel.
I did not then know it, but I had lighted on something that was a hot subject of golf discussion half a century ago. Back in 1900 one William Dunn, an Englishman living in New York, and obviously an expert billiards player, became interested in the application of the technique of billiards to golf shots—or, more exactly, to putting. Reasoning from billiards, Dunn figured that a golf ball with a forward spinning motion "should it strike a small obstruction would jump over it instead of being turned aside." In other words, he thought of a forward-spinning golf ball climbing over obstacles like a tank—an interesting commentary on the condition of American greens in 1900. So Dunn designed and patented a wooden putter with a curved face, the purpose of which was to "deliver a blow which gives the ball that kind of roll which in billiards is known as a 'follow.' "
Later on, three other inventors patented putters of different shapes to produce the same result. Charles Lawton designed one whose face looked like the back of an old-fashioned kitchen ladle. The curve was intended to impart such an overspin that, should the ball "strike a horizontal twig, a pebble or small clod, it climbs over such obstruction instead of being deflected aside thereby."
EXPERT PUTTER FOR BEGINNERS
Lawton recognized that expert players really give golf balls an overspin when they putt, using conventional putters. They do so by keeping their hands slightly ahead of the ball so that the putting blade hits the ball above the center and gives it a vertical forward overspin. He calculated that his rounded-face putter would permit beginners "to give this peculiar motion to golf balls, after little practice, and it therefore assists all players in improving their scores." But experts and beginners alike shied away like skittish horses from the complicated, concave- or convex-faced patented putters. Ninety per cent of the commercially made putters in use now have a 5� loft on the face of the blade. That is, the blade slopes back 5% off the vertical. Striking the ball below the center of gravity, the standard putter imparts a backspin, the reverse of the way Dunn felt a putter should perform.
As I say, I knew nothing of the historical background at the time I made my own discovery. But I began experimenting with a reverse loft on the face of a putting blade. Every regulation golf club has a lofted face. The loft is necessary in the driver and wedge, of course, to get the ball into the air, and to give it a backspin to keep it from rolling forward.
I began by making a putter in which the angle ran the opposite way, first with a reverse loft of about 25�. I took a putter I liked, had used a long time and particularly trusted. (Summarizing 18 months of experiment, I can say the putter to be converted should be a rather thick-blade type, like the Hagen Silver Star, the Wilson Hol-Hi, the Snead Pay-Off, or even a mallet head whose depth of blade is about one inch.)
I took the different putters I converted to a first-class, well-equipped machine shop. First, I had the 5� loft ground off the face of the blade. (All the above-mentioned putters have a 5� loft.) The putter now had a vertical face. Thereafter I began experimenting with different degrees of reverse loft. After these had been ground off, I weighed the putters to find out how much weight had been lost, and added solder, lead or other metal, evenly distributed, to bring the weight back to what it had been before I started grinding.