Day in the life: Putter guru Bob Bettinardi

On putter design, helping Furyk win the US Open and plans to 'own the short game'

Andy Roberts's picture
Thu, 14 May 2015
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Bettinardi Golf president and CEO, Bob Bettinardi " hrefurl="/uploads/images/Huge/44794.jpg" title="Bob Bettinardi" width="1000" height="667" />

Good timing and an element of fortune helped get me into the putter-making business. 

It was a cold December day in Chicago. I was 31, an avid golfer who had been playing the game for 10 years, and I spotted a poster about a Callaway Bobby Jones Billet Series putter on the wall of my local golf pro shop.

The poster said how the putter was milled on a Bridgeport manual milling machine, which had been the standard in all general machine shops at the time. I knew this was now becoming extinct because I had a business in computerised milling (CNC), producing parts for the Department of Defense.

I thought to myself, "I can't believe people are milling putters" because back then I had two CNC machines that were capable of processing all kinds of metals. I always thought putters were either cast or forged.

Making several phone calls to a few golf manufacturers in California, I ended up getting through to a guy at Cleveland Golf who hooked me up with someone who designed their putters.

I asked him who did their milling and whether they had considered letting someone else do the job. He replied: "You’ve called at a good time because the vendor I have is doing a terrible job, his quality is bad, his delivery is horrible and his price is too high – what are you doing this weekend?"

I said "nothing", to which he replied "fly to California and I’ll show you". And that’s how it all started.

After working with Cleveland Golf for a couple of years, I then got hooked up with Scotty Cameron, who at the time was doing a lot of finish work with Mizuno.

A year later, Scotty left Mizuno and went off on his own before being bought out by Titleist, and so I decided to go out on my own before forming Bettinardi Golf in 1998. It was a hard decision because I knew I would be a competitor of my current customers, but I'm glad I made it. I love what I do for a living. 

On a typical day I’m working on new designs with my team in my plant in Illinois. My office is 15 feet from the shop floor so I can see every piece being created and make quick changes if needed. I can oversee all operations and ensure the quality that the Bettinardi name produces. I couldn't do that if my shop was 6,000 miles away.

To give you an insight into how we design our putters, each one starts out on a block of metal and is then milled using a $350,000 CNC milling machine.

Every putter then goes through around 30 different processes, including polishing, before it is finished. In some cases we’ll add a PVD coating, which is a vaporized form of the desired material.

It takes at least an hour-and-a-half to machine the putter and then two or three weeks to sort out the head, the coating, the plating, the paint fill, the shaft and finally the grip.

What makes the job special is spending time with PGA Tour players who use Bettinardi putters, such as Matt Kuchar, Fred Couples, Brian Gay, Steven Bowditch and Edoardo Molinari. 

I’m also out on the PGA Tour every couple of weeks. There’s always a good chance that someone is looking for a new putter before the start of a tournament, especially when you consider 156 guys are entering.

There are at least 10 guys each week who will be searching for a new putter, so it's important we're floating around the practice green and interacting with as many players as possible. Timing is very important in this job.

None more so than at the 2003 US Open at Olympia Fields, 25 minutes away, when Jim Furyk was looking for a new putter.

Jim Furyk: swing sequence

Jim came up to me on the Tuesday and said "my putter has just been deemed illegal by the USGA". It had something to do with the way the hosel went into the head. We had a quick chat and he jumped in my car and I drove him up to my shop.

He looked around and quickly favoured the Baby Ben putter, which I produced as an affiliate of the Ben Hogan golf company. We tweaked the length and loft to suit him and the putter went straight in his bag. The rest was history as Jim went on to clinch his maiden major championship. That gave me great satisfaction.

There really is no better feeling than watching someone win a golf tournament with a Bettinardi putter in their hands on a Sunday afternoon.

Then again, it’s painful to watch one of your players miss a five-foot putt to lose by a shot on the 72nd hole. 

One player that has brought us the most success is seven-time PGA Tour champion Matt Kuchar, the man we label as "Mr Consistency" as he rarely misses a cut.

Matt is not only a pleasure to work with but he can really putt his ball. He ranks seventh in strokes gained putting (.682), but first in both putts per round (26.5) and one-putt percentage (46%).

It is clear to see what our Bettinardi Arm Lock putter has done for Matt’s game.

We have done our due diligence with the R&A and USGA over the anchoring ban which commences 1 January 2016, but to be honest, I’m siding in the camp that they shouldn’t have changed anything. So many players have used long putters and belly putters throughout their entire career and now they have to switch.

On the other hand, for me as a business, it’s a good thing. I have one of the best putters in the world using our Kuchar 1 Arm Lock putter in 44 inches. 

This technology works by anchoring the putter handle against the inside of a golfer’s forearm with the ball positioned in the centre of your stance.

It is a great solution for players who have a tendency to break the wrists through the stroke. The length of it will also provide you with a steady base for executing a straight back-and-through pendulum stroke. 

The most pleasing putter in our new series is the Inovai mallet, which took a little longer to develop than some of the others in our stable. We actually went through 15 different versions of this putter before we were happy with it - but we love the look and feel of it.

Review: Bettinardi Inovai putter

We’ve also recently expanded into the wedge market with our H2 wedges and that has certainly contributed to us having yet another record year. And we're trying to break into the European market to broaden our appeal.

Another area of my job that gives me great pleasure is helping amateur golfers with their putting. I don’t like to give putting lessons as such because I think you are almost born with your putting stance. We're all different, and for that reason, I like to fit the putter to the puttee. 

Look at Jack Nicklaus, for example, who is all hunched over when he putts. If you were his teacher you’d say, "listen, the reason you’re missing putts is because you’re hunched over". That guy made his fair share of putts.

As for our short-term future, I can’t let you in to too many secrets but I can tell you we are going to give you something very unique and different when it comes to our new putter series. They are going to all be milled, have the same technology as before but give you a new look at address. 

My vision for the future is that Bettinardi one day owns the short game.

If you want the finest putters in the world and the finest wedges in the world, Bettinardi should now be the people you go to.

Ever used a Bettinardi putter or wedge before? What do you make of the brand? Share your thoughts in our forum, on Twitter or on Facebook

 

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