Two Grays Harbor golfers have devised a grip that will enable players using long putters to circumvent the forthcoming ban on an anchored stroke.
Ocean Shores Golf Course pro Ronnie Espedal and fellow Hoquiam resident Ed Klein, a longtime low-handicap amateur, have received a provisional patent for a grip that could be attached to a long putter without violating anchored putting sanctions set to go into effect in 2016.
“We call in the Converted Armlock Putter, because it turns any putter — cut to the correct length — into an armlock putter,” Klein said.
It would allow golfers to legally stabilize the putter on their leading forearm (the left arm for right-handed players and vice versa) during the stroke.
The United States Golf Association and the Royal &Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, the game’s governing bodies, announced the anchored putting ban last year. The sanctions came in the wake of triumphs by Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Ernie Els and Adam Scott in major men’s tournaments utilizing anchored belly or long putters.
Citing the definition of a putting stroke as “freely swinging the entire club,” the organizations defined anchoring as “when the player intentionally holds the club or a gripping hand in contact with any part of his body — except that the player may hold the club or a gripping hand against a hand or a forearm.”
The exception is the key to the Espedal-Klein innovation. Their grip essentially allows players wield a mid-length putter (between 37 and 41 inches) while stabilizing it against their forearm. A belly putter would need to be trimmed some 2 to 4 inches and a long putter a few inches more to comply with the regulation.
Klein and Espedal received approval — if not necessarily a ringing endorsement — for their grip from the USGA earlier this month.
“What they’re saying now is it is ‘not contrary to the rules of golf,’” Klein recounted.
The grips will be 20 inches long, 1 3/4 inches in diameter at the top and 1 1/4 inches at the bottom. They will be attached to the upper right portion of the putter shaft and angled slightly to the lower left as the shaft descends.
“It will probably be the biggest and heaviest and most unique grip on the market for putters, or for any club,” Klein said.
The grips could be on the market by late this year.
“We have engaged one manufacturer and will probably go with a larger one next year, as demand increases,” Klein said. “We might go with two different models. The anticipation is, by early August, we’ll have the beginnings of a product we can sell.”
Neither man is anticipating an immediate windfall from the sale of the grips.
“We’re not looking to make a big splash until the middle of 2015 (when the sanctions near),” Espedal said.
But the business upside potential is enormous.
“There are 29 million golfers in the U.S. and only five percent anchor their putter,” Klein noted. “We are hoping or expecting a 30 percent market share. If we get a 30 percent share, that would be 435,000 grips we’re targeting by the end of 2016.”
Espedal and Klein each had a personal stake in devising a method to beat the anchoring ban.
A former pro who currently carries an 8 handicap, Klein had used a 48-inch putter since the mid-1980s. Espedal, whose golfing accomplishments include a Grays Harbor Pro-Am title, had employed a belly putter for a few years.
Neither was happy with the sanctions.
“When you start making the game harder, you are going to lose people from the game — particularly 30 years after they started doing it,” Espedal emphasized. “The number one reason people quit golf is not because of the cost or convenience, it’s because it’s too difficult.”
“The anchored putting stroke is the same as it was 35 years ago when it was OK,” said Klein, a senior vice president for the D.A. Davidson investment firm. “From my experience, all it did was turn terrible putters into average putters.”
The longtime friends experimented with various methods of complying with the new rule before Klein experienced an epiphany of sorts by envisioning an armlock putter without a steep angle.
“Basically, I woke up one morning and said this is what we need to do,” he said.
Espedal then began designing and building prototypes in his garage.
“The prototype grips we are using right now are being produced by pouring liquid silicone into a two-piece wooden mold,” he explained. “The molds have been produced by the Fab Lab in Tacoma by using a computerized wood router. The router receives its instructions from the cad designs on the computer and then cuts a two-piece mold out of a plain 2 by 4. I then mix up the liquid silicone and pour it into this mold, clamp it together with wood clamps, let it dry overnight and then remove the mold in the morning. (We then) have a finished prototype grip.”
An injection molding process, Espedal added, will be used when the grips are manufactured professionally.
Although Klein and Espedal were surprised to learn that their particular design had not been previously attempted, armlock putters are not a unique concept.
Matt Kuchar, one of the top money winners on the PGA Tour, has effectively used a specially made armlock putter with a sharply-angled shaft and a seven-degree loft (more than double the standard loft).
“The problem is (the average player) has got to get a new putter with more loft,” Klein said. “And it’s awkward to use, because the shaft goes down at an angle from the forearm.”
Although the anchored ban won’t go into effect for another 18 months, Espedal and Klein have both used their prototypes to convert to the new method.
Espedal attracted some attention from his fellow pros recently by using the armlock putter to fire a 67 in the opening round of the Washington State Open.
“I get hotter with this putter than I ever did with the belly putter,” he said. “Inside of eight feet, it’s pretty deadly for me. It just stabilizes things a lot.”
“I’ve putted better than I have in the last 10 years,” Klein agreed. “It creates as perfect a pendulum as you can get. I think this is the best putting method I’ve seen, having golfed for 47 years. It takes a little time to get used to. Once you get the method down, this is as simple as it gets.”
The Grays Harbor duo’s next challenge is to market the new grip nationally. While their current plans are to sell the grip to an equipment company, they haven’t ruled out the possibility of designing some type of putter to go with it, for ease of purchase. Klein said armlock putters would likely cost between $150 and $400, with the grips estimated at $30.
Espedal and Klein have already discussed their invention with area pros and even the son of nationally renowned short-game guru Dave Pelz. They plan to attend the PGA Merchandise Show in Florida, an event that annually draws more than 40,000 golfers and equipment representatives.
Klein laughs off the suggestion that the armlock putting concept could become so effective that it will prompt additional sanctions.
“They only ban things that are successful (but) they specifically said that armlock putting, as long as it doesn’t go beyond the elbow is legal,” he said. “We think we have the best technology and the best method.”