The deep, dark secret of the golf equipment business is that if you go into a pro shop to buy the same make and model putter used by your favorite player, you are not actually getting the same piece of machinery. The pro’s putter has been custom-fitted and handcrafted with the sort of care that NASA puts into the tiniest component of its space shuttles, while yours looks, well, like the pro’s in the same way that you resemble your cousin Flo on your mother’s side.
Yet of all the clubs in your bag, the one that absolutely needs to be custom-fitted is the one that never is—the putter. Jim Frank, a longtime golf magazine editor, sums up the problem this way: “Golfers take the time and trouble to get their woods and irons fitted but then overlook the putter, which is, after all, what they use most. There are so many variables to a putter’s performance that it doesn’t make sense not to get the most appropriate one you can stroke.” To reinforce his point, Frank adds, “If you’re still buying a putter off the rack, you’re making a big mistake.”
Enter David Edel, the answer to golf’s big mistake. About a dozen years ago, this aspiring professional flamed out on the mini-tours (the sport’s minor leagues) for one simple reason. “I couldn’t putt,” he says. Since then he has devoted what some might consider a troubling amount of time to studying the science of putting— particularly every possible component of the putter (shaft, head, grip, hosel, face) and putter variables (angle, loft, thickness, lie angle, length, weight). The result is a highly personalized method of fitting golfers with handcrafted bespoke putters that involves enough science to enchant a team of engineering scholars. (Indeed, Edel has presented his findings on putting mechanics three times at MIT.) By making putters in a way he says has never been done before in the industry, the 41-year-old is bridging the gap between what the PGA Tour stars get and what the rest of us buy. In short, he gives everyday amateurs, be they a 2 or a 22 handicap, the pro treatment.
I look at a putter like it’s a bowl of soup with all kinds of ingredients and I’m the chef,” Edel says from his workshop in Reedsport, on the Oregon coast. “I can take a specific order—shaft flex, grip thickness, loft, et cetera—and create something that perfectly fits an individual golfer. My favorite thing is when someone comes to me and says he or she is a horrible putter. I say, ‘Look, you are not broken. You just didn’t know that you need this loft, that length, this weight, that head, this hosel.…I’m doing what the high-end guys do for the tour players. Even if I tried, I couldn’t make a better putter for Tiger Woods than I’d make for you.”
This customized approach is why Edel turns out only a thousand or so putters a year (at $375 to $800 apiece), while the big boys—Nike, TaylorMade, Titleist, Ping, Callaway—flood the market annually with tens of thousands of them in the $120 to $260 range. Edel’s output would likely be much smaller, in fact, if all his customers came to his workshop for fittings—not a bad option actually, as he is located just 50 minutes from the famed Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. It’s not uncommon for golfers to spend the night at Edel’s modest guesthouse for a fitting and a lesson before heading off to Bandon.
Fortunately, 14 satellite fitting studios across the country enable Edel to take golfers’ specs remotely as well. Each fitting lasts 30 minutes to an hour, and Edel describes the process this way: “A laser shoots to a ball six feet away. We place a thin mirror on the player’s putter face. The player aims, we remove the ball, and the laser rebounds off the putter face and shows up on a backdrop, revealing not only the lateral aim but also the vertical aim of loft.” After determining the aim, Edel then employs dynamic motion tests to calibrate the value of head weight, shaft flex, length, and counterweight.
In theory, Edel’s method works wonders, but in practice? “I was telling people that golfers were getting better with my putters,” says Edel, who holds a number of patents, “and they would say to me, ‘How can you prove it?’ Well, there was this group of MIT alums who developed a wireless system to track the putter head. Using it, we extracted a lot of data and validated what I knew to be true. My putter showed a 38 percent improvement in nineteen of the twenty-two metrics we studied. Acceleration rate was 63 percent more consistent, face rotation improved by 25 percent, path improved by 20 percent….” In other words, the numbers don’t lie.
The affiliates who have adopted Edel’s putter fitting system nationwide are not fly-by-nighters; rather, they’re world-class teaching professionals, among them a number of top-ten nationally recognized instructors and three PGA Teachers of the Year. These are folks who can offer whatever service they feel best serves their students and have chosen to go with David Edel. One such teacher, Laird Small, is the veteran director of Pebble Beach Golf Academy and a veritable institution when it comes to golf instruction. “We use David’s product and his putters, and they’re terrific,” says Small. “Through competitive analysis with other putters, we find that his are superior.”
Trevor Dodds, a winner on the 1998 PGA Tour and a devotee of Edel’s handiwork, had this to say: “David’s putters are precision-made instruments. All the different pieces fit together like a watch. They feel really polished. The other thing that’s important is his whole fitting system. It really matches up your stroke to the proper shaft and head combination for your sighting. It’s pretty amazing stuff.” David Ogrin, another PGA Tour winner, simply says, “David showed me how to aim.” That’s an incredible statement coming from a tour professional.
So why haven’t you heard of David Edel? “I’m not big into promotion,” says the California native. “You can’t beat the big golf companies who pay a pro $2,000 a week to use their equipment. I don’t pay anyone. You’re the real deal if you’re the real deal.”
Most of the heavy lifting takes place in Edel’s small workshop, across the road from his house, where he can be found hunched over a band saw or a grinder or any of the other humming and buzzing high-powered equipment that packs the place. His most recent project was the development of a variable loft feature on the clubface that enables a player to change the weight and loft of the club on the fly, depending on green speed. It can take Edel up to 11 hours to machine-mill a single putter; by comparison, he says that most of his competitors bang out theirs in one.
Edel labors in the company of a single machinist, Cliff Dorsey, whom he feels lucky to have found. “There aren’t a lot of world-class machinists floating around here,” he says. “Dorsey was the foreman in a local machine shop. He was classically trained and did aerospace work. I was full of ideas; I’d tell him what I wanted to do, then draw it on paper, and we’d invent it together, going back and forth. He wasn’t used to working without plans. But we hit it off right away.”
Now that Edel’s research and hard work have paid off, the obvious question comes to mind: If he’d had one of his own putters years ago when he was trying to make it as a pro, how would he have fared? When asked, Edel answers with a laugh. “I don’t know if I would’ve become a puttermaker.”
But he has no bitterness in not having achieved glory on the course. “I get a great sense of joy from watching someone else obtain his or her dreams,” he says. “If I can give a fifteen-year-old kid the right putter, he will have a very different future. He might even get a college education for free because he putted well.”
Returning to the subject of his own career, Edel says, “A guy has to be strong and not break because something is trying to bend him. I want to be a man of character. And someday be someone who was special to the game of golf.”
To contact David Edel, call 541-271-0812 or go to edelgolf.com.
More loft on your ping? Two more to consider
Though David Edel makes the gold standard of bespoke putters, he is not the only one manning his own buffing machine. Tom Slighter of Slighter Golf runs a mom-and-pop operation out of Snohomish, Washington, manufacturing custom putters of his own. Unlike Edel, however, Slighter doesn’t do fittings. Instead, he sells about 15 ready-made models that he can alter to suit each client’s needs. He also does a lot of customizing of other name-brand putters. So if your Odyssey White Hot XG feels a little heavy or you want more loft on your Ping I-Series putter face, Tom Slighter is the man to call. $250-$400; 360-668-8502; slightergolf.com
Kia Ma, 53-year-old putter craftsman at TaylorMade, grew up in South Vietnam during the war. Seeking a better life, he emigrated, ending up in California working on a golf club assembly crew. He showed great skill as a puttermaker, creating the world’s first hosel-less version. After founding his own company, which did polishing, milling, and finishing work for major club manufacturers such as Mizuno, Odyssey, and Titleist, Ma joined TaylorMade. He has built putters for the company’s PGA Tour golfers and regularly creates some of the sharpest-looking models on the mainstream market. $120–$300; taylormadegolf.com
Head-to-Head Three Pro Putters
David Edel: Variable Loft
This head’s three faceplates of varying loft (zero to six degrees) and eight weights give golfers the means to change the putter’s velocity, allowing for a high level of control. For example, those accustomed to playing average-speed greens can add weight to slow the putter down on faster greens. $825; edelgolf.com
Tom Slighter: Spirit of ’67 Bellevue
“If your putter looks good,” Slighter says, “that’s one less thing to worry about.” Created for a fan of sixties British youth culture, this model features a Royal Air Force target logo, the Union Jack, and “MOD” handstamped on the back. $700; slightergolf.com
Kia Ma: Rossa By Taylormade
The sleek black carbon-milled putters from Kia Ma’s newest line are weighted with tungsten steel. Several PGA players—Sergio Garcia, for one—have already used the clubs in tournament competition. $300; taylormadegolf.com
Ken Baron wrote about Ireland’s Old head golf links in the March/April issue.