The 'Flatstick' and the Role of Loft on Putters

A putter loft that is too high or too low might be costing you strokes

Hudson Swafford putts on the 18th green during the second round of the 2016 Deutsche Bank Championship
The flatstick isn't really flat: putters have loft. How much loft on a putter is right depends on the golfer. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"Flatstick" is a golf slang term for the putter, because putter clubfaces appear (relative to all the other golf clubs) to be flat - to have no loft, in other words.

Other golf clubs have noticeable - sometimes large - amounts of loft. Other than the putter, the driver is least-lofted golf club, for most golfers between 9 and 13 degrees of loft. And the lob wedge is the most-lofted, typically from 60 to 64 degrees.

But it turns out that "flatstick" is really a misnomer. Putters aren't flat. They do have loft - just not much of it - and the amount of loft in your putter does matter.

If your putts tend to bounce or skip, that's a sign that the loft of your putter might not be well-suited to your putting style.

Loft In the 'Flat' Sticks

You'll rarely see a putter come on the market with as little as zero degrees of loft (which really is a flatstick). Equally rare is a putter with as much as 8 degrees of loft. The standard loft of putters sold in pro shops is 3-degrees to 4-degrees.

On the pro tours, the world's best golfers use putters with as little as 1 degree of loft to as high as 6 or 7 degrees of loft. But the goal of the pros is to have an effective loft - the loft of their putter as it sits at the moment of impact - of 3 to 4 degrees. An effective loft of 3 to 4 degrees is considered the ideal loft.

Why Loft In Putters Matters

The gist of it is this:

  • If your putter has too much loft, the ball will come up off the putter face at impact (it will get airborne for a fraction of a second), which can play havoc with your distance control. You don't want the ball to hop up at impact.
  • If your putter has too little loft (if it really is too much of a flat stick), then at impact your putter face might actually be pressing the ball into the turf a bit, which can cause various effects including a putt that skids or skips.

    The object with putting strokes and loft is to send the ball on as smooth a roll as possible, from the earliest possible moments after impact. "Pure roll" is what every golfer wants out of his or her putter.

    Ideal Putter Loft Is Impacted By Your Stroke, Stance and Even the Greens

    What loft do you need in your putter? That's affected by several factors, most prominently the type of stroke you have and your stance, but also by the conditions of the greens you typically putt on.

    Your Stroke
    There's the actual, measured loft of a putter, and there is also, as mentioned earlier, "effective loft." A golfer who uses a forward press when putting is de-lofting the putter; that is, the putter arrives at impact with less effective loft than its stated loft.

    So a golfer with a forward press might need a putter with a higher stated loft.

    Likewise, a golfer whose stroke reaches impact with the putter on a slightly upward arc might need a putter with a lower stated loft.

    And a golfer whose stroke is level (or at least level-ish) at impact probably has roughly the same effective loft as the putter's stated loft.

    Your Stance
    If you play the ball off your front foot when putting, less loft may be better (because you may be impacting the ball on a slight upswing).

    Putter Style
    If you use a long putter, less loft might be in order (because long putters tend to strike the ball on the way up).

    Green Conditions
    Perfect greens - smooth, great rolling - require less loft in putters; higher loft may help on bumpy greens and otherwise poor greens.

    Launch Angle and Putter Fitting

    Launch angle is something most golfers associate with drivers or other woods/hybrids. But it matters in putting, too. And the consensus is that a launch angle of 3 to 4 degrees is the ideal for putting (which explains why standard putter loft in off-the-shelf putters is 3 to 4 degrees).

    Something you read above might clue you in to a beneficial change in your putter loft. But the foolproof way to know whether your putter loft is well-matched to your putting style is to visit a clubfitter for a putting fitting.

    Most of us associate clubfittings with the other golf clubs in our bags, but putter fittings can be highly beneficial, too, and that's why more and more golfers who want to improve their putting are getting them.