Guerin Rife is one of the game's leading putter makers and was the first to put grooves on the faces of putters, so I was delighted to meet him at the 2017 BMW PGA Championship to find out about his new venture, Evnroll Putters.
Hi Guerin. How did you come to be working under the Evnroll name after your original business of Rife?
We sold Rife about six years ago to a group in Seattle after 2008 when the whole industry took a hit and we were still pushing top line sales, trying to build a brand by doing infomercials and we had about $10 million in sales.
Rife was the biggest independent putter company in the world, but we were losing $1 million dollars because we were spending media money brand building. I felt we should have stopped and taken stock. We were in 2000 stores, in 17 countries, we had a lot of Tour Players and a lot of wins, but you learn lessons and when you are just a one product company your economy of scale is not that great.
Anyway the bottom line is we went into a holding pattern and I went ahead and left the company, although I had to leave my name with it, and walked away to start something new. I was going to become the Cobra designer and I had set up a deal for them to buy Rife.
I had to quit my board to set up a fiduciary relationship with Cobra, but in the end Cobra decided not to do it and pulled out. They decided that at that point in 2008 they weren’t selling enough clubs, so it wasn’t the time to buy a putter company.
So instead I started my own gig which was Guerin putters after my first name, as the Rife name went to the other people. So I did that and introduced some new technology, I did some plumber necks, a couple of classic designs and got that going.
While I was doing that another manufacturer came out with a putter and they were using my grooves and trying to make them deeper to make the ball go the same distance and I just said no that doesn’t do that, that doesn’t work, you have to change the contact surface, so that is what led to Evnroll putters.
If you look at the face of an Evnroll you can see that the grooves are wider in the centre and how narrow the contact surface is, and as you go away from the centre the grooves get smaller and the contact surface gets greater.
So other companies were making the grooves deeper, but keeping the contact surface the same?
Right. But they were infringing on the original Rife patent, so they had to stop doing that.
So when the grooves are deeper you are minimising the gap between one groove and the next groove?
What happens is when you hit a putter in the centre and it is a pure centre hit the ball goes the farthest as the ball goes end over end and rolls true and straight. When you go even the slightest amount from the centre the line of the ball will wiggle and it will wiggle a lot more as you go further away from the centre and the reason for that is because the centre mass of the ball is not lined up with the centre of mass of the putter. If you are looking at a 20 foot putt the centre hit would go 20 foot. A half inch off centre strike would go 6-8 inches to the right and about a foot to a foot and a half short.
The idea in the design was to make the ball go the same distance and that is what I was trying to strive for with the technology. So I said, alright I know the contact surface of milled faces with no grooves go further than grooves because I invented grooves and when I originally went out on Tour, players would say that they weren’t getting the ball to the hole because with grooves there is less metal touching the ball.
The narrow contact surfaces and the wide grooves was the patent, the space between it was smaller than the width of the groove. With putters it is a slow science and you have to exaggerate everything. It is the heaviest club in the bag and it is moving slowly so with heel toe weighting for example you have to have a lot of it, you just have to exaggerate all of the science.
What I did is that I made the contact surface smaller here and the space real wide and then I had it taper down so the groove itself gets smaller and the space between it gets greater progressively from the centre all the way out. My original version goes really wide and tapers really quickly and in my robot testing the outside strikes were actually going further, so that is when I knew that it worked.
Are they going further because of more surface area?
Yes, there is more energy transfer from more contact surface area on the ball. The grooves absorb energy so you lose some speed whereas the outer areas are faster. But remember, it is a weaker place further from the centre as there is less mass behind the ball so what I am doing is equalising the energy transfer across the face.
This has been proven on the Quintic Ball Roll analysis which is a camera that observes the ball in slow motion and is the gold standard in its field. They have a thing called smash factor. When you hit a normal standard putter the centre hit is around a 1.7 smash factor, it is called the Impact Ratio and what it does is it calculates the ball speed divided by the club head speed.
They do it for drivers and I think the limit is 1.5 but for putters it is the Impact Ratio and what it calculates is how the ball is coming off the face and when you mishit it the smash factor drops to about 1.5 to 1.45 even just a half inch off the centre. For the Evnroll putter on the Quintic the smash factor stays at 1.7 all across the face.
Can you vary the grooves in order to get different results, so for example could you make the outside of the face faster than the centre?
Yes. In what I did originally they were faster. I tapered it too quick and so the centre was softer and the outside balls went further. The other thing that happened, and I didn’t plan this, is that they crossed and this geared the ball back across the centre.
How does that work exactly?
If you hit the ball with a V shape then it is going to go towards the more open end of the V. What is happening is this V is gripping it and it is directing it straight which is what we call gearing. For a putter it is redirecting the ball. The ball wants to go out but it goes straight. In my first version it actually crossed and went further.
So is it putting spin on it or is it just setting off at a different angle?
When the stroke is an off centre hit, if it was a normal groove or a straight face it would go offline, but with Evnroll grooves it goes straight. On my velvet roll board our putter with this technology goes straighter all the way down the board. They are all parallel with the robot testing.
So the bottom line is the gearing effect was a discovery that happened while I was testing and I didn’t know what it was at first, but the balls crossed so I thought it has got to be the parabolic shape of the grooves where I am just trying to increase the amount of contact surface where it is weaker to make up for the loss of energy, but it was also gripping the ball and pinching it toward the centre. Originally it pinched it too much so I dialled it back so that everything ends up in the same place at the same distance.
If you hit the ball off centre the face will probably open, so does it take account of that at all?
Well I am talking about robot testing – people are going to do different things. But what it does is it keeps the ball from flying-off off centre somewhat. I had a Tour player here today who was hitting them off centre and he said "I mis-hit that", but when he looked up it had gone the same distance. Once that gets in his head he is sold.
I like that but when you get people like Anna Nordqvist on a Quintic machine the same thing happened to her – seeing the ball going the same distance and it doesn’t go off line as a result of the ball not getting the side spin because it wasn’t allowed to. On robot testing the line doesn’t even wiggle when you hit it off centre, the line holds itself, so that tells you what is actually happening, instead of letting it go offline it is gripping it and holding it online, and that is why it is called Evnroll.
There are a variety of head shapes. Is there anything to that or is it just the shapes that people like?
This is just the low hanging fruit right here. The ER1 is similar to the Ping Anser but I don’t put a hosel on it.
Is there any reason for that?
Of course there is – I’m a wily veteran! None of them have hosels at the moment although I am doing one now for some of the players. Here is what happens.
A typical putter with a plumber neck made of steel has it sticking up above the head and it has a little collar and a straight shaft. The reason for that was to make a production friendly solution and make it easier to put the shaft in and make them all the same. But that plumber neck weighs 45 grams and when you are doing a CAD file and you look where the centre of mass is, it is not in the centre but it is towards the heel because the plumber neck weighs more.
With my putters there is no plumber neck because you add the shaft to the heel side of the putter and that piece of shaft there is hollow and it weighs 5 grams. That solid steel that I bored out of to put the shaft in weighs 5 grams so it is equal and therefore the centre of mass is dead centre, right in the middle between the two dots.
Because the centre of mass is in the middle the putter it is going to have an even distribution. The two dots frame the sweet spot and if I put the centre of the ball in front of the dot I have now put 55-60% of the putters head weight on one side of the ball for breaking putts.
For right handed players, you putt it off the outside dot for right to left breaking putts and you put it off the inside dot for a left to right putt. What you are doing is putting more mass on the low side of the ball and once it is in motion and I hit it there on the face I am more likely to keep the ball online - it is real common sense.
How do the players adapt to that – it must be unusual for them to learn to hit it off centre?
Here’s what happens – I don’t get into that with Tour players so much, but with other people I do. Top amateurs love that because it makes them hyper concentrated, focusing on execution, putting the ball in a certain place on the putter, and they are hitting it and this part wants to keep going so they are not going to turn the putter over.
If I hit it in the centre it is going to turnover and 90% of breaking putts are missed below the hole. So this just keeps you going straight through – you are using the mass of the head to help you stay on line longer through impact.
But this only happens because the centre of the mass is right in the middle of the putter because I have compensated for it. This is much harder to do – to take a single bend shaft – to get the loft right, to get the bend right, to get the lie angle right with a single bend. That is not easy.
The shaft hole has to come out at 6°, the shaft has to be at 90° and has to be bent in a specific spot, to hit the lie angle, to hit the offset all from a single bend. That is a lot more work, but it makes a far superior product than a putter with a hosel. It is a piece of cake to stick a straight shaft in a hosel – that’s a production solution, it is not a better product.
Now having said all that I am making one with a hosel on it for a Tour player and I am getting more guys asking for it. What I have done is I have made the hosel hollow in the front of the plumber neck, I have tapered the heel off more and the sweet spot is right in the middle.
So you have had to compromise the weight in the heel in order to get the balance right?
Yes, but I did it without anybody noticing – I did it in hidden places. So I am still trying to do the same thing. I have got to stick with my plan here.
Also we have a bevel on the bottom down here, the centre of mass is behind that bevel so what happens with this putter no matter where you go it doesn’t flip open or closed, it stays square all the time.
Is that the same for the mallets?
Yes, every single one of them has it. The bevel is determined by being just ahead of the centre of mass. The centre of mass is hanging out here so the front part is level, this bevel has a 2° draft and the back is riding above the ground. It is floating so it is actually pulling the putter back this way and the hosel is pulling that way so when you set this down it just goes back and forth, it doesn’t open and close so that is another little feature that we find people appreciate.
We make the heads heavier. This one for example is 370 grams, so that is a 34 inch putter and it is a 120 gram grip. Normally it would be 355 grams. What I have done is I have made every single putter 15 grams heavier than it normally would be.
There are three sweet spots that all designers know about, 340, 355 and 370 grams. 340 grams for 35 inches, 355 grams for 34 inches and 370 grams for 33 inches keeps the swing weight the same, you just have to make the putter heavier but shorter.
Some of the putters have counter balance weights in them?
Yes. So what I have here is a 34 inch putter that is 370 grams. In some cases I put a weight in the butt or the whole grip is heavier, like this thicker rubber TPU 120 gram grip with the white top.
If I put a light grip on this putter the swing weight would be huge. So I go 15 grams heavier in every head. I start at 355 grams, then 370 and 385 and I am adding a 120 gram grip or a back weight so that means that instead of going up about 8 swing weights it brings it right back down to where it should be. So the swing weight for a 34 inch 370 gram putter would be a D7 swing weight.
Is D7 what you aim at?
D7 is the sweet spot. If I made this putter with a 370 gram head and I put a standard light pistol grip on it the putter would go up 8 swing weights to about E5. So the standard you want in most cases with modern greens is a D7.
So I have got a heavier overall putter, 75 grams heavier overall, but the swing weight is still D7. The importance of the lower swing weight is for distance control. If a putter gets too heavy you don’t have distance control – great for 3 footers but to hit a 20 or 30 foot putt you have no control as it is so heavy.
But if it is too light, when you get up close, it is less stable and for the general consumer they need help as golf is a tough game. So a putter that’s heavier is more accurate, but we trick the swing weight down by doing the back weighting to get the distance control. It’s the best of both worlds.
All the putters in the Evnroll range get those three weight options. The heads are the same but the weight comes out of the cavity wall behind the hitting area and we go to the trouble to mill the head to that exact weight and mark it.
There are other putter companies that put weights in the bottom and so for the longer putters those weights are hollow for the 35 inch model, but for the heavier ones the putter is just solid steel so it’s just a production solution. The head is forged and it gets milled to one weight and then the added weights are applied to make it different weights in order to get the swing weights the same across all the putters.
Every one of our putters has roughly the same swing weight. There are differences in shaft thicknesses and when you start to get really long then things start to get out of whack so we try to give the same swing weight for every length.
I noticed that the 2017 Odyssey O-Works putters are heavier putters than in the past in overall weight with heavier grips and heavier heads.
Yes, I started all of that! Amateurs prefer putters being heavier, they want heavier overall but they want the swing weight to be down. So this is just the way I came out of the gate with this stuff. I wanted to make something that hit the ball the same distance, without dispersion, that was more accurate for amateurs to be able to control the head but to still have distance control.
I wanted the putter to sit square on the ground with the rocker sole. I wanted to give the two dots to show the sweet spot but to keep the centre of mass in the centre where it is supposed to be where the sightline is. That’s a novel concept but it really is there!
We also have really nice head covers. My partner Stephen Riley makes the head covers and he also made the Ryder Cup head covers. There is a magnetic pad with ball marker included on each one.
What is your personal favourite of the head shapes in the range?
Well, the ER7 which is similar to the Barbados from the original Rife putters is my favourite and very popular. I have even been accused of copying myself!
More on the 2017 Evnroll putter range