PutterTalk Hall Of Fame – Class of 2007
By: George Palombi and Doug Hardman
The Putter Talk Hall of Fame will focus on designers and their creations, plus add historical background & a timelines to the success. Even some avid collectors are unfamiliar with the stories & the people behind many seminal designs.
Our Goal is to identify the most influential original designs over the years. It is also our goal to honor, without bias, but rather objective appreciation, the designers’ significant impact on the game of golf.
Class of 2007:
With September 15th being the birthdate of pioneer, engineer & designer Karsten Solheim, it is most appropriate to present PutterTalk’s first inductions to its Hall of Fame: The Ping 1-A & The Ping Anser.
Karsten Solheim was born in Bergin, Norway, on September 15, 1911. The family emigrated to the United States and settled in Seattle, WA. He worked with his father as a shoemaker, but had ambitions of becoming a mechanical aeronautical engineer.
In 1945, Karsten became a research engineer at the Ryan Aeronautical Corporation where he worked on the Fireball jet fighter plane. Later, he joined Convair as a project engineer for the Atlas missile’s first ground guidance system. He then moved to General Electric, where he had a hand in the design of the company’s early portable televisions. In 1956, he joined a team of engineers working on the production of the first computer banking system.
A tennis player, Karsten never even tried golf until moving to Ithaca, NY in 1953, where at the age of 42 he played a round with coworkers and became enamored with the game. Putting was particularly troubling to Solheim, who soon concluded that a large part of his difficulties could be attributed to design flaws in his putter which, no matter how consistently he stroked it, would twist just enough to send the ball off course. Knowing that a tennis racket employed perimeter weighting, in which the weight was distributed to the rim to allow the strings to provide greater power, Solheim decided to apply the same principle to the putter.
“Perhaps no individual has had as profound as impact on the golf industry as Karsten Solheim.”
-Ken Lindsay, former president of the PGA of America.
By placing most of the weight at the heel and toe of the putter’s blade, he would be able to create a forgiving “sweet spot” in the center, allowing the player a much better chance to hit the ball straight. Solheim tested his idea by having a neighbor weld some metal to the back of the heel and toe of a putter, changes that helped the club head to complete a stroke. He then worked out the design of a new putter by gluing two popsicle sticks to the sides of a pair of sugar cubes with a shaft rising from the center. By the time he had constructed a prototype of his new putter, the 1A design, he had been transferred by GE to Palo Alto, CA. Years later, he recalled trying out the putter for the first time in 1959 in his kitchen in Redwood City, CA: “I heard this noise, it startled me so much I dropped the putter on the floor. And then I knew that’s what I would call my new putter: Ping.”
As he continued to work for GE during the day, Solheim spent his weekends visiting golf course pro shops, giving away free putters to resident professionals to elicit feedback to help him improve the design. He was even known to lay out graph paper on the practice green to provide objective proof that his putter hit the ball straighter. One proshop owner in 1959 urged him to manufacture the Ping putter and sell them through club professionals. He also warned him not to quit his day job, advice that Solheim followed for several years.
To fund the enterprise, he took out a $1,100 bank loan, the only financing he would ever need. First in Redwood City, and then in Phoenix, AZ, after GE again transferred him in 1961, Solheim began to produce Ping putters in his garage at night, hand-grinding the heads in his garage and then heating them on the kitchen stove to fit them on shafts. His sons helped out, drilling holes in the putter heads to accommodate the shafts and adding the grips. To market his revolutionary putter, Solheim began to attend professional tournaments, lingering at the practice green to ask the players to try his putter. Many were reluctant because they considered the Ping to be ugly, a fact to which Solheim was indifferent, insistent that his club should be accepted because of what it could do, not its appearance. Golfers by nature were willing to try almost anything to improve their game, especially their putting. Enough pros gave the Ping a chance to begin to build word of mouth about the new putter, aided to some degree by Solheim engraving his name and address on the head.
Winning tournaments, of course, translated into sales. Casual golfers, hoping the magic would rub off on them, would then invest in the same equipment as the victor of that weekend’s tournament. In the early 1960s the sale of Ping putters was spurred by Gloria Armstong’s win in a his-her tournament and John Barnum’s win of the 1962 Cajun Classic. A Sports Illustrated article on the “musical putter” also helped sell Ping putters.
In 1962, Solheim received a patent on the heel-toe weighting design on his putter, but continued to work on improving the design while also beginning to develop irons.
Inspiration – Round Two:
In January 1966, an idea for a new putter came to him in a flash of inspiration. Unable to wait to get the concept down on paper he grabbed a record sleeve and sketched the design. This would be the first “Record” that would fall in the wake of the Anser.
His wife Louise thought the new putter should be called “answer,” a name that Solheim liked but that possessed too many letters to fit on the club. She then suggested that the “w” be left out. The legendary “Anser” putter was born.
Marketing of the Anser was still limited to word of mouth, but those voices would become greatly amplified by the rise of professional golf on television, fueled by the popularity of Arnold Palmer and the rising star of Jack Nicklaus. When Julius Boros won the PGA Tour’s Phoenix Open in 1967 using a Ping Anser putter, sales took off. Solheim, not intending to quit his engineering job, continued to meet the demand for his putters through his garage operation, much to the annoyance of his neighbors, but when GE decided to once again transfer him, this time to Oklahoma City, he decided to try the golf business full time.
The Ping A-1
The 1-A was the first patented heel and toe weight club of any kind. The 1-A design similarities can be seen still today in many center shafted blade putters. Every heel and toe weighted putter, wood, and iron traces back to this putter — the putter Karsten Solheim created in his kitchen almost 50 years ago.
The Ping Anser
The Anser is the most winning design from the Ping lineup of putters. What was seen as one of the most radical designs 40 years ago, the Anser design is the most mainstream, most copied, and modified designs Karsten ever created.
With well over 500 tour wins, it is by far not only Ping’s most successful design — but has the most wins of any design on tour. The aftermath is something that not even Karsten could have foreseen. The Ping Anser has gone on to be the inspiration for more putter designs than any other golf club. The Anser design can bee seen in a $5.00 putter at the local discount store… or a CNC Milled putter from Scotty Cameron, Byron Morgan, or budding designers like C&L Putters.
To this day, budding putter designers spend countless hours in front of a mill in their garage or basement, trying to come up with the next “Anser”. Maybe they ought to take a page out of Karsten Solheim’s book… and head to the kitchen.