T.P. Mills Handmade Review

This week, golfers everywhere can plan on The Masters in Augusta having them glued to the television. While they are glued to the aforementioned device, the network will invariably have a “Look Back” to the past on several occasions. We’ll see Palmer win his first jacket, and then give Jack his. We’ll see Tom Kite stand in awe as “runner up” to the largest margin of victory ever recorded at Augusta….by a young “Tiger” more than half his age. It seems only fitting that on this first “Masters Week” for Putter Talk we go back and look at a putter that has paved the way for a lot of the modern putters that we use and love today.

I purchased this handmade T.P. Mills putter last week. It is about 40 years old, was rusty, and hadn’t seen a putting green in 20+ years. I spent the evening with sand-paper and files cleaning it up a bit. When I was finished, I couldn’t wait to play 18 holes with it. More about that later, but first, let’s take a look at what made, and makes, T.P. Mills putters so special.

Sometime in the late 1960s, a gentleman with the initials P.B. had a conversation with Mr. Truett P. Mills (T.P. as he was known to friends) about making a putter for him. Back then, you had to drive out to T.P.’s garage at 1700 Second St. in Tuscalossa, Alabama, and hand him a check for $50.00 to $250.00 if you wanted a putter…and people did. Why? Because they were, bar-none, the best putter in the world!

Now $50.00-$250.00 may not seem like a lot for a putter today, but in 1967, was a LOT of money for a putter. According to the American Institute of Economic Research, $50.00 in 1967 would be like $303.89 in 2007 money. That doesn’t seem too bad either, but in 1967, a normal putter was $2.00. Or, $12.16 in 2007. A handmade T.P. Mills putter was a luxury in which only the most serious golfer would indulge. I’m thinking this putter was at the lower end of that scale. It is a simple “One” design with “T.P. Mills” on the face, toward the heel, and the “Crossline” and the player’s initials “P B” on the front of the toe.

In 1968, “greens” in the south were covered in sand, and rolled at about 5 on the Stimp Meter. This meant that a lot of the time, your putter needed 7-degrees of loft to get the ball moving. One of TP’s trademarks is the dotted-crossline on the face of the putter. A recent Golf Digest review of a TP Mills putter said “What good is the cross-line if you can’t see it?” What they don’t realize is that you USED to be able to see it. At 7-degrees, the crossline shows at a perfect “+” to show you where to hit the ball.

Craftsmanship:

TP had a lot of these ‘New’ ideas on how putters should be made. For one, people really weren’t milling putters back then. Across the country in Arizona, another “Great Innovator” was casing them out of Magnesium Alloy…while other manufacturers were just pouring metal into molds. Hand-milling a putter out of expensive 1024 steel was unheard of. Today, T.P. Mills is considered the “Father” of milled putters. TP would hand-mill a forged head into the shape he wanted, and then spend days with sandpaper and files making the putter EXACTLY how he wanted it for the player.

Address:
Once the shape of the head was finished, TP would move on to another one of his most profound innovations in putting. By applying a coating of “Black Oxide” to the putter, it provided a contrast to the ball. Back then, putters were either silver or bronze. Having a black putter contrast with a white ball helped the player concentrate on the putt, and not the putter. The added up-side was that the Black Oxide also provided a protective coating so the putter wouldn’t rust. (Those of us in the mid-west have ‘rust issues’ with anything, but back then 90% of TP’s putters were made for players in southern climates.)

Another T.P. Mills trademark is the Sight Oval atop the sweet spot. This showed the player where to aim, without being overly harsh. There are stories about a player taking a hack-saw to an 8802 to put a line in it…TP’s method was considerably more elegant.

Headcover:
A headcover? For a PUTTER? Are you kidding? This is the late 60′s we’re talking about. Cars had seat-belts as an OPTION and my father-in-law’s dad would routinely smoke while operating on patients.

The LAST thing golfers were thinking about was putting a headcover on a putter. Sheish…that’s just crazy talk!

Moving on…

Grip:
My biggest challenge with this putter was that the shaft is a hair thicker than a pencil at the tip, and only a little larger at the butt. Finding a grip that thin wasn’t easy. I ended up with a thinner grip that I STILL had to wrap 4 layers of tape around to get it to fit properly.

I’m on a hunt for an original TP Mills grip to make it complete…contact me if you have one.

Again, back in the 60′s grips weren’t all that important. I’m guessing that this one was a wrapped leather grip. Maybe I’ll send it to The Grip Master to see if they can make one for it.

Feel:
Putter enthusiasts often use “Butter” as a way to describe the soft feel of 1024 carbon steel. I’m not quite sure who coined that phrase, but I’ll bet they were using a putter just like this one when they did!

I have over 100 putters in my “Lab” and can say without hesitation that this is the softest feeling carbon putter there. Whether I hit putts slightly off the heel or toe, the ball seems to get a nice little push from the putter. This putter makes almost no noise at impact. I know it is hard to believe, but the combination of the thin shaft, long flowing neck, and soft carbon steel make for one of the more enjoyable putting experiences that you can imagine.

“Skip to the end” Overall:
When you sit down and look at the history of putters, there are very few names that stick out as innovators that changed the face of golf. T.P. Mills is at the top of that list with VERY select company…for good reason. This putter, which by all accounts was made in/around 1967, bests more modern putters than anyone would believe possible. I used it for 18 holes last week and had one of the best putting rounds of my golfing career. No three-putts, and three one-putts. All this from a putter that was made when my father was graduating high-school.

Watch the High-Speed video of this putter below, and you’ll realize that even by today’s standards, this putter gets the ball rolling VERY quickly.

While I was walking the course, I found myself wondering about the day this putter was made. I imagine a hot Sunday night in Tuscaloosa. T.P. sitting on a chair in the living room watching “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” with a piece of sandpaper in one hand, a putter head in the other…and his son David across the room watching him work.




Discuss T.P. Mills Putters on the T.P. Mills section of our Putter Community, or discuss this review Here.

High-Speed Video Clip


Download this clip: tpmills_one_hm.mov (Quicktime required)
Ratings
Craftsmanship: 10
Feel: 10
Headcover: N/A
Grip: 5
Address: 10
Overall: 8.75
Stats
Company: T.P. Mills
URL: http://www.tpmills.com
MSRP: $50-$250 in 1960′s
Length: 35″
Loft: 3-deg
Lie: 70-deg
Head Weight: 330g
Swing Weight: D-3
Material: 1024 Carbon Steel
Grip: N/A
Manufacturing Type: Hand-Milled/Forged
Made In: Tuscaloosa, AL – USA
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