Tiger Woods' iconic fist pumps followed some of the most clutch putts in the history of professional golf.
There was the 2000 PGA Championship—a birdie at No. 18 forced a playoff and another on the first hole of that playoff set the stage for victory.
At the 18th hole of the 2005 Masters Tournament—for his fourth green jacket.
From 15 feet to force a playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open. That one made the cover of his video game, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10, and this article.
The list goes on and on.
Some 71 career PGA Tour wins later, as he prepares for the 2011 President's Cup and the 2012 PGA Tour season, Tiger knows he'll need to find that form if he's to once again win golf tournaments and reclaim his status as one of the best putters of all-time.
Sure, he needs to hit fairways. And he needs to hit greens. But more than anything else, he needs to make putts.
I recently spent some time in Nike Golf's R&D facility, The Oven, and discovered not only the brains behind Tiger's Nike Method putter, but also the Nike Putting Lab.
Let me tell you—I was blown away by what I found out. Let's take a look inside.
Tiger Woods made a lot of putts—and won a lot of golf tournaments—with a Scotty Cameron copy of a Ping Anser 2 putter throughout his career.
But Tiger 2.0, if you will, has made a change—opting for his club maker Nike's latest technology to guide him through this stage of his career.
The concept behind Nike's Method technology is simple yet brilliant. The way the grooves are built into this club—they provide a faster, more positive roll at impact. The result is improved accuracy and consistency.
Tiger's Method 001 model is very similar in appearance to what he was using before.
And if you think the average consumer is getting something far different than what the pros are getting, think again.
There is one subtle difference between Tiger’s Method 001 and the production model. And it is only different cosmetically. There is no artwork or lettering on the sole of his Method. Because he wants a smooth sole, Nike Golf has to custom machine his at The Oven.
Now, there is no denying the Method 001 was designed with Tiger as well as Paul Casey and other professionals in mind. But, there's also the performance aspect.
Nike Golf's Putting Designer and Model Maker David Franklin explained:
"Tiger chose Method because he saw that the ball launched off the putter at the angle he wanted, and the ball skid was significantly reduced. A rolling golf ball is much more stable than a skidding one, so he viewed this as a definite advantage. The Method 001 has the look that Tiger was accustomed to and the feel that he was looking for. He only switches clubs when he knows there is a competitive advantage. Removing skid and stabilizing the golf ball is an advantage, so we were thrilled when he decided to put the Method putter in his bag."
Launch? Skid? Keep reading.
When a Nike Golf athlete like Tiger Woods—or an amateur player like me—enters the Putting Lab at The Oven, there are three key elements in being measured to help improve putting—speed, launch and skid.
David Franklin explained it very clearly to me.
Speed is simply the speed the ball is moving forward off the putter face. The longer the putt, the higher the speed and vice versa.
Launch is the angle at which the ball is leaving the putter face and it's a very important part of performance. Three to four degrees is needed in order to lift the ball above the blades of grass and not drive the ball into those blades or into the ground.
Skid is the distance the ball goes from the putter before it begins to rotate forward. The ball is unstable while skidding. You want forward roll. The less skid the better.
And that's what Nike Method putters were designed to accomplish.
Franklin showed me two videos of Tiger Woods—one of him putting with a competitor's model and the other with the Method 001 model he is using today.
The difference, for the better, was very clear.
Tiger's ball speed and launch angle were pretty similar, which makes sense. Tiger was using the same putting stroke. But the amount of skid was far less. So that ball began rotating forward as it is supposed to much sooner than with his old putter.
So, the loft of a putter will dictate the launch angle and skid distance. The number you want to see is somewhere between three and four degrees of launch and an inch or less of skid distance—ideally.
There's also the lie of a putter. It dictates how the sole conforms to the ground and influences left to right direction.
And the length of a putter dictates a player's arm position and the placement of a player's eyes over the ball.
All these things interact with one another. For example, just by shortening a putter, the lie will need to be more upright and the player's eyes will move to the toe of the putter. The stroke, as a result, becomes more straight back and straight through.
"At the Oven, we are primarily fitters not coaches. We typically don’t give pointers unless the player or his coach asks for specific information on what he is doing. We fit Method putters to make them as much of a natural extension of the athlete as possible."
This is true. But Franklin and Nike Golf Sports Marketing Specialist Matt Plumb did serve as coaches for me. And what a tremendous difference their advice made.
If you've ever watched the Nike Golf videos from The Oven, you've seen their athletes—Tiger Woods, Michelle Wie, Paul Casey, Stewart Cink and many others—working in the Putting Lab.
I was given the opportunity to participate in the very same process.
I've seen just about every Nike Golf video ever made.
So having the feeling of being in one myself was kind of surreal.
First of all, I placed a striped ball on a red dot on their putting surface. The red dot is from a laser. It's the precise spot on the floor where the ball must be placed in order for Nike's cameras to accurately capture ball speed, launch angle and skid distance.
And it's 13 feet 6 inches from that red dot to the middle of the hole.
They had me use a Method Core Drone because it's the putter that's been in my bag since they sent it to me about a month ago when I was crafting an interview with Suzann Pettersen.
This particular one was 34" and had a medium grip, which is slightly thicker than a normal grip.
Somehow, I made my first couple putts but my numbers were all out of whack.
I was advised to move my hands forward a bit, as in a forward press, because they were actually behind the ball at impact and throwing off my numbers.
The result? It was a night and day difference.
My first putt. Good. Same with the second putt. And the third.
I don't remember how many putts I hit, but I know I only missed one, and that was a lip-out.
Having my hands in the proper position during the putting process felt funny, as you can imagine, because I had gotten used to putting with my hands behind the ball. It caused me to contact the ball at a bad launch angle. So, the ball was skidding more than it should.
With my hands in the right position, virtually no skid at all.
My launch angle went from 4.7" to 2.7" and the initial skid went from an abysmal five inches to a fantastic 0.2" reading. I was in the ballpark with Anthony Kim, Paul Casey and Lucas Glover's readings. That made me feel pretty good.
Method Core Drone was now able to do its job properly. And I was putting with a lot of confidence.
I smiled and said, "This changes everything."
I couldn't wait to get back out on the golf course.