I’ve often been asked how I came up with the Black Hawk & Black Swan Putter… so here’s the story. It’s a long one… but it’s what happened.
Golf is, and should be, a fun game… but missing putts isn’t fun. Ever. I know. Maybe more than anybody, I wanted to be a great player. It wasn’t in the cards. My putting was the primary reason why I needed to face the facts… a Ben Hogan can only happen once in a century.
I probably missed more make-able putts per round as a competitive player than anyone I knew. It drove me out of competitive amateur golf, at age 25. In desperation, I turned professional, thinking if I played more, my putting would improve. Nope. Got worse.
And that’s OK. Because it enabled me to have a three decade long productive career as an engineer in the safety-related industries, instead. Robotics & Automation (safer factories). Jet Engines (safer air travel). Automotive Brakes & Airbags (safer auto travel). Nuclear Power Safety Valves for the USSR, after Chernobyl (safer world). Low NOx Combustion Systems in Industrial Gas Turbines for Power Generation (cleaner and safer emissions in electrical power generation). I enjoyed solving problems, and there were always plenty to solve. That was fun… but… Golf should be more fun than that, right?
Well, now it is. For me… and those who now Putt with my Putters. It’s fun for me to step onto a putting green with a golfer I’ve never met, and within 5 minutes, see them smile, probably bigger than they’ve smiled in a long time. Why?
They are making putts. Repeatedly. From all distances. With severe break even. They make putts while they shake their heads and say … “this is too good to be true! Why didn’t the other companies do this?”
How did I get so lucky, to have a job where I can see the smiles? Simple. I turned 50. My wife told me… “David, go play.” I had a car wreck years ago, and didn’t play for nearly 9 years, then had surgeries in the former USSR (was working there for a German company) and came back to the USA in 2000 to play pretty good. But I was a Dad soon after (my favorite thing in life), so Golf came in last on my priority list. If you’re a Dad, you understand what I mean.
But… the USGA had announced that the US Senior Open was to be played in Lake Orion, Michigan, at Indianwood Golf & CC. I grew up there. First as a Caddy… then in the Golf Shop… then as a member when I was in college. Learned the game, and the business, from a great PGA Professional, Don Barber. Was lucky to have all that… and hoped to feel that feeling again… so…
I told my wife, it’s only if I putt far better, would I try to play competitively again. This was in early sumer, 2010. I took two months off the rest of my life, on a crusade to learn how to be a great putter. I designed a test routine, with twice daily practice sessions, and once-per day “benchmark testing” to see if, when, and how I managed to improve. Five hours a day on putting greens, and several hours per day thinking about putting, crunching the data, slicing and dicing it to see what it revealed… during a very hot Florida summer. If I didn’t love Golf, I would never have done it.
I was using my four life-long putters… a Bullseye, an 8802, a Ping Anser, and an old Spalding TP Mills. All over 30 years old. All Classics. Just like the persimmon MacGregor Driver (used until the 2000’s), and the Hogan Apex irons that had been (and still are) in my bag for a lifetime, these putters and me were going to learn how to Make Putts. Or… I’d quit the game, forever, sell or give away my clubs, and put putting behind me… forever.
So… what happened? I’ll let the data tell you… as it told me… I got worse. Steadily. Daily. No matter what putter I used. No matter how hard I practiced. Not a lot worse… a little worse. But a little more each day.
As I watched the run-chart steadily work it’s way on the zig-zag pattern lower, I continued to diligently do my best the same, each day. I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t have huge improvement, but how was it possible for me to get slightly worse? it made no sense.
At the end of the two months, the data was the determining factor. I got worse. I couldn’t putt. I told my wife… who was simply supportive throughout (hey, it was her idea). “At least you tried” was her reaction to the news. She wanted much to see me play… but, we both were engineers and mathematicians. Data speaks. I was done with Golf… but that’s OK, remember, I’m a Dad first… and I’d still get to teach my children to play one day.
That night, at 2 am, I was on Skype texting with an engineer overseas, working on a problem. But my “engineer’s” mind was on the Putting… how the heck did I get worse the more I practiced? It made no sense… in life, in factories, in anything… the more you do something, the better or more consistently you normally do it. Your “variance” shrinks. How do you putt worse, if your variance gets “tighter”?
Then it hit me… bias. Two kinds of error we deal with daily in Quality Control & Manufacturing Engineering… Bias, and Variance. Think of darts… Bias is not “centering” on a taget. Variance is the size of the pattern. Total Error is Bias combined with Variance. The only way it would make any sense, is if I had some unknown “Bias” that meant when my Variance shrunk, it made me “less likely” to hit the target.
Luckily for me, I was hired to solve a complex geometry problem, for Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Engines, back in 1985. It dealt with compound angle errors in Turbine Blade Production Tooling. Solving it gave me a decade long job solving other Turbine tooling problems. Why is that important? Because just like the Turbine Tool Engineers, the Putter Designers for over 150 years have also had tunnel vision on the issue of compound angle effects that were not apparent to the eye, but completely affected the ability to Make Putts.
Bingo… I ran to my closet at 2 am… and took out the four putters I had already put away. I examined them closely, fixtured them into positions that allowed me to see what was really happening… they DID NOT PUTT THE BALL WHERE THEY APPEARED TO AIM. Wow. Bias. Hiding in Plain Sight.
The next day, my wife sees me bending putters… and says… “I thought you quit?” As she is also a math practitioner, I explained what was happening… and she says… “Well David, then why are you bending putters? Better to design your own. You’ve designed everything else… design yourself your own putter.” My first reaction was… “Sweetheart, I don’t want to build a putter, I just want to make one work.” Then I’m thinking… “Wait a minute… she’s way smarter than me… if I design a putter, I can solve ALL of my putting problems!”
The rest was easy. I simply allowed my Six Oldest Engineering friends to design a putter for me, and my putting problems (and I had them all). The Six? Pythagoras, Galileo, Newton, Pascal, Edison, and Ford. It was simple, as I used what I learned from them… Geometry/Trig, Motion Physics, Classical Mechanics, Statistics & Probability, Ingenuity, and Common Sense.
The result was the Black Swan Putter. I allowed only one goal to be the driving force… whatever would make more putts, design it in. Just designed to make putts. No tricks, no gimmicks, just physics.
When I built the first one, I took it to the green, where I had practiced for those two months. I repeated the benchmark tests… nine times in three days (three “triple sets” of 300 putts at a thirty footer, back and forth, with at least a foot of break). I had gone from 13% down to 11% on that test, over two months. The results with the Black Swan?
The first day, I made 75 of 300. 25%. I didn’t believe it…
The second day, I made 81 of 300. 27%. My wife then asks me (she was there, all through these days, counting…) “Do you believe this now?” No.
The third day, we backed up to 36 feet. I made 87 of 300. 29%. from 36 feet. “Believe it now?… what are you going to do?” she asks.
It was so stupid making so many putts after all these years, and I was so stupid, that I tested for four more months. It never changed. Took it all over the country looking for bent-grass and mountain courses. I made extreme numbers no matter where I putted. Thank God for those Six Smart Engineers.
Actually, I owe it to Seven. The Seventh? That would be my Wife. Thank you Sweetheart…
If you’d like to see me make insane numbers of long putts, just ask. More importantly, if you’d like to make them yourself, try the putters.