Offset hoseling has been around since at least 1900. This Willie Park model was pretty popular between 1900 and the 1930s:
Willie Park putter 1900
Walter Hagen's Willie Park putter 1925
So was Bobby Jones' Calamity Jane:
Jones' Calamity Jane 1930s
Today, there is the plumber's neck ubiquitous on the Ping-style putters since the late 1960s and 1970s:
Karsten Solheim's Ping Anser
The original impulse was a little shady under the Rules, as the Rules prohibit any "convex" face in the equipment provisions and also prohibit any stroke that is a "push, scrape, or spoon."
There was an early club called a "spoon" and this sort of clubface was banned from the green as giving too much directional and other control to the golfer -- a putting stroke "must fairly hit" the ball, not take hold of the ball and throw it, as happens in a "push" in shuffleboard, a "scrape" by a rabbit's forelimbs and paws digging a hole on a links course, or a "spoon".
The offset with a goose-neck or plumber's neck design was sort of a way to take hold of the ball on the way by, with hands ahead of the ball at impact, and give the ball sort of a roll-toss or scoop. A bit shady, if you ask me, since it dilutes the "hit" called for by the Rules.
Tradition (or blind inertia) determines putter designs much more than purposeful innovation. It would be quite a stretch to attribute to putter designers any intent to "hide" the top line of the putter face.
The truth seems to be that putter designers of the past 100 years have never studied perception processes (too much trouble), and so don't know what they are doing with respect to the aiming visual and physical response of the golfer to the design. David Edel (David Edel Golf
) is the first putter designer I have ever heard of who studies the effect of hosel design patterns on golfer perceptions in aiming the putter.
Golfers have long been repeating the old saw that "no good putter doesn't have his hands ahead thru impact" or words to that effect. Phil Mickelson repeats it, without saying why it might be so, in his recent book (Dec. 2009). Dave Stockton Jr. gives different explanations at different times, the most convincing one being that "hands ahead" (via forward press os a lagging of the putter thru impact somehow) basically firms up the back of the lead wrist by bowing the ligaments / tendons / cartilage in the structure. So? Apparently, this a) prevents "flipping wrists thru impact" and b) makes the movement more definitive and therefore controllable for line and touch. Eh, what're you gonna do?
The offset hoseling is not really needed to do what needs doing, even if you forward press or otherwise simply firm up the muscle tone in the lead wrist area without forward pressing. It's just something that got started in putter designs a long time ago and keeps on a-rollin' like the muddy river no one can stop.
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