Pa. sculptor breaks mold in putter design


Blades or mallets; straight shafts or goosenecks; center-shafting or conventional; engineers or physicists -- one way or another, all can relate to putters.

It used to be you could walk into a pro shop, pick out a putter that looked good, hit a few putts -- and buy it. Now, there are implements of varying sizes, shapes, and descriptions, and their manufacturers are enthusiastic about users achieving better results with their products.

One such group is a local company, STX, Inc. That's the same STX that shook the lacrosse world with its synthetic sticks more than 20 years ago, then incorporated some of the knowledge gained to produce face inserts on putters.

Now, the company is it again. The Key Putter, introduced last year, features two changeable face inserts and three weight variations, giving the golfer six options in feel and performance.

AInstead of a solid metal hitting area, the face of the inserts is made of DuPont Hytrel, a rubber-like material that absorbs impact.

Most design people today are engineers or have some engineering expertise. Dave Pelz, a former Prince George's County resident and NASA engineer, is such a designer.

Using his engineering background, (and low-handicap golf game), he has developed a reputation as one of golf's foremost putting and short-game authorities.

STX, on the other hand, may be the only company producing putters designed by an internationally recognized sculptor.

Robert M. Engman, of Haverford, Pa., whose works are displayed in some of the top museums and private collections in the world, has an industrial background in addition to a teaching career of more than 40 years. Along with this, there is a love of golf and a three-handicap at Merion Golf Club.

"My father was a blacksmith, so I was no stranger to casting and forging when it came to tinkering with putters," he was saying during a recent interview. "And I have played golf all my life.

"In the early years, I thought about a golf career, but I was a streaky putter, and I was discouraged from it by some pros."

Engman studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and at Yale University, where he received a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture and painting. He later taught at Yale for 12 years and in the graduate school at Penn, where he was director of graduate studies in his specialties. He retired last year.

Engman takes the same approach whether creating a putter, a sculpture or playing golf. He says one's performance will be acceptable if it's approached with a sense of what has to happen. "You need the five senses to do anything well.

"I don't always know what I'm doing, and I don't think golfers always know what they're doing. In each instance, one does it by using a highly developed set of senses."

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