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Our overall rating of the Zen Oracle Tour is positive, but we liked it much more as a training aid
My putting has been the bane of my life for as long as I remember. Yet, like a lot of poor putters, I spend most of my practice time at the range, booming drives left, right and occasionally centre. I was therefore pleased to be given the chance by to try out this new novel idea of putter and practice aid. But will it help my dodgy stroke?

The first question you inevitably ask is: Why is there a gaping hole in the head of the club? That's the training aid part, and the rationale for using this as a practice device is threefold:
First, put a ball in the hole and gently move the club back and forth without releasing the ball. This is meant to keep your stroke smooth. If the ball is released, then Houston, we have a problem. Repeating the action is possible anywhere - on the practice green, in the office and at home - although beware as this may annoy intolerant colleagues and family, who will not necessarily be sympathetic to your need to become a better putter.

Second, place a ball in the hole on top of the club, bring back the club and then try to release the ball towards a target. The most common problem for bad putters (other than alignment) is decelerating. To release the ball using the Zen Oracle you must have a gradual acceleration without jerky movements. Any sudden action and you lose contact with a ball that ends up staying at your feet. And please note - this can be embarrassing if you are practising on a busy practice green

Third, to check you are moving the putter in the direction you intend to, place one ball in the putter hole and the other in front of the blade as if you were playing a normal stroke. If you have a good stroke, the ball inside should follow the same path as the ball that was stroked normally. If you don't, you end up with two balls flying off in different directions - note again, use this drill on a busy putting green at your own risk

One interesting sidebar that came to light during a practice session with a friend is that we noticed that the TopFlite XL2000 did not fit the cavity in the putter-head. I was under the impression that all balls had to conform to the same size but according to ScottishGolf's editor this is not the case - they just need to conform to a minimum size, there is no maximum.

As a standard putter I generally liked this Zen Oracle. It has a soft face, which took me some getting used to, but this is great for fast greens. It is heavy compared to my last putter but overall I liked it.

I also like the training aid concept. Time will tell if it improves my putting overall. So far there does seem to be a slight improvement from very bad to not too good. I am to persevere though, ask me again in six-months.

We spoke with Nick Middleton, the man who invented the putter and he told us: 'The Zen Oracle was introduced into the UK at the beginning of the year (04). It's licensed to an American company and they market it using TV shows. There's a coach called Rick Smith who has been on the Golf Channel doing instruction and he's a big advocate. He coaches Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, Rocco Mediate and Jack Nicklaus. Through him we get access to key players in the States.

'I managed to get access to the European Tour and a lot of players are interested; many of them practise with it and some will be taking it onto the course but there's an essential problem insofar that we're a small company, we can't afford to pay people to use the Zen Oracle and many of them are contracted to other manufacturers.

'The Zen Oracle was principally designed as a tournament putter and a training aid combined. The training systems are quite unique and were submitted to and independent test at Golf Test USA and it was their best training aid. We came second in their review of tournament putters.

'Our current tour putter has got a polymer insert and we are the only company that pours the polymer through the clubface to the back of the putter head, rather than have an insert.

'The greatest advantage of it, especially for amateurs, is that this product is an excellent training aid that can then be taken onto the course. The drills build a more reliable putting stroke and they show up any deficiencies in the stroke. The player sees clearly whether he is accelerating through the ball - which you must do, of course - a common fault people discover when they start using the putter is that they are not releasing through the ball but hitting at it. The Zen Oracle stops you from letting up or quitting on the stroke, or jabbing at the ball. It also emphasise the importance of the pendulum motion in the putting stroke. The system helps you understand the mechanics of the stroke and to know how they work.'

The company says that the key elements of the putter are:
It is both a USGA and R&A conforming putter and a putting trainer.
It comes with 20-minute video in which instructor Rick Smith goes over several training techniques.
The putter face is not a face insert; rather the material is poured throughout centre of gravity.
The mallet, aperture, sole wings and insert material move weight rearward and around the perimeter.
Face-balancing and other qualities promote large sweet spot and straight stroke.
Markings on top of club head, plus aperture help with alignment.
Comes in left and right, 33-inch and 35-inch standard models with Winn grip.
Also available in belly (43-inch) and long (48-inch) styles.
Standard length putters (33-inch and 35-inch) cost £120, the 48-inch costs £150.

Further information is available at: www.zenoracle.co.uk/index.asp

Steve Fenton
Eight-handicap

©    13 - OCTOBER 2004



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