Barney Adams is a no-B.S. guy. You know what B.S. stands for and it’s not Bachelor of Science.
Adams, the man who created Tight Lies fairway woods and Adams Golf, would be a terrible used-car salesman. He’d compulsively tell you up front, ‘Hey, these brakes need to be replaced’ or ‘Hey, I think the front suspension is about to give out.’ He’s a truth-teller, he can’t help it.
I’ve known Adams for two decades or so, ever since he made Adams Golf the Little Company That Could. Adams grew into a successful and popular brand until TaylorMade bought it to settle a lawsuit (that’s another story) and is burying it.
So when I heard that some outfit (Breakthrough Golf Technology) was making a shaft (the Stability Shaft) that would supposedly improve your putting, I dismissed it as desperate marketing. When I found out Adams was involved, I knew it wasn’t B.S. (still not Bachelor of Science) and there must be something to it. Plus, it had to be something good to roust him from semi-retirement and the good life in Palm Springs, Calif.
“I’ve been hearing it,” Adams said. “They say, ‘Barney, you’re going to be 80 in another month, what the hell are you doing? You’re out of your mind. You know you can’t penetrate the golf industry.’
“I’m not completely dumb. I’m close. But I did it because it’s a technology. I used to go to the PGA Show and listen to everybody’s driver pitch. I should be hitting it 415 yards now according to them. The Stability Shaft is not a marketing story. This is the real deal.”
What got Adams thinking about the unexplored frontier of putter shafts was data collected by the PGA Tour’s Shotlink system. Data showed a slight decline in putting over the last 15 years on tour, believe it or not.
From 2003 to 2018, the percentage of made putts from 6 feet went down from 72.97 percent to 70.51; from 8 feet, 56.06 to 53.33 percent; from 10 feet, 43.59 to 41.07 percent. Adams has more numbers, but you get the idea.
Why the decline? Faster greens? Tougher pin positions? There are assorted possibilities. The most likely, Adams believes, is bigger, heavier putter heads are now in use. While heads got heavier, putter shafts didn’t change or, if anything, got thinner and weaker. Putter shafts did not evolve to keep up with technology.
“The putting stroke creates just enough stress to make the heavier heads shimmy or oscillate,” Adams said. “The net result is the shaft doesn’t return the head square to the target line.”
That conclusion was reached by Breakthrough Golf Technology (BGT) only after a lot of high-tech testing and numbers-crunching. The next challenge was how to solve the problem with a stronger shaft.
“You can fix that in a heartbeat with solid steel, but it would feel terrible,” Adams said. “The adjustment would be worse than the problem. Whatever we did had to have the same weight and balance point that golfers can relate to.”
Two years later, BGT offers the Stability Shaft.
The Stability Shaft is a high-tech graphite shaft that replaces four-fifths of a normal steel shaft. [Breakthrough Golf Technology]
Here’s how the process works: I shipped my putter to BGT. Within a week I got it back with the Stability Shaft installed. The shaft is a very high-tech graphite tube that is black and a little wider than the original steel shaft and extends about three-quarters down the length of a traditional shaft. It then then connects to a steel shaft a few inches above the putter head.
While it looked different, my putter didn’t feel any different in my hands. I tried it out on the artificial turf practice green at the indoor dome I frequent near Pittsburgh. No magic happened right away but when I hit putts the length of the practice green, maybe 35 feet, I noticed a difference. The contact was more solid and the ball rolled smoother off the face right away.
I don’t know how to explain this but after six or eight long putts, I experienced a wave of confidence. I felt better stroking the putter and more in control of the distance. My lag putts finished closer to the hole and, well, it seemed easier. Just like that, I was hooked.
Now, it’s the middle of winter in the Midwest, my game isn’t sharp (OK, it isn’t ever sharp) and I’ve been fooled before by putters that I loved indoors and then hated by the fourth hole when I took them on the course.
And here’s a confession: I sent BGT my backup putter, a Bettinardi blade that I’d done pretty well with but hadn’t used since early 2017. Even though I believe in Adams, I didn’t ship BGT my gamer because I didn’t want to risk messing it up.
I regret that decision already. Especially since I sent the Bettinardi with its new Stability Shaft to Florida for further testing by my son, Mike, who played on the Web.com Tour last year. It sounds as if I may not be getting that putter back because he likes it.
“The wow factor doesn’t happen when you first try it,” Mike reported from Tampa Palms Country Club, where he was trying it out. “The wow factor is when you switch back to your own putter and feel that slight movement near the head and the kick through impact and think, ‘Gee, this isn’t nearly as solid as the other shaft.’”
In other words, once you go Stability, you don’t go back.
Adams describes the Stability’s feel as an “absence of vibration” that is immediately noticeable. “After a short time, your distance control really improves,” he said. “That’s a big deal.”
It’s funny that Mike used “wow factor” because Adams used it, too, lamenting the fact that the Stability Shaft doesn’t have one. He recently rejected an infomercial script that promised golfers they would make five more putts a round.
“It doesn’t make five more putts a round, but you will putt better,” he said. “It isn’t some some bulls---t fantasy story. It works.”
Look hard enough and you will spot a few tour players on TV with a black Stability Shaft on their putter. Adams said eight to 10 tour players use it. That’s notable because BGT doesn’t pay them and the putter is a pro’s money club.
Adams has converted about 10 of his Palm Springs golfing pals to the shaft, which is difficult to do because, he joked, “They’re old knockers, they’re tough old guys who don’t like to change anything, including their socks.”
BGT is not strictly a Barney Adams operation. He is among a group of partners that includes Blair Phillip, who ran YES Putters. Because of his name recognition factor and whatever advantage that brings, if any, Adams is the group’s frontman.
Tour players will want this shaft. The big question is, no matter how much better the Stability Shaft is, will the golfing public pay $199 for a shaft after they’ve already paid that much or more for a putter?
Adams knows that will be a challenge. Maybe it’s easier to sell the Stability Shaft if it came in a putter.
“We have discussed that but then we’re in the club business,” Adams said. “There’s never been an independent putter company that hasn’t gone broke, been sold for pennies on the dollar or is now selling on the Internet, which means it’s basically a hobby.”
But he admits BGT could be making putters a year from now. “You’ve got to keep your options open,” he said.
Things change. Before I tested the Stability Shaft, I couldn’t imagine a shaft making a difference for putting. Now, I’m about to spend $199 for a second one.
Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal.