The Soft Strokes Plus line of putter heads includes four models. We have been testing the SS+1 and SS+4 versions. Both are a heel-toe weighted, 45-degree hanger in terms of balance (more or less). Each of these putters is attractive, but each has a very utilitarian look to it. In the manner of Chevy pick-up trucks they are squared off and blocky looking with gently rounded edges – solid and sturdy in appearance – modern, but not what anyone would call elegant.
The heads on the Soft Stroke putters are made of a zinc-magnesium alloy. That makes for a less expensive head. It also makes for a head that does not have the refined luster of stainless steel. The fit and finish of the Soft Strokes is unexceptional. The Zebra and Snake Eye putter heads – also from Golfsmith – have a noticeably higher level of fit and finish, but of course, their price tags are noticeably higher, as well.
The most positive aspect of both of the Soft Stroke models we have been testing is their alignment qualities. These putters set up beautifully. Every visual element of each Soft Stroke head melds together in one nicely squared-off package. The strong center line on the flange points to the target. The two, less intense lines on the topline of the face are spread apart so that they reside directly over the edges of the centered flange cavity. When the user’s eyes are directly over the ball, the visual lines flow together. The Soft Stroke user can tell intuitively when his stance is correct. This simple alignment system will make a novice player putt better. It just might help some veterans, as well. “Eyes over the ball” – a surprisingly large number of players overlook this essential fundamental.
The lie angle of the Soft Strokes will suit most players, but unfortunately, the zinc-magnesium alloy used in this head makes hosel bending impractical, so lie adjustment must be done through shaft length selection. Some players may find that when they are aligned over these heads properly they are not in a comfortable stance. Finicky clubfitters will definitely dislike the non-bendable limitations of the Soft Stroke Plus hosels. (photo to right: SS+4 Model)
The name “Soft Stroke” is a little misleading. These putters have white polymer inserts, but the feel at impact is not particularly soft. The original Golfsmith Soft Stroke putters from the mid-nineties had a softer insert and a softer feel. In comparison to some other insert putters we have in our stable, such as those from STX, Odyssey and Bobby Grace, the Soft Stroke Plus putters have a decidedly firm feel, especially when putting hard, two-piece distance balls. A couple of our testers have found the feel of these Golfsmiths to be a little clunky. With soft-covered or low-compression balls, the softness of the polymer can be felt, but no one should expect the mellow sensations that occur with some other soft-faced flatsticks.
The name “Soft Stroke” is appropriate in one sense: These putters should be stroked softly – at least on fast greens. For insert putters, they can be surprisingly aggressive. Players who tend to overshoot the cup may find them to be too aggressive. Consistency of pace has been very good with these Golfsmiths, but in all of the groupings of putters we have used, they have repeatedly been the liveliest. The sense of sensitivity needed to properly reign in putts on slick surfaces is minimal.
It should be noted that we outfitted our two demo putters with corded, pistol grips. Players looking for some additional softness may try softer Winn grips. Also, the corded grips, though they complimented these heads nicely, are heavy and reduce swingweight noticeably. Additionally, their firm, corded feel adds to the aggressive nature of these putters. Players looking for a tad more sensitivity may want to opt for thinner, lighter grips. (photo to left: SS+1 Model)
With four degrees of loft, these Soft Stroke faces tend to launch the ball slightly upwards as compared to most other putters. A bit of air time happens before rolling begins. Roll quality has been good for us, but it has been a little skiddish. This quality of roll, coupled to the lively pace and assertive attitude, makes the Soft Stroke Plus putters ideal for the slower, rougher greens often found at less expensive venues such as munis and nine-holers. In spite of their light swingweights, these putters have the authority to handle the roughest of winter greens. In use on slow, rough greens, their performance for us has been exceedingly good.
The head style of the SS+4 model is an excellent one. This head is an open mallet with moderately long alignment lines. It is a friendly, forgiving head that does not have the massive bulk of some mallet-style putters. It lacks the refined feel of some, but stability is very, very good. Beginner and high-handicap players who are not sure just what kind of putter will suit their game will be hard-pressed to find a better option than the SS+4, especially if they are on a tight budget. (photo to right: SS+4 Model)
The head design on the SS+1, along with dozens of other putters on the market, is an Anser-style design. Though longer and blockier than most Anser (and Scotty Cameron Newport) style putters, the SS+1 sets up much more solidly towards the target. The square body and unique alignment qualities make accuracy more intuitive with the Soft Stroke. This is probably the easiest aiming Anser-style putter we have ever tested. (Those who prefer a slightly more compact and rounded look should try the SS+2 model.)
The fit and finish of the inexpensive Soft Stroke Plus putters from Golfsmith is acceptable, but mediocre. These are sturdy, blocky looking putters that are attractive in the manner of a Chevy pickup truck. Some players are going to like the look; others are not. The Soft Strokes are solid, assertive putters with decided personalities. In spite of their name, they are not particularly soft at impact. Feel is acceptable, but not particularly sweet. Faces have slightly more loft than most. This helps create a roll that is aggressive and lively. Ease of alignment is absolutely first-rate thanks to fine alignment lines.
The Soft Stroke Plus putter components are inexpensive. As economy class putters, we are going to give these flatsticks two, big thumbs up. For those who play rough, slow greens, we are going to also give two, big thumbs up – regardless of price category. However, for those who play slick greens, and those who tend to putt too aggressively, these putters will probably be less desirable.