Joe Niamtu of North Canton is a putting pro. And, having been a traveling man when he was product manager for Rold Gold Foods, a division of Frito-Lay, he put in plenty of time putting on hotel carpets. That’s why he ended up inventing the Golfers’ Perfect Putt, a pocket-sized practice device that he produced and sold back in the middle of the 1960s.
Joe Niamtu of North Canton is a putting pro.
Oh, he’ll be humble and tell you something like, “I’m never the best putter in my foursome.” But we doubt the veracity of that modesty. The skilled amateur golfer won his share of area titles when he was younger and shot a 73 on his 80th birthday. That’s not the score of a lousy putter.
And, having been a traveling man when he was product manager for Rold Gold Foods, a division of Frito-Lay, he put in plenty of time putting on hotel carpets.
That’s why he ended up inventing the Golfers’ Perfect Putt, a pocket-sized practice device that he produced and sold back in the middle of the 1960s.
“I used to take my putter with me and throw it in my garment bag, then putt in the hotel room to kind of keep my golf game in shape,” recalled Niamtu. “I used a water tumbler. I didn’t have anything else to putt into, and the hotels didn’t mind.”
UPGRADING HIS EQUIPMENT
After a few balls bounced off the rim of the drinking glass — putts that might have fallen into the cup on a course — it didn’t take Niamtu long to begin thinking about designing a better practice hole.
“If you look at a golf hole, it’s elliptical in shape, unless you straddle it and look straight down at it,” he explained. “The farther back you stand from it, the more it tends to look oval-shaped.”
Also, he noted, the only thing visible to a golfer on a green is the back edge of the cup — painted white for televised tournaments.
“Every golf pro will tell you that if you want to be a good putter, aim at the back of the cup,” he said.
So, Niamtu designed an inch-high device that would sit on its edge on the floor, be green on the outside and white on the inside, and would look elliptical from a putting distance when its hinged halves were opened to a distance of 41⁄2 inches — the size of a regulation golf hole.
Inside, Niamtu placed a bright orange target.
“When you putt the ball exactly right, it goes through the opening and hits the dot on the back of the hole and it clicks shut because of the force of the ball,” said Niamtu. “If you hit it too hard, a lot of times the ball will go over the top, like it would a real hole.”
Too many accurate putts didn’t cause fatigue from too much stooping.
“You didn’t have to bend over to get your ball out or reopen the Perfect Putt,” said its inventor. “You tap it on the back and the thing comes right open.”
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Niamtu obtained both American and Canadian patents for both the design and mechanism of Perfect Putt. Plastic parts were made by Portage Plastics of Kent, and the device was assembled in Canton.
Marketing of the Perfect Putt included placing it in all the golf pro shops in the area and in many local sporting goods stores. Niamtu also sold Perfect Putt through catalogs.
Pairs of Perfect Putt devices were sold retail for $2.50.
“Joe pointed out the Perfect Putt is packaged in pairs so that the golfer can put one at each end of the room and putt back and forth,” said an article in The Repository’s sports section on Sept. 6, 1964.
Nationwide distribution of the device was handled by a pair of companies, but Niamtu also promoted the product. He gave away many Perfect Putts to professional golfers at tournaments. Arnold Palmer. Jack Nicklaus. Fuzzy Zoeller. Nick Price.
“Whoever I gave it to thanked me,” Niamtu said.
At one point, Niamtu presented a Perfect Putt to Yankee star Thurman Munson, who asked, “Do you want me to pass some of these along to the Yankees?”
“I gave him three dozen,” remembered Niamtu. “I saw Thurman later and he told me, ‘I want you to know I gave one to every Yankee, even (broadcaster) Phil Rizzuto, and he likes it.”
So, if a putting pro is measured by his ability to make money off of the activity, Niamtu qualifies.
“I sold thousands of them,” he said. “I sold enough that I had to get the mold relined. I didn’t get rich from it, but it sent my kids through college and gave me some spending money.
“And it was a great thing for me. It challenged my mind. It served a good purpose.”
Lately, Niamtu, now 88, has been debating whether to resurrect the device. He wonders if he should try to get some younger member of the family involved in manufacturing it.
“Maybe somebody in my family could have a lot of fun with it,” he reasoned.
In the meantime, a couple of the few putting practice devices he has left are sometimes put to good use. Perfect Putt still is in Niamtu’s personal practice routine.
“I still use it once in awhile,” said Niamtu, who notes — sounding like a far better putter than he lets on — that he still likes to head outside to putt on a practice green.
“But, on a rainy day, or a cold winter day, that’s when I enjoy practicing putting in the living room. That’s when I use Perfect Putt.”