Long putter debate

By Dave Tindall Twitter: @DaveTindallgolf.   Last Updated: 08/09/11 10:12am

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The belly and the broomstick. Should they be banned?

The belly and the broomstick. Should they be banned?

Sky Bet

They're the talk of golf but should belly and broomstick putters now be banned? Dave Tindall investigates:

The controversy

There is no objection to long putters per se. After all, Angel Cabrera won the 2009 Masters with a putter longer than standard. The problem is when these long putters are anchored against the golfer's body (something Cabrera didn't do). Anchoring a putter against the belly or sternum provides a third point of contact between golfer and club and that serves as a fulcrum for making a pendulum putting stroke. Many believe our hands should be the only connection to any golf club and anchoring provides an unfair advantage.

Recent success

In four of the last five weeks, long putters were used by the winner. Adam Scott, with his broomstick, captured the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in early August before, the following week, Keegan Bradley became the first player to win a major using the anchored belly putter. Webb Simpson won the Wyndham Championship the week after and a fortnight later his belly putter helped him gain a second win, this one at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Should they be banned?

The Gecko EuroPro Tour - a mini tour in Spain - has already decided to ban the long putter from all events. The Tour's director of golf Paul Netherton said: "With the anchoring of the putter into a player's midriff, we feel this gives a player an unfair advantage over the rest of the competitors in the field, which goes against the ethos and spirit of the game."

What is the stance of golf's governing bodies?

The R&A and USGA have so far declined to outlaw or regulate long putters. The Rules of Golf state that a putter cannot be shorter than 18 inches, but there's no maximum length. However there is a rule saying that equipment must maintain "traditional and customary" use which could give them leeway to change their current stance. The always reasonable USGA president Mike Davis said on the Golf Channel in April 2011 that the USGA and R&A had decided users tended to fall into two groups of players - "those that are afflicted with yips or something else that's not good, or people that have back problems." He asked: "Do we want to take clubs out of the hands of people who almost can't enjoy the game anymore?"

However, which group would Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley fall into? They're healthy young players without bad backs nor afflicted by the yips.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em

Ernie Els was once an outspoken critic of the long putter. Back in 2004 he said: "I think they should be banned. Nerves and the skill of putting are part of the game. You know, take a tablet if you can't handle it." Well, seven years on and after a spell of huge frustration on the greens, Els has decided he can't handle it. The solution - a belly putter. And it wasn't lost on viewers when he holed a key putt with his lengthened blade at the 72nd hole in Boston to scrape into the next round of the playoffs. Some may call him a hypocrite. Others will be glad to see a great player like Els perhaps being given a new lease of life.

What do the Sky Sports experts say?

Rob Lee: "I don't think anything that's anchored should be part of the sport and I don't like them at all. Manufacturers have produced some wonderful golf clubs and it's helped to make the sport more accessible and enjoyable for amateurs. But the guys at the top of the game shouldn't get as much assistance. Much like 64 degree wedges, I think long putters should be banned. However, I think that horse has bolted and I'm afraid the sport could now be stuck with them."

Ross McFarlane: "I'm not a great fan, I've got to be honest. I don't think that any golf club should be lodged into your body in any way, shape or form - you should be gripping it with your hands.However, a lot of the youngsters start with that style of putter instead of the ordinary length."

Too late to ban?

As Lee and McFarlane suggest, many feel the genie is out of the bottle and the long putter is now part of the culture. How do you tell a player who has grown up using a long putter that it's suddenly illegal? Mickelson made this very point last week: "If they were going to be banned, it should have happened 20-plus years ago," he said. "But now that it's been legal, I don't think you can make it retroactive. There have been guys that have been working with that putter for years if not decades. I just don't believe that it should even be a consideration."

Was the long putter actually the key to the spate of recent wins?

WGC-Bridgestone: Scott was ranked 4th in putting average but it also helped he came out top of the total driving stats and was second in ball-striking.

USPGA: Bradley was 3rd in putting average but also second in greens in regulation.

Wyndham: Simpson was second in the putting average stat but was also in the top five for total driving and ball striking.

Deutsche bank: Simpson holed key putts at the finish and was ranked second in putting average.

Clearly, putting played a key part in those wins but it's also worth noting that Scott, Bradley and Simpson (in the first of his wins) all topped the all-round rankings (a measure of eight different stats categories from driving to putting) during the week of their wins. In other words, good putting helped complete the picture. It wasn't the sole reason for their success.

Cons as well as pros

Phil Mickelson made big headlines last week when he put a long putter in his bag for the Deutsche Bank. "An outrage", said the purists but Lefty, like Els, had also started to miss short putts with his conventional putter. However, while the short ones went in, Mickelson's distance control on long putts and judgement on breaking putts looked way out of synch with the longer blade and he was ranked 41st in putting average.

Conclusion:

It's inevitable given the flood of recent winners that golfers of all levels will be curious to see what all the fuss is about when it comes to long putters. But, like Mickelson, they might find that long putters aren't magic wands that can provide a quick-fix.

Frank Thomas, a previous technical director at the USGA, once said: "It can make a bad putter a good putter, but it can't make a good putter a great putter."

Long putters have been around since 1985 when Charlie Owens began using one on the US Senior tour. That was 26 years ago and yet all the players we've classed as great putters since then weren't using bellies or broomsticks.

In fact, take a look at the top 10 on the PGA Tour's main putting stat this season.

You'll find it full of great conventional putters with great natural feel and touch such as Steve Stricker (ranked 1st), Brandt Snedeker (2nd) and Luke Donald (6th). There isn't a belly/broomstick user anywhere to be seen.

USGA director Mike Davis says: "We don't see this as a big trend. It's not as if all the junior golfers out there are doing this."

That my be true for now, but golf is a game that continually evolves. Fads can quickly become mainstream and how long before long putters are the norm?

This debate seems likely to grow rather than go away and just imagine the added furore if Tiger Woods starts using one when he makes his return in California next month!

However, remember this. Even if Woods starts holing more putts, he'll need to get his long game working too if he wants to get back to winning ways.

No good making a bunch of putts if they're for pars not birdies.

* What are your thoughts? Should they be banned? And have you ever used a belly or broomstick putter? We'll be testing them in part two of this feature next week.

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