Here’s an interesting atricle on long putters. This is really going to be an issue that effects the entire industry over the next few years.
A Golf Club to Divide Them
Notable Wins With Long Putters Fuel Debate on Possible Ban
A golfer in his 40s and another in his teens qualified for the Masters 105 days apart, their generation gap bridged by a broomstick shaft. The belly putters used by 43-year-old Ernie Els in his victory at the British Open in July and by 14-year-old Guan Tianlang in his win at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship this month are the pokers stirring the game’s hottest controversy, one that has smoldered for decades.
Only three players before 2001 had won PGA Tour events using a long putter; that is a generic description covering belly putters and the longer broomstick models. At the British Open, Els became the third golfer in 12 months to win a major using a long putter. More than a quarter of that field used long putters, snapping the game’s guardians to attention.
The day after Els’s victory, Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the R&A, the organization based in Scotland that establishes the rules of golf in concert with the United States Golf Association, warned that anchored clubs were, in effect, being put on the clock. The use of the long putter by Guan, a teenager from China, which is just emerging on the golf scene, can be seen as further proof of the club’s reach.
An announcement from the R&A and the U.S.G.A. on the fate of long putters is thought to be imminent. The battle lines are drawn, with purists on one side and pragmatists on the other.
Several high-profile players are caught in the cross-fire as the debate intensifies over whether long putters anchored against the body illegally enhance performance or represent a technological advancement that is part of golf’s evolution.
Those supporting a ban include Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods and Tom Watson, who have won a combined 29 majors. Their argument is that anchoring the putter quiets the hands during the stroke, taking out of play nerves, which are a fundamental aspect of the game.
Brandt Snedeker, who finished first on the PGA Tour this year in strokes gained putting, is not a fan of the long putter. On Thursday’s “Morning Drive” show on Golf Channel, he said: “When it comes down to having a five-footer to win a golf tournament, I know how I feel. I know my hands are shaking. I know I am very, very nervous. I don’t think it is the same feeling if you have that thing stuck in your belly.”
Els was among seven players who used long putters to win on the PGA Tour in 2012. This year, his first full season using the club, Els improved to No. 112 in strokes gained putting, from No. 181. But no player ranked among the top 10 in that category uses a long putter, buttressing the argument that it is not a magic wand.
The de facto general of the broomstick brigade is Keegan Bradley, who as a 25-year-old PGA Tour rookie at the 2011 P.G.A. Championship became the first man to win a major using an anchored putter.
Referring to a possible ban of anchored clubs, Bradley said, “Now that it’s becoming a reality, people with long putters are going to do whatever we have to do to protect ourselves.”
In an interview last week, Bradley did not rule out taking legal action if the rule book is amended to prohibit players from anchoring a club to any part of their bodies, including their forearms.
“I’m not trying to bully anybody into doing anything,” he said. “I just want to do whatever’s best for myself and the other players that use the putter. I realize that there’s some people who feel the other way, and they’re entitled to their opinion.”
In 1965, Richard T. Parmley received a United States patent for a long-shafted club described as a “body-pivot golf putter.” This month, in the parking lot of an apartment complex in Tampa, Fla., Charlie Owens opened the trunk of his car and pulled out a long putter that he wished he had patented.
“This is my invention,” he said, showing off the 52-inch club he made in the early 1980s by welding together two shafts. Owens named his putter Slim Jim, and it helped make his wallet fat; he won two events and more than $700,000 with it on the senior tour.
His victories came in 1986, nearly a decade after poor putting from inside five feet had driven him off the PGA Tour and into a job in Tampa as head professional at Rogers Park Golf Course.
The putter also provided physical relief for Owens, who had trouble bending over the ball because of a surgically fused left knee, the result, he said, of a training accident he sustained in 1952 as an Army paratrooper.
“People would see me with my putter on the course and laugh about it,” Owens, 80, said. “They’d say, ‘What are you doing with that stovepipe in your hands?’ After I won the two tournaments, they didn’t laugh anymore. They wanted to know if I could get them one.”
A golf club manufacturer based in California made and marketed the Slim Jim, with limited success, Owens said. One PGA Tour player who took notice was Johnny Miller, who borrowed the idea and pieced together the long putter he unveiled at the 1985 Los Angeles Open.
In a recent telephone interview, Miller, who won two majors, likened his struggles at the time with putts inside five feet to a football team that keeps pushing into the red zone but cannot score a touchdown.
Miller anchored his putter’s shaft against his left forearm, as does Matt Kuchar, who won the Players Championship this year. Miller used his 44-inch Spalding putter when he tied for 50th at the Los Angeles Open and when he forged a one-stroke victory at the 1987 Pebble Beach National Pro-Am to break a title drought of more than three years.
“Not many people paid much attention,” said Miller, who is believed to be the first winner on the regular tour to use a long putter, his Pebble Beach victory preceding Rocco Mediate’s win at Doral in 1991.
The golf world could not help noticing in 1989 when Orville Moody won the United States Senior Open using a putter with a 48-to-50-inch shaft. Owens said that until Moody adopted the long putter, “he putted so bad, I almost cried.” Miller said Moody was “maybe the worst putter in PGA Tour history.”
Moody became a top putter on the senior tour using the long club, and the pendulum swung toward outlawing it. Moody indicated that he would take legal action if the club was banned. In August 1989, after much discussion, U.S.G.A. officials and their R&A counterparts ruled that long putters were legal.
In October 2011, when they amended nine rules, they left the long putter alone. That was before a surge in the club’s popularity at every level, and on seemingly every continent. Once seen as a crutch for older players, the long putter was flirting with conventionality and flying out of stores.
“I think it’s probably something they’re disappointed in themselves that it’s got to this point,” Graeme McDowell, the 2010 United States Open champion, told The Herald Sun in Australia last week. “They probably should have nipped it in the bud many, many years ago.”
In 1967, U.S.G.A. and R&A officials moved swiftly after Sam Snead, whose perfect swing was offset in his later years by the brownest of thumbs on the greens, tied for 10th at the Masters while putting as if he were wielding a croquet mallet. The officials met and recommended that taking a stroke while astride the putting line behind the ball be made illegal, pending approval by the associations’ executive committees, which signed off on the change. The rule took effect in 1968.
For those who embrace it, the long putter can be a double-edged sword, creating a tangle of emotions that is difficult to unknot. Stewart Cink, 39, one of the better putters of his generation, adopted the long putter in 2002 and won three PGA Tour events before going back to a conventional putter in 2009. Shortly afterward, Cink won the British Open, his only major title.
“I was glad to be able to be away from the long putter because I had developed just a hint of guilt, maybe, in the back of my mind,” he said. “The rules are cut-and-dried. It’s legal. But emotionally it may not be so black-and-white.”
Miller, an analyst for NBC and Golf Channel, spoke of the unease he felt when he first used his long putter at the Masters.
“It was slightly embarrassing for me,” he said. “I remember going into the officials’ room and showing them my putter and asking, ‘Is this thing legal by you?’ ”
In 2004, Els made clear where he stood on long putters. He wanted them banned.
“Nerves and skill are part of the game,” he said at the time. “You know, take a tablet if you can’t handle it.”
In the summer of 2011, Els changed putters but not necessarily his mind. Affirming his loyalty to the long putter at the end of last year, Els said, “As long as it’s legal, I’ll keep cheating.”
Els acknowledged that the belly putter had helped him make more short putts, but he said, “Now that I’ve used it for the best part of a year full-on, I see the work you still have to put in with the belly, with the long putter.”
If the club is banned, Els said, he will find some other tool for doing battle with five-foot putts.
“We’ll see,” he said.