The use of belly putters has been a hot topic of late, with players like Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and even Phil Mickelson choosing to add long putters to the bag.
Following Bradley’s victory at the PGA Championship – the first ever Major won with a belly putter– discussion was rife about whether the USGA and R&A would be forced to address the legality of the long/belly putter.
The controversy surrounds the “anchoring” of the putter against the golfer’s body, which provides a third point of contact between golfer and club, and creates a “fulcrum” to improve the putting stroke. Opponents of the long putter claim that a golfer’s hands should be the only connection to any golf club.
The Rules of Golf state that a putter cannot be shorter than 18 inches, but there’s no maximum length. There is a rule, however, which states that equipment must maintain “traditional and customary” use – and many opponents of the belly putter note that ‘anchoring’ goes against this rule.
“If you’re going to adhere to the Rules of Golf, it states in there somewhere that the putter shouldn’t be anchored, which obviously belly putters are. You stick them in your stomach,” said Lee Westwood, an outspoken critic of the belly putters.
Another critic is South African Ernie Els who, back in 2004 called for a ban on the belly putters.
“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.”
Ironically (some say hypocritically) Els himself turned to a belly putter this year, following a spate of poor putting performances on tour. And even Westwood dabbled with a belly putter following the Masters in April.
Shortly after Bradley’s PGA victory, the Gecko EuroPro Tour — a mini tour located in Spain – announced that it was banning the long putter from all events.
Gecko EuroPro 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.”
While the R&A and USGA haven’t recently made a formal statement, USGA president Mike Davis said back in April that users of belly putters 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. Do we want to take clubs out of the hands of people who almost can’t enjoy the game anymore?”
Fair enough, many think. After all, the belly putter has given a new lease on life for many golfers of all levels. But do the world’s elite golfers – the best of the best on the greens – really deserve to have an artificial aid like this? What about the trickle-down effect onto social players, club golfers and even juniors as they see their heroes wielding these long putters?
One Inside Golf reader, C.A. Ciastkowski (from Rosebud West) summed it up nicely in a recent letter:
“Putting – winning for that matter – is more than just having good technique. It’s also about being able to perform under pressure. Being able to control your nerves. By anchoring the putter, you are artificially minimising the chance of the hands having a mind of their own. If a player cannot use a conventional-length putter, then perhaps they should not be playing professional golf.”
And according to players like Australia’s Peter Senior, the long putter isn’t necessarily the Holy Grail of putting anyway.
“If anyone thinks the long putters are the answer to good putting, they are dead wrong. I’ve been using the long putter for over 20 years, and I have certainly had my ups and downs with it,” says Senior. “You still have to read the breaks and hit it at the right speed to hole a lot of putts. Just because someone has won a major with a long putter, why all of a sudden does this question come up? More tournaments will be won by guys using long putters now that so many players use them.”
Regardless of the legality, many believe that the long putter is now part of the culture, and that it is far too late to ban it.
“If they were going to be banned, it should have happened 20-plus years ago,” said Mickelson.
“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.”
While that may be a fair call, a similar issue was addressed recently with the rollback of U-shaped grooves on irons. Despite the U grooves having been around for years, the R&A had no qualms about forcing professionals to change entire sets of irons to a new V-shaped layout. So there is a precedent with rolling back clubs.
At any rate, it is an interesting debate, and one that will certainly be around for a “long” time.
Should long/belly putters be banned? Have you ever used a belly or broomstick putter? Share your comment below!