Bellying Up

The long putter has more ardent defenders, and generates more controversy, than any club in the bag today

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Phil Mickelson has tried the belly putter, as has Jim Furyk. Both haven’t fully committed to it. Bradley, who has become a regular practice partner of Mickelson, gave Lefty a couple of thoughts about it. Bradley is surprised by the hoopla surrounding the long putters at the end of last season.
“I think when Phil started using it, it kind of shot up, everyone noticed,” says Bradley. “I hate it when people think that the belly putter is a crutch for us to putt with. For me, it’s just a better way to putt. I always considered myself a good putter before I had the belly putter. I’ve seen guys grab it and it looks like they’ve never played golf before. It’s not like it’s something you grab and you automatically are one of the best putters on tour, which is a huge myth . . . It takes hours and hours of practice, and I hope people realize that.”
“The ball doesn’t know how long the putter shaft is,” says Pelz. “The long putter, belly putter is not necessarily a panacea for all players. I think players should test it. Give it a try and see what it does for you.”
Pelz was speaking about all players, not just those at the elite level. For Ian Baker Finch, the 1991 British Open winner and current television commentator, what’s good for the common man isn’t necessarily good for the world’s elite players.
“I think anything at all that helps the average player enjoy his game more, I’m 100 percent for it,” says Baker Finch. “It teaches perfect technique. You just put it in your belly and swing on whatever arc the shaft is tilted and there you have it. It’s easier to make repetitive strokes.”
But, when it comes to Tour players standing over knee knockers with a million in cash and a load of exemptions at stake, Baker Finch is a traditionalist. “At the elite level of golf, the world-tour level, we should be making our own rules. I think the long putter takes away a major aspect of the game, being able to hole short putts under pressure. I think the belly putter and the long putter are aids foreign to the way the game has been played for hundreds of years. I’d ban it for players on the elite level.”
Pelz did a study of the use of the long and belly putters that was published in Golf Magazine two years ago. He found that the belly putter helped more players than the broomstick, but both putters were advantageous to amateurs. As for elite players, it’s a different kettle of fish.
“The art and science of putting relies on green reading, break, speed, particularly having a good feel of speed for the line you have chosen,” says Pelz. “These are things that are way more important than shaft length.”
Bradley seems to have figured this all out. With the success he’s achieved, there is no going back. “I’m a lifer,” he says. v
Jeff Williams is a contributing editor for Cigar Aficionado.
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