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Bellying Up

The long putter has more ardent defenders, and generates more controversy, than any club in the bag today
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Brad Paisley, March/April 2012

(continued from page 2)

But since neither the USGA nor the R&A came down on the use of the long putter when Charlie Owens introduced it or Orville Moody won the USGA’s Senior Open with it, it’s difficult to believe they will rule against the technique, though they are keeping their eyes on it.

Last summer, before Bradley won the PGA with the belly putter, Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA, was questioned about his association’s view on the long putter. Davis, who says he personally can’t stand watching people use it, nonetheless isn’t convinced that it’s a “game-changer.”

But at the USGA’s annual meeting the first weekend of February this year, Davis was singing a different tune. “If you look back at the interest in it, it really never changed for over 20 years,” Davis says. “Then, all of a sudden in 2011, this has become a much bigger topic. So, the R&A and the USGA have been talking about this at length, and we’re looking at it from the perspective of what is good for the game for all golfers long term.”

The USGA and the R&A now seem to have concerns along the lines of Faldo’s, that anchoring the club to the belly or breastplate may not be considered a traditional stroke of golf, and, in fact, anchoring a putter may give an advantage in windy conditions. “We did talk about equipment issues, including anchoring,” says Davis.

For elite players, the appeal can be instant. Nick Price, three times a major winner and now a Champions Tour player, took to it quickly when he first tried it two years ago.

“I’d see Freddie Couples and Bernhard Langer beating us up using it,” says Price. “So I said to my caddie in [February of 2010], I’m going to try that belly putter. I spent a week practicing with it and put it right into play. I immediately putted better with it. I won the Legends tournament with Mark O’Meara and I used it to make the winning putt in the play-off. Your address, alignment, posture are all more consistent. It just simplifies things.

“It still requires a substantial amount of practice. When I practice with it, I feel like I get better. That wasn’t always the case with the short putter.”

For Price, who has seen and done about all in the game over the last three decades, putting is a very personal thing. And using a longer putter is just tailoring the putting stroke to the equipment, not unlike using different shafts in clubs.

“You know, Bobby Locke almost took a divot when he putted; Gary Player jabbed it, Ben Crenshaw is all about a smooth arm and shoulder rock,” says Price. “There have been all sorts of different grips. The claw grip got popular a few years ago. It’s just so personal, putting. There just isn’t one way for everybody.”

The conventional wisdom for the use of long putters is that those players who are having trouble with the short putts, the putts in the “yip zone” of say three to 10 feet, will likely make more of them because those putts are so much more about the correct line than speed, and the users of long putters believe they keep their strokes on the line more consistently.

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