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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 3)

The wisdom also speaks to the difficulty of developing a feel for long putts, those in the “lag zone” of more than 30 feet. It is this part of the technique that the user of the long putter will tell you takes oodles of practice, and it was apparent in Keegan Bradley’s PGA Championship win, and his earlier victory last season at the Byron Nelson Championship, that he had devoted a goodly part of his life to getting the feel for lag putts.

Tom Lehman, the Champions Tour player of the year last season, went to the broomstick putter in 2005, but for a slightly different reason. The 1996 British Open winner was becoming dissatisfied with his putting. At first he tried to solve the problem by altering his stroke with the short putter. That didn’t work. Then he tried going back to his old method, and he couldn’t find it.

“I was always a blocker,” says Lehman. “I didn’t really release the putter head, at least not like the great putters like Tiger Woods, Ben Crenshaw, Brad Faxon. When I tried to really release it, it didn’t work right, then my old stroke didn’t seem to work right. I went to the long putter just to try to make putts again.”

That was in 2005, but by 2009 at the start of his Champions Tour career he was back to the short putter again, and last season he won three times with it.

“I didn’t think that I was as good a long putter with it, or even as good a short putter,” says Lehman of the broomstick, (he also says he tried the belly putter without any success.) “I was probably making a few more 15-footers. I got sick and tired of feeling awkward with it, feeling awkward over the long putts and short putts. I went back to the conventional putter and started using a putting track that really helped me. So I’ve stayed with the short putter.”

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.”

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