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In It For The Long Haul?

Phil Mickelson uses a belly putter in Boston, but only time will tell if it's a permanent switch or just his latest experiment

September 5, 2011

Phil Mickelson has always been susceptible to gale-force whims, the 6-iron from the pine straw behind a tree on 13 at Augusta National the most prominent among them.

The latest evidence came at the Deutsche Bank Championship last week, when he turned to a belly putter, unbeknownst even to his putting guru, Dave Stockton.

"I was surprised," Stockton said from his Southern California home. "Ralph Cross, my agent, texted me that he's using a long putter and I was out in the field hunting doves."

An avid hunter for whom the dove opener in California is sacrosanct, Stockton might have been incommunicado even had his prize pupil sought an emergency consultation. But had he been available and learned from Mickelson himself he would have been no less surprised.

Related: Adam Scott's tips for using the long putter

"It is surprising that a really good putter would switch to it," Stockton said. "When we first saw them [belly and long putters], they were for people with yips and couldn't putt. Now, good putters, great putters are going to them.

"I would be surprised if he went to it full time, but he likes to be ahead of the curve and obviously this is where the curve is going."

Mickelson, who tied for 10th in the Deutsche Bank, said he would work with it more, particularly from the 10 to 25-foot range. "If I can get effective with that, I think I'll try to stay with it," he said on Monday.

Stockton, meanwhile, had not yet seen footage of Mickelson's stroke with the belly putter. "He has such good hands. Obviously you're eliminating some of that [with the belly putter]," he said.

"It's a totally different look. Again, it's preparation and what you're thinking and what you're looking at, more than the physical stroke. I'm more into picturing and seeing what the ball's doing and how it's rolling."

Stockton has no experience with a belly or long putter and is disinclined to judge one's effectiveness other than to note its obvious benefit to certain players.

"Bruce Lietzke was not a good putter, but when he went to a long putter it resurrected his career," Stockton said. "It's an advantage to certain people. I don't understand how you can anchor an arm on your body and they've made it legal. But I'll go out and try it if I'm going to be teaching it. I think it's all well and good as long as the USGA allows it."

ANOTHER 'W' FOR THE BELLY PUTTER

Webb Simpson has officially arrived as a force in golf, winning for the second time in the last three weeks and running his earnings for the year past $5 million. Simpson uses a belly putter that worked quite effectively in the clutch on Monday.

Simpson holed a 27-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole that put him in a playoff with Chez Reavie, then holed consecutive birdie putts on the two playoff holes to win.

He had help, however. Reavie came to the 72nd hole needing only a par to win and flew the green with his approach from 117 yards.

"I hate to say it, but that was a flat pressure meltdown," NBC's Johnny Miller said. "That was really a bad shot right there."

Earlier, Reavie's instructor, Peter Kostis, had posted this on Twitter: "Tell you one thing about Chez. He might or might not win... but he won't spit the bit."

Reavie was unable to save par, sending him to a playoff that he lost on the second hole.

LONG PUTTERS: THE STATS

Belly putters have been creeping into the mainstream for awhile, but victories by young players, Keegan Bradley, 25, in the HP Byron Nelson Championship and the PGA Championship and Simpson, 26, in the Wyndham Championship (and now the Deutsche Bank) have escalated their use.

Have they made them great putters? Bradley was 101st in total putting prior to the Deutsche Bank Championship. At the distances at which an anchored putter is supposed to provide the greatest advantage, he was 50th inside five feet and 144th from five to 10 feet.

Simpson was 41st in total putting and 76th inside five feet and 67th inside five to 10 feet.

Meanwhile, Adam Scott, a convert to the long putter, ranked 122nd in total putting, 181st inside five feet and 22nd from five to 10 feet.

Scott's re-emergence as a world-class player has largely been attributed to the long putter. In fact his comeback was in full flower while he was still using the short putter. He won the Australian Open late in 2009, then won the Valero Texas Open in 2010 using a short putter. In the latter tournament, he made 52 straight putts inside five feet, his only miss coming when he had a cushion on the 72nd hole.

Conclusion: Belly or long putters might have made them better putters, but they haven't made them great putters.

JUST ASKING...

Was anyone else indifferent to NBC's frequent update of those players on the FedEx Cup bubble for advancing to the next round?

Related: The Top 10 moments in FedEx Cup History

Darren Clarke, perhaps. He tipped his hand in response to this Twitter post from Associated Press golf writer Doug Ferguson: "[Geoff] Ogilvy makes his par. Wow. Goes to 18 needing birdie to get to Chicago."

Replied Clarke on Twitter: "Your [sic] trying hard to make it sound exciting Doug!"

THE SWISS ALPS VS. BOSTON

Not that there's anything wrong with Boston, but Lee Westwood apparently prefers the Swiss Alps, site of last week's Omega European Masters.

"I looked out my window this morning and I thought I'm in the right place," he said. Westwood was responding to a question as to whether he might have preferred being in Boston and playing in the Deutsche Bank Championship rather than the European Masters.

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