124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2


Is The Long Putter Good For Golf?

September 25, 2011

The long putter (or belly) is everywhere. Even sports-talk radio has taken note of golf's latest craze. Time for our equipment version of Abbott & Costello to weigh in on the debate:

__BOMB:__Hey, partner. Good to see you're still coming in to work. I thought the sight of Keegan Bradley using a long putter to win the PGA Championship might have sent you looking to take a long jump off a cliff. You had to love it, didn't you? Bradley, all of 25 years old, hoisting the Wanamaker trophy thanks to a 46¾-inch putter he shoved in his gut. And how about 19 players using a long or belly putter at The Barclays, up from just six a year ago. Then there was Phil Mickelson trying it out at the Deutsche Bank, and tournament winner Webb Simpson using it to win again (the fourth event in five won by a player using the long putter). But this is nothing new. Billy Casper used to anchor the putter against his body, and the long putter has been accepted since Charlie Owens hauled out the Slim Jim before Bradley was born. I know many believe this method of putting is a travesty. But I'll stand firm here: If the rules allow it, then there's nothing wrong with it. But I sense that just the thought of it makes you sick.

__GOUGE:__I know it's not against the rules. However, the question before the jury is whether it should be against the rules. Or, as I like to view it, whether it's precisely anathema to the essence of the most spiritually denuding activity conceived in the entire course of human history. Which is what golf is. If you review the development of the belly, long or, as I prefer, "anchored" putter, it comes solely from fear of ineptitude—not the sort of noble sense of innovation that occupies golf equipment's other frontiers. Whether it's Paul Runyan's first attempt with a longish putter wedged to his midsection or Orville Moody's win at the 1989 U.S. Senior Open or Adam Scott's decision to switch to the sternum grip this year, all were about desperation, not skill enhancement. The anchored putter looks wrong and smells worse. It's wrong because it fundamentally alters—nay, dismantles entirely—what a proper golf stroke is.

BOMB: I love 13-handicappers pontificating about what a proper golf stroke is. The truth is, this is a fad and nothing more. Tour pros are lemmings, swarming to the hot club, shaft or, in this case, method of putting. The stats show some players do OK with it, but others continue to struggle. Tom Lehman left the long putter because he said he would "never be a great putter with it." Stewart Cink ditched the belly putter and won a major. I can't argue it's different, but so is Jim Furyk's swing, and no one is saying he can't use it. This isn't a paradigm shift. It's a temporary trend that will fade away in a year.

__GOUGE:__That's certainly what golf's governing bodies hope. Which is a lot like what the Centers for Disease Control hope about Ebola. Golf's rules-makers might feel like there's no reason to outlaw anchor putting, that it would be impolitic to offend all those golfers who might otherwise leave the game because of their putting anxieties or other infirmities. Affixing the club to some body part beyond the hands to make a putting stroke seems the greater evil. Technology provides other solutions (fatter grips, backweighting, heavier total weights). Oh, and one other: Practice.

*Visit Bomb (E. Michael Johnson) and Gouge (Mike Stachura) at golfdigest.com/equipment/blogs/hotlist365.