*Editor's Note: Every Monday Kevin Hinton, Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, N.Y. and one of Golf Digest's Best Young Teachers, tells you how a tour player hits a key shot. This week, Kevin discusses both sides of the belly putting controversy and analyzes why the method that World Series of Golf winner Keegan Bradley uses might work for you.
By Kevin Hinton
*To "belly" or not to "belly"....that is the question
First, the case for anchored putters:
We've heard the statistics. Rounds of golf are down in the U.S. One reason often cited is that golf is too hard and that golfers are not getting better, thus it isn't fun. So if one of the jobs of the USGA is to ensure the health of the game, why eliminate a tool that might keep people playing? On the professional front, non-traditional putters have extended the career of many well-known and popular players. Would it really be better for golf if the viewing audience didn't get to see players like Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer, Vijay Singh, and Ernie Els keep playing?
No doubt the long putter has helped Ernie Els and Adam Scott, but both of their putting stats for the week were average at best. Their putting was definitely not the reason they finished first and second. Here is the thing....non-traditional putters help to improve bad putting and to extend careers, but the best putters use traditional putters. The statistics fully support that. Currently, there is no one on tour who ranks in the Top 10 who uses a belly or long putter. Until the statistics support it, you cannot make the argument that it is a superior way to putt. Thus, why the debate? And even then, who cares...let everyone use one. It's fun to make putts...or maybe we should go back to hickory shafts and feathery golf balls. That would really help golf's popularity.
Second, the case against anchored putters:
It's out of control. All the big tournaments are being won by non-traditional putters: three of the last four majors and two of the last three Players Championships. There have already been six wins on tour this year. The fundamental issue with these putters is that it guarantees a perfect pendulum putting stroke. Once attached to the body, it greatly reduces the effect that a player's nerves or yipping has on the stroke. Dealing with nerves and controlling the putterface is a huge part of the challenge of putting. These putters eliminate nearly all of the "human factor." It is unfair to the players who have learned to deal with these challenges without resorting to the belly or long putters.
While the belly putter remains legal, here are some tips to help you use it properly. There is also a chance that it will be deemed illegal only for professional golfers. The amateur player might still be allowed to use them.
1. Get fit
I see many golfers using belly putters that don't fit them properly. If the putter is too long, it becomes difficult to get your eyes over the line of your putt. If it's too short, it becomes difficult to keep it anchored in your stomach and your posture might suffer. Many of the manufacturers have adjustable-fitting putters that make it much easier to find the correct length for you. .
2. Use it properly
If you use the belly putter, you are essentially buying into the belief that it is a superior method. You are saying that the less influence you can have on where the ball rolls, the better. Because the putter is anchored, it's difficult to adjust the putter during the stroke. That is only a good thing if we have set up properly to begin with. You'll only make more putts if you have set up properly. Typically, you cannot play the ball as far forward in your stance as in normal putting. If you anchor the putter in your belly button, the ball needs to be placed in the middle of your stance. Otherwise, the shaft of the putter will be leaning back and adding loft to the putter. If you like to play the ball in front of middle, you must anchor the putter forward of your belly button.
There is no one way to use the belly putter. Keegan Bradley and Ernie Els are great examples. Keegan stands much farther from the ball and bends over quite a bit, still allowing him to get his eyes over the line of the putt. Just prior to the British Open, Ernie began standing much closer to the ball and much taller. It certainly seemed to help him. As long as you pay attention to your ball position and the length of the putter, you have a lot of freedom to experiment with what feels most comfortable.*