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Would long putter major win change anything?

August 09, 2011

While much talk heading into the PGA Championship this week has been about Adam Scott and his caddie, the bigger, potentially more controversial discussion may happen if he wins again this week, and it won't be about his caddie, it will be about his putter.

Scott would become the first player (non-senior, non-LPGA) to win one of golf's four professional majors using a long putter. Or more precisely, a putter anchored to one or more body parts. (Angel Cabrera won the 2009 Masters with a "longer" putter, but it was not a belly or long putter.) The first player to win a major championship of any kind with a broomstick type of putter was Orville Moody, who won the 1989 U.S. Senior Open with a putter that helped revitalize his game. (He also won the Senior Players Championship that year.)

Then, not unlike now, the win sparked some at least internal debate among golf's traditionalists. But a month after Moody's win at the U.S. Senior Open, the U.S. Golf Association announced that, despite the rumblings and a meeting of the organization's Equipment Standards Committee, there would be no ban on the long putter.

David Fay, on the job as executive director of the USGA for less than two months, made the announcement at the U.S. Amateur that August.

"Putting is a very individual art form," he said then. "To inhibit a golfer's style would take some of the fun out of the game, and that's not why we make rules."

Scott even addressed the topic of long putters in his pre-tournament press conference today, acknowledging the sentiment from some that the club he's using should be banned.

"I probably was one of those people. I mean, if I'm being a golf purist," he said at the Atlanta Athletic Club, site of the 93rd PGA Championship. "But it's not, so I don't really worry about it. Not that many people use it, and not that many people have great success. I don't often see guys winning tournaments with a broomstick-style putter. So I don't know what the big problem is for the other guys. They seem to win without it. But you know, it's within the rules at the moment, and I'm very happy about that."

There's no indication the USGA is considering a ban on the long putter now, either. Quite the opposite, in fact, and current executive director Mike Davis has previously made statements similar to those made 22 years ago by his predecessor. It was back in April that the newly installed Davis addressed the issue of the long putter during an appearance on Golf Channel's Morning Drive program:

"Clearly, the USGA and the R&A have thought about the long putter, the belly putter many times over the last few decades, nothing new. When we've looked at it on kind of a holistic basis, the question is, 'Do we want the concept of players anchoring a club against the body?' When this gets looked at, we always come back to who's using the long putter, who's using the belly putter. And it tends to be two groups of players. It's either those that are afflicted with yips or something else that's not good, or people that have back problems. And you start to say, 'Do we want to take clubs out of the hands of people who almost can't enjoy the game any more because they're so mentally afflicted with the yips or something of the like, or people that are having back problems?'

"Yes, it's been looked at seriously. But if we did that [ban the long putter] and all of a sudden didn't do something else with equipment, I think a lot of people would raise their eyebrows and say, 'Wait a minute. You've done this and you didn't do something else?' So I think we're probably where we are.

"And another thing to put closure to that: We don't see this as a big trend. It's not as if all the junior golfers out there are doing this. No one's even won a major using one of these things anchored to themselves. So we don't see this as something that is really detrimental to the game."

While the use of the long putter by recent tournament winners (four wins on the PGA Tour this year for anchored putters) has made it seem more common, actual usage numbers of long putters on the PGA Tour has not dramatically changed this year. Still, it's not entirely clear in most cases (and it is most definitely the case for Adam Scott) that the switch to a long putter had nothing to do with back problems or other afflictions, other than bad putting.

Notably, a putter company insider told me recently that some retailers believe their market share of long putters could be 20 percent if they could stock that many models. What might it be were Adam Scott (or Brendan Steele, Martin Laird, Keegan Bradley, Jim Furyk or some other "afflicted" soul) to win the PGA Championship on Sunday? And how might that change the USGA's position?

--Mike Stachura