Long putters rule the day at Westchester

August 18, 2011

HARRISON, N.Y. - It might be a bad month for stocks, but it is shaping up as a good one for long putters.

Four days following Keegan Bradley's victory at the PGA Championship - the first at a men's Grand Slam event by a golfer using a long putter - the broomstick model figured prominently during the first round of the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship Thursday at Westchester CC.

Jeff Sluman (65) and Gary Hallberg and Peter Senior (66s) all wielded long putters to top the leader board in the final major of the season on the Champions Tour, the circuit where Charles Owens first popularized the model, causing others to adopt it more than two decades ago.

It was in 1989 that Orville Moody, whose struggles on the greens sabotaged his outstanding ball-striking on the PGA Tour, used a long putter to win the U.S. Senior Open. That same year, in Australia, Senior, following the lead of Scot Sam Torrance, began using one Down Under, winning four titles. "I putted really well and won a few events, and all of a sudden everybody was on to me, [saying] 'It should be banned, it's cheating,' all this sort of stuff," Senior said. "But I've putted badly with it as well. There's no recipe for good putting. You've still got to work out the line. You've got to hit it well."

There is no disputing, though, that the method can calm nerves.

"Frankly, on and off since I've been about 17, I've struggled with the yips," Sluman admitted. "I could kind of feel them coming back this year. I've played some good tournaments earlier in the year that with a little better putting might have been an even better result."

Sluman has putted cross-handed and with a belly putter. But his brother had been trying to convince him for 15 years to switch to a full-fledged long putter. At the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am earlier this year, Sluman finally made the leap. Ranked 48th in putting average on the Champions Tour in 2010, he is currently ranked 11th this season.

"My thinking from six feet and in now is [that] I'm surprised if I miss," Sluman said. "Frankly, before, I was surprised if I made them. It was not a lot of fun when the left hand was fighting the right hand at impact. That's not really good for your career out here."

Senior has stuck with a long putter in competition since he first adopted it, but for years after switching he practiced with a conventional putter so he would be prepared if golf's governing bodies ever banned the broomstick. "For 10 years I heard they were going to get rid of it," Senior said, "so I just kept practicing with the short one."

When he first started using a long putter, Senior anchored it under his chin, the way Torrance did, using a 46 ¿-inch shaft. "I'm down to 45 now," Senior said. "I used to putt like Sam Torrance, and then I forgot which chin I put it on. I had to shorten it a bit and put it on my chest. And it's worked out pretty well since then."

Neither Senior nor Sluman believes the models will be outlawed at this juncture, even after Bradley making history with one in a regular major. "Eventually, somebody was going to do it," Senior said of Bradley's historic win. "It was going to happen."

"There's a chance of everything happening, but I don't know why [there would be a ban]," Sluman said. "You can still miss with it. Until everybody is winning every tournament with that type of putter ..."

But it is shaping up as another week when someone might just win another major with one of them.

-- Bill Fields