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Equipment

Editor's Letter

Long putters dominated in 2021. Can they survive the scrutiny?

January 25, 2022

STRENGTH IN LENGTH Hagestad, Elliott and Langer are proud long-putter converts. Photographs by Getty Images

You had to be paying attention, but 2021 was The Year of the Long Putter. The U.S. Mid-Amateur Champion (Stewart Hagestad), U.S. Senior Amateur Champion (Gene Elliott) and most dominant senior pro (Bernhard Langer, age 64, bless him) all brandished the big broom. By small degrees the golf these men play is closer to the recreational game, though chances are the only scuttlebutt you bothered to hear came from the Big Tour. Like when Xander Schauffele said in June he thought armlock putting should be banned after trying it himself.

Debates over unconventional putting styles have raged at least since Leo Diegel started Diegeling in 1924, and Sam Snead switched from croquet-style to side-saddle in 1968. After Keegan Bradley, Ernie Els and Adam Scott reeled off a string of majors pressing their butts against their bellies and chin, the governing bodies decided that didn’t look quite right and banned anchoring in 2016. Next, guys with long putters migrated the handle a few inches off their body, and several notable belly putters, like Webb Simpson, switched to armlock, or the method pioneered by Matt Kuchar where a longer grip is held tightly against the forearm during the stroke.

A faction within the PGA Tour Player Advisor Council (PAC) now wants to outlaw armlock. Why have 13 clubs that hinge in the hands but not 14, their entreaty. Then again, it’d be conspicuous to take away everything Bryson DeChambeau does. This past season saw the eradication of green-reading books and the limiting of driver shafts to 46 inches. What’s next, a ban on protein shakes and ivy caps? Granted, these are just Model Local Rules to be adopted at pro events; they don’t apply to casual golf. You can still get your full nerd on. Just don’t take more than four hours, please.

Let’s admit, the rationale behind most equipment opinions is to justify one self-centered emotion: Whatever I like should be allowed; whatever’s different that other golfers do shouldn’t be. Whether you can’t quite make it out of the mini-tours or the net third-flight semis, it’s fun to imagine how a new order brought by a rules change might shake to your favor. There are even golfers, albeit not many, who believe dots and sightlines should be illegal. I don’t know if these zealots correlate with a particular political affiliation, though Horseshoe Theory teaches us that the extreme ends of a continuum actually bend closer to one another than either party realizes.

Hagestad was an elite Division I athlete competing for the University of Southern California when he had a poor putting performance at the Pac-12 tournament. He read an article in Golf Digest about using long putters, and before he knew it, he’d spent an hour in the corral at a Roger Dunn Golf Shop. “I said to myself, If we’re going to make a change, let’s get wild,” Hagestad recalls. He walked away with a broomstick-length Titleist Kombi by Scotty Cameron, practiced hard, then three years later won his first U.S. Mid-Am. In 2017, he visited the Cameron studio and picked up a tour prototype that Adam Scott had rejected. It has been in his bag since.

“[The long putter] re-inspired me to roll it a different way, gave me a chance to fall in love with putting again,” says Hagestad, who has at turns suffered and ignored critics and trolls. He says many people don’t realize how much more difficult speed control can be with a higher-mass head, and that in serious wind a long putter with its extra surface area can really wobble. Think of the mast of a boat.

I putt with an 8802-style blade for which Senior Editor of Equipment Mike Stachura calls me an idiot to my face. Sure, it has no technology, but I love it (most of the time).

Which is my simple wish for you, reader, about to dive into the 2022 Hot List. Whether a new driver, hybrid, iron, wedge or even a long putter, I want you to find love.

As long as golf is played there will be arguments over what clubs should be allowed. For now, we give you the 138 best that are.

Surviving the Hot List Presented by Rapsodo

For the first time in the 19-year history of the Hot List, we invited a documentary-film crew to the 2022 testing summit to document the process, the people and the drama behind the most coveted assignment in golf.