They do everything they can to make the Masters feel like a throwback to the 1950s. But one look at early first round leader Justin Harding's putting stroke and it's clear we're not in the golf's misty "golden era" anymore.
Harding rolls his ball Bernhard Langer style, with a long-handled putter extending up to the middle of his chest—where he hovers his left hand in front of his breastbone and holds the other chunk of split handle with his right hand. The five birdies Harding made on Thursday were just an extension of his last month, which saw him win his first European Tour event at the Qatar Masters and surge into the top 50 of the World Ranking.
The original purpose for the broom-handle putter was to anchor against the chest and provide a fixed fulcrum for the stroke to move back and forth like a pendulum—a godsend for players who struggled to control the handle through impact because of the yips. But the USGA's rule against anchoring made players like Harding adapt to hovering it instead of anchoring. (Touching the shirt is OK, but the club or the hand holding it can't touch the body.) But even without the fixed fulcrum, it's still possible to get real benefit from the longer, heavier tool.
"The secret to using the long putter is to hold the top of the grip still with the left hand and swing the head back on plane by folding the right elbow behind you," says Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher and tour short game guru Stan Utley. "This lets you keep everything above the top end of the handle quiet and let the dead weight of the putterhead falling back onto the ball produce the speed. The extra weight of the longer putter wants to help you do this if you let it."
Players run into issues with conventional putters when they shove the handle toward the target on the downswing instead of letting the head end swing, or when they use the shoulders to rock back and forth with either a standard putter or the broom-handle style.
"If you let the right elbow control the movement, you get the full benefit of the longer handle," says Utley. "It actually makes the stroke look a lot like the one I use with a conventional putter. When I have a student using a longer putter, I'm really teaching them a lot of the same basic fundamentals."
It's working for Harding, who is 16th on the European Tour in putting (and second out of the players who have played more than three tournaments). He's also in the top 20 in scoring average and birdies per round.
Are you a good candidate for the broom-handle? If your biggest putting issues come inside five feet, you're going to benefit from the increased face control through impact the longer club can give you. If your primary problem is controlling distance, your better option is working on improving your stroke.
"Whatever kind of club you use, good distance control comes from connecting the size of your swing to the distance the ball needs to go," says Utley. "Let the club swing and work on making consistent contact on the true sweet spot—which is a little higher than the exact middle of the putterface. You'll be amazed at how much less complaining about lack of touch and feel you'll do when those two simple things happen."