A Short Stab on Belly Putters

Long Putter BanHi everyone and welcome to 2013. The big news over the past month has been the announcement by The Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the U.S. Golf Association that belly-putting will be banned from 2016. Rumour has it that Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley have already announced that from 2016 they will be leaving to the PGA Tour and will be taking up Professional Shuffleboard.

Contrary to earlier reports, long putters may still be used from 2016, but they simply cannot be anchored to the body. This will relegate long-putting to the same status as drop-kicking in Football; still legal, but incredibly difficult to execute and you’d have to be insane to even try it. A swell of support followed the November decision with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy leading the celebrations, hailing the decision as a victory for traditional golf. Well, Bully! With stalwarts like this defending “traditional golf”, maybe we’ll never see the day when metal drivers, graphite shafts and motorised golf vehicles are ruining the game.

The big concern for short-putters has been that 3 of the last 5 Majors have been won by long-putting golfers. Indeed, the mantra being repeated by those calling for a ban on anchored putting has been “3 of the last 5 Majors have been won by long-putters.” The basis of the belly-putting lobby’s counter-argument has been that “3 of the last 423 Majors have been won by long-putters.” But, while history may not favour the long-putter, there is a definite trend towards using it. Why so?

Well, while the long-putter has existed for over 30 years, Paul Azinger was the first golfer to master modern “belly-putting” when he showed up on tour with a long-putter in 2000. The improvement in Azinger’s putting was noticed by everybody. Older golfers, in particular, seemed to be find renewed form when converting to long-putting, Montgomerie and Couples being two who found improvement.

How does it work? By anchoring the putter to the belly, you can be sure it swings smoothly through the stroke without deviating from the plane. Long-putters are often golfers who found that their short-putting suffered from “the yips”, those nervous little twitches in the wrist that spoil your stroke. With a long putter, this doesn’t happen as the hands and wrists don’t come into play.

So, an unfair advantage? Or a reasonable solution to overcoming a handicap? Well, long-putting is a definite advantage for some golfers. It allows them to improve their game over what it would be. But that doesn’t mean it improves their game above somebody else’s. In the same way that throwing left-handed will probably suit somebody who is, let’s say, left-handed. In statistical terms, any advantage is hard to quantify, though long-putters winning 3 of the last 5 majors gives the short-putting brigade plenty to chant about. Statistically, the top 12 putters are still short-putters. Steve Stricker is often ranked as the top putter on the PGA Tour. Though Stricker himself has tried the long-putter and didn’t particularly like it. Different strokes for different folks, as they say.

Whatever the case, the Royal & Ancient and U.S.G.A. have now decided that long-putters will be consigned to the history books from 2016. Between now and then, we can expect plenty of debate, complaint and possible lawsuits from irate golfers and angry equipment manufacturers. Some golfers who feel dependent on the long-putter will likely see the ban as a threat to their livelihood. And manufacturers aren’t going to be pleased that they are now, in effect, manufacturing 42” paperweights. But these companies are nothing if not creative. Don’t be surprised if you see some late night infomercials for devices designed to retrieves ball from water hazards, trees or bushes or for whacking errant alligators. Devices that look a lot like belly putters.


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