Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Belly Up to the Putter While Still You Can ; Pro Golfers Are Divided on Use of Longer Clubs and Advantage They Offer

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Belly Up to the Putter While Still You Can ; Pro Golfers Are Divided on Use of Longer Clubs and Advantage They Offer

Article excerpt

As the P.G.A. Championship gets underway, the hot topic of debate is whether or not the longer belly putters should be allowed in tournament play. The rule will be discussed this year.

There was grumbling about the legitimacy of the long putter when it first appeared on the professional tours decades ago. But as time passed, it remained mostly on the fringe in elite golf, with no player winning a major championship using one. Traditional shorter putters reigned, and that kept the grousing to a minimum.

Then, a year ago, Keegan Bradley won the P.G.A. Championship with a putter anchored against his stomach. This year, two of the three majors were won by golfers wielding longer-than-normal putters.

Not only that, more than a quarter of the field at the British Open last month was using a nontraditional putter. The winner, Ernie Els, had his putter jabbed in his belly. The runner-up, Adam Scott, had his putter staked against his chest.

It was at this juncture that the grumbling took on a loud, authoritative voice, and it portends change.

The day after the 2012 British Open concluded, Peter Dawson, chief executive of the Royal and Ancient, which governs the rules of golf along with the U.S. Golf Association, said the two organizations were going to come to a decision on the permissibility of long putters this autumn.

"The subject is firmly on our radar, and we need to clarify the position as soon as possible," Dawson said.

Dawson said there were two major concerns. The first is the sense that pros who falter using a conventional putter turn to the long putter as a crutch and then get to use it against players who have not failed with shorter putters. The second is the increasingly common belief that even players who are performing well with conventional putters view the longer putter as an advantage they must embrace to perform at the highest level.

"People who can putt perfectly well are going to a stroke that is anchored against their body," Dawson said. "That is the fundamental change we've witnessed in the last couple of years."

Any rule change is likely to focus on the anchoring aspect of the stroke, not on the equipment. If a new rule is adopted, it would not take effect until 2016.

At the P.G.A. Championship, which began Thursday, the fate of the long putter has been a central topic, and it has bred strong opinions. While golf pros are generally a convivial, harmonious and well-paid lot, when it comes to the long-putter debate, the practice range splits into disparate camps.

The crowd parts based on whether one's putter stands out among the other clubs resting in the golf bag.

"Anyone in their right mind who is reasonably proficient with a shorter putter would be a proponent for getting rid of anchored putters," said Luke Donald, the top-ranked player in the world. …

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