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If The Long Putter Goes, What’s Next?

The thing is, nobody gave much of a rip about long putters until Keegan Bradley went all sacrilegious on us by winning a major championship with a putter stuck in his stomach. Now, it’s all anybody can talk about and, boy, are they talking.

The latest high profile person to pipe up is Vinny Giles, former player agent and world-class amateur, who last week called the USGA “gutless” for not banning anchored putters. First off, Giles has been using a long putter for eight years and won the 2009 U.S. Senior Amateur using one.

Giles is 68 and the long putter has no doubt extended his competitive years longer than it would have otherwise. If the long putter were banned tomorrow, well, he’s had a great career and it wouldn’t hurt him a bit.

To Giles’ credit, at least he qualified his comments by making sure people knew he uses one of the instruments he was condemning. He even pointed out that his comments were worth more because he has benefited from a long putter and clearly wasn’t making his case just to help his own game.

Giles, one of the smartest and most respected men in the game, is, of course, entitled to his opinion. He long ago earned his chops in the game and the right to speak out. He’s not alone, regardless of the fact that the disgruntled are in the vast minority.

But note to anyone listening: This is not a trend. A handful – a small one, at that – of PGA Tour players are trying long putters and it’s a good bet that most of them won’t stick with it.

Bradley missed the next two cuts after winning the PGA Championship. Adam Scott hasn’t done much after winning the WGC Bridgestone Championship with a long putter. Jim Furyk isn’t setting the Tour on fire since switching to a belly model. And Phil Mickelson hasn’t shot more than one or two under-par rounds since his experiment.

Webb Simpson is the most successful user at the moment and he’s putting so well because he believes that he will make every putt he stands over. As everyone knows, putting is about attitude and confidence, not the instrument you use. Ask Ben Crenshaw and Brad Faxon.

For the record, I’ve putted every way you can putt. Long, short, anchored, left-hand low, you name it. I once shot 72 at Pinehurst No. 2 putting one-handed with a Bulls Eye. I have witnesses: Ask Ron Green Sr. and Dave Kindred. It was the best putting round of my life.

I’m for whatever’s legal and whatever works. The witnesses for the prosecution point to their idea that anchoring the putter to the body is not a golf stroke. Billy Casper and Arnold Palmer, when they were the best putters in the world, rested the back of their left hand to the inside of their left thigh and just hinged their wrists. Is that anchoring?

Jack Nicklaus was the best clutch putter of his era, perhaps ever, and you don’t find anyone copying Nicklaus’ stroke. By the way, he pinned his right arm to his side and putted by using his right arm as a piston, back and through. Is that anchoring?

The naysayers also claim that using the longer putters constitutes an unfair advantage, which is absurd because only a small minority of competitive golfers use one. If it was so easy and such an advantage, why isn’t everyone doing it? Just because something does not meet some purists’ definition of “normal” doesn’t mean that it should be taken out of the game.

When Karsten Solheim introduced Ping Eye2 irons to the world, using them seemed like cheating because they were so much easier to hit than forged blades. Now the vast majority of competitive players use perimeter-weighted irons. Should they now be banned?

Drivers with 460cc titanium heads and graphite shafts three inches longer than the norm when we used steel shafts and persimmon heads make it easier to hit the ball farther and straighter. Should they be banned?

There are a variety of putting grips, including left-hand low and the claw or the pencil grip. That’s not a “normal” stroke. Should they be banned?

One of the endearing features about golfers is that they are hugely creative and downright ingenious. What saves us it that we have checks and balances in the USGA and the R&A, who get to decide what is legal and what isn’t.

Putting has long been an individual adventure. George Low could beat anyone on the putting green by putting with his foot. Bobby Locke, the South African putting wizard, was once banned by the PGA Tour because he putted so well. He believed you could impart hook and fade spin on putts.

It is not likely that the USGA or R&A are going to take long putters out of the hands of hopeful or desperate golfers, so there’s no need for panic. Just because a handful of high-profile players have had some success and another handful are experimenting should not be seen as a threat to the integrity of the game.

The sky is not falling. It’s just not as dark, for some, as it used to be.


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