Arnold Palmer says no. Sir Nick says, sure, why not. Keegan Bradley won the PGA with it, the first ever major won with a long putter. Adam Scott resurrected his career with it. As did Freddy Couples. It’s easier on the back. It takes the left hand, if held still, out of the stroke completely. It creates a pendulum action on par with a grandfather clock. But should it be legal? The King is very clear on this, saying that no golf club should be anchored to the body. Anchoring the club to the body, as with the belly or long putter, creates an advantage that a free swinging putter does not have. It removes a variable that has been with golfers since the inception of the game. To hold the butt end of the club against the body provides a stability unavailable to those using putters of usually no more than 35 inches.
It’s a matter of confidence, which is at the core of successful putting. Putting simulates the movements of a pendulum, and a golfer’s skill is dependent upon how pendulum-like he or she can control the club. If the end of the club is fixed to the torso, half of the work is being done by the torso, not by the ability of the player to keep the body, especially the head, still. No other club in the bag affords this kind of advantage.
On the other hand, the USGA and the R and A assert that it will bring more people into the game, giving golf the boost it needs. They argue that long putters have been around a long time, and they haven’t created an unfair advantage, according to the stats. Phil tried one, and quickly went back to his traditional putter. Bernhardt Langer has used one with great success on the Champions Tour, but he hasn’t dominated that Tour, as Hale Irwin did with the standard putter a few years before. Luke Donald has played over 350 holes, to date, without a 3-putt, using a standard putter–an absolutely amazing statistic as all of us true golfers know.
I tried a long putter once, as a trial, but couldn’t get the hang of it. It seemed cumbersome and unwieldy, heavy and awkward. And I was still left with the eternal conundrum of putting: determining direction and speed. The long putter won’t do this for you, nor will it make it that much easier to do so. It requires you keep your left hand rock still and anchored against your chest. This is an important distinction since it is not the putter against your chest but your left hand (right hand for the left-hander), which makes it a little less anchored. As for the belly putter, you need to not have much of a belly for it to be effective. Most of us amateurs have too much of a belly too keep the butt end of the club quiet. With this putter, you hold the club with two hands but move the entire upper torso to effect the stroke. It takes the hands, wrists, and arms out of the stroke. I think you lose feel with this method, since the hands, wrists, arms translate a great deal of sensitive information to the brain. And when trying to coordinate direction and speed, that information is vital.
So I don’t have a problem with keeping these putters legal. The long putter can help many of us who have bad backs, since you can stand up straighter at address and throughout the stroke. And the belly putter can be an inspiration for many of us to reduce the size of our bellies. Will they lower your handicap? I doubt it. Will they motivate more people to take up golf? Possibly but not probably. I say let the free market decide. In ten years, they may be an historic aberration–I’ve seen almost no one on the public courses which I play use them– or the reason for golf’s resurgence. Handicaps will be about the same as they have been for the last 50 years.