The Long and the Short of it

February 18, 2013 -

The controversial decision of whether or not to allow or disallow long putters continues.

As things stand the arbiters of the Rules of Golf, The Royal and Ancient (the R&A) and the United States Golf Association (the USGA) have imposed a trial period ban for a new rule that would outlaw a stroke in which the club is anchored to the body. The Rule would become official in the year 2016 but they have allowed for a 90-day comment period on the proposed rule. That period is over at the end of the month.

The PGA Tour (who do not have control over either of the Game’s Amateur bodies) have yet to make an official comment but PGA Tour Commissioner, Tim Finchen, is reportedly going to make the Tour’s stance on the issue publicly this afternoon (Monday, February 18).

Here is what Ernie Els (the 4-time Major Champion used a belly to win his second British Open Championship last year) had to say: “Hopefully, they don’t ban it,” Els said at the Northern Trust Open. “There’s no data that 
really confirms that they have to ban it. If there were 90 percent of the guys using it, or if the guys using it were top of the putting ranks, guys making more putts from 20 feet, more putts from four feet. . . give me something to go by to really make me believe that you have to ban it. But I can’t see them having a really great way of explaining to me why they would want to ban it.”

On the other side of the argument is 51 year old PGA Champions Tour player, Brad Faxon, which should come as no surprise because Faxon has long been considered one of the best two or three putters in the world. Faxon had this to say “an anchored or long putter is not in the inherent nature of what we could call a ‘swing.’” In addition to which, Faxon further waxed in an interview on the Golf Channel on Sunday that “it (anchoring) was not what the Fathers of the Game intended”. A quote which would seem to inference the history and tradition of the game and that things should always stay the same. Those same “Fathers” of the game could also probably never have envisioned a ball that could travel 400 yards, titanium shafts and exotic metal components for club-heads.

It’s called evolution, Brad. Change. You know, kind of like how we once used horse and carriage for transportation and now we have this miraculous new vehicle called a car.

A version of the long putter has been around since the 1930’s although it only began being used in the professional arena in the mid-1980’s. It’s most notable early proponent was Orville Moody who used the long putter to great success on the PGA Senior Tour (which is now called The Champions Tour).

There are 6 players ranked in the Top 100 World rankings that use the long or anchored putters. Keegan Bradley (who was the first player to win a Major Championship in 2011 using one), Webb Simpson, Ernie Els, Carl Petterson, Adam Scott and Matt Kuchar. 6 out of 100 is not a very large ratio. Simpson and Bradley have used one for all of their golfing lives. There are also several up and coming young players in college and Developmental Tours who have used long or anchored putters exclusively for all of their golf lives. It would seem to be terribly unfair to players like these to make them now change how they have always putted.

South African, Tim Clark, has also favored the long putter for most of his life but for different reasons. The 2010 Players Championship winner says the club is easier to use due to a physical condition which makes it difficult to put his hands properly on a conventional putter. He has a genetic condition that keeps him from turning his forearms and wrists inward. Clark has anchored the long putter to his chest for about as long as anyone has seen him play. Despite the physical limitations – Clark has never ranked higher than 140th in driving distance. Clark flew in to the PGA Players meeting at Torrey Pines to specifically (all the other players in attendance were there to play the event, except Clark) plead his case on behalf of the long putter. By all accounts he did so in a moving and respectful way and may have swayed the opinions of many players who up until then had been ‘sitting on the fence’.

Star players like Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk have experimented with long putters but never committed to them. There are a much larger number of Champions Tour players who use long putters. Most notable amongst them are Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer. Golf can be a very hard game on one’s back (as is the case with many of the Champions Tour players) so using a long putter can alleviate a great deal of the stress put on one’s lower back with a shorter putter.

But all this dialogue represents the huge minority of golfers-professionals. What should count more than anything are the millions of every day, recreational players that use one form or another of a club that is facing banishment. Long putters and the like have kept millions of players still playing the game who might very easily have quit. Golf is a game. It is meant to be fun. Yes, we must have Rules that govern how we play the game but those Rules need to also adjust and change as the game evolves.

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