A vote against banning long putters


LITTLE ROCK — Unintentionally and with pathos, Adam Scott eloquently argued against a move to ban the broom putter.

There is no panacea for a shaky putting stroke, Scott demonstrated. Nothing could have been more convincing than Scott’s par putts on the final four holes of the British Open. Three of them went left and the one that broke left to right was short — the most likely misses when a perfected putting stroke is consumed by a right hand too eager to put the putter face on the golf ball.

Most any golfer past 50 who has missed from 18 inches has tried a long putter or some other gimmick. A friend calls my old one a hot dog on a stick. Guilty about pocketing my $1-$2 every week, another friend recently loaned a belly putter with a clubhead that resembles a white cookie cutter outfitted with dual exhaust pipes.

With either, when the 3-footer is a must-make, anything can happen.

As Scott’s third round in the British came to a close, his four-shot lead and the premature conclusion that he was on his way to winning his first major shared some of the headlines with the idea that his 49-inch putter, with the 3.5 degrees of loft and the split grip, was an unfair advantage.

Advocates for a prohibition added the fact that Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open last month with a 44 1/2-inch putter and that Keegan Bradley, wielding a flat stick of similar length when he won the PGA championship 11 months ago, decided that they had magic and illegal wands.

Forget that Simpson executed a brilliant chip shot on the 72nd hole and that Bradley fought back from a triple bogey on the 69th hole. It’s the putter, they said.

When Scott collapsed, the same people cited Ernie Els’ victory with a belly putter, conveniently overlooking the fact that the winner hit the ball better than anybody at Royal Lytham and was ranked near the bottom of the field in putting. Also ignored is the fact that Scott drove the ball brilliantly until nerves kicked in late in the day and left became a popular destination for his golf ball.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, which makes the rules for most of the world, and the United States Golf Association, which governs golf in the U.S. and Mexico, are supposed to make a decision on the extended-length putters by the end of the year.

Any ban would apply only to participants in R&A or USGA events, and maybe eventually to top-notch amateurs, but not the weekend player. My counter is that if the long putter was infallible, wouldn’t every player use one?

Slightly more than 25 percent of the participants in last week’s Open employed a version — 27 with long putters and 16 with belly putters. Most putters are less than 36 inches and admitted traditionalist Tiger Woods has suggested that a legal putter be equal to or less than the shortest club in the bag.

“And I think with that wording we’d be able to get away from any type of belly anchoring,” he said.

Defining anchoring is the dilemma for golf’s governing bodies.

Unwittingly, the 42-year-old Els helped the opposition when he switched to the belly putter last year and said, “As long as it’s legal I’ll keep cheating like the rest of them.”

Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington argues the belly putter is only legal because people felt sorry for two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer who went to the long putter a couple of decades ago.

While the R&A and the USGA discuss the issue, a trip to the putting green is on the agenda. The loaner might just work, cradled in the web of the hand and propelled mostly by the index finger. That’s how Scott does it.

Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is hking@arkansasnews.com.