By Chris Wallace
It’s a debate that has been ongoing in the world of golf for some time now, but it’s one that has heated up over the last year and will only intensify in the weeks ahead following Webb Simpson’s U.S. Open victory at Olympic Club this past weekend.
Of course, we’re talking about unconventional putters, which are fast becoming all the rage in professional golf, much to the chagrin of many of the game’s purists.
Belly and long putters have been around for the better part of three decades now but for the majority of that time they were seen as nothing more than crutches for journeymen players trying to keep their careers going.
But not anymore.
Many of golf’s top young guns have arrived on the professional scene using unconventional putters, while veteran stars like Ernie Els and Fred Couples, among others, have seen a major resurgence in their careers thanks in large part to making the switch to a long putter of some sort.
Simpson’s win at Olympic Club marked the second time in the last three majors that the winner used an unconventional putter. Keegan Bradley won the 2011 PGA Championship using a belly putter, becoming the first player to win a major using a long putter.
And not surprisingly, more and more players are adding belly and long putters to their bags every week, or at the very least practicing with them at home.
Don’t expect that trend to change either, not with the success that unconventional putters are having in the world of professional golf these days.
“First, it's scientifically easier to putt with a long/anchored putter,” said SwingFix instructor Garrett Chaussard, who is a Kevin Weeks certified putting instructor. “Second, and even simpler, it’s a copycat tour. Player A has success, other players copy Player A. When players who copied Player A have success, others try long putters because there are now a group of players making more money. In an effort to insure that players with long putters do not have an advantage, every other tour player tries a long putter.”
It’s the anchoring effect that is the issue for many, as they believe that being able to anchor the club to the body isn’t within the spirit of the rules. Many also believe that ability to anchor the club to the body takes the “nerves” factor out of putting, which should be part of the equation, especially when it comes to the highest levels of competition.
For now, however, and it doesn’t look like any changes are in the immediate offing, none of golf’s major governing bodies have made a move to ban long putters from tournament play, despite significant criticism from players like Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, among others.
So, given this continuing trend of players moving away from conventional putters, would Chaussard introduce the long putter to one of the many top juniors he works with or encourage players at an early age to make the switch?
“I would prefer a young player starting the game use a traditional putter so they can develop a unique individual motion, and I have never started a young player with a long putter only,” Chaussard said. “At that stage of development, I only use long/anchored putters in training, akin to learning to trace the alphabet in school.
“But as long as the USGA keeps long/anchored putters legal, the trend will continue.”