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Long Putters: To Ban or Not to Outlaw?

Controversy Re-Surfaces After 2011 PGA Championship

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Keegan Bradley Belly Putter

Keegan Bradley uses a belly putter during the 2011 PGA Championship, which he won.

David Cannon / Getty Images
(Update: On May 21, 2013, the R&A and USGA announced the adoption of Rule 14-1b (Ban on Anchoring), which will ban anchoring of any clubs effective Jan. 1, 2016. Read more here.)

Aug. 15, 2011 - Should long putters - belly putters and broomstick putters - be ruled non-conforming by golf's governing bodies?

That's what some are suggesting in the wake of Keegan Bradley's 2011 PGA Championship victory, which he achieved in part through the use of a belly putter.

First, let's make sure we all agree on what a "long putter" is. A long putter is either a belly putter or a broomstick putter (putters whose length is signficantly more than a standard, or conventional putter) that is anchored against the golfer's body.

It's the anchoring part that makes some people wish these putters would go away. Nobody really cares about the length - long, short, whatever, as long as only the golfer's two hands are touching it. (Update: Tiger Woods has proposed setting a limit on the length of putters as a way of outlawing the belly putter/long putter anchoring technique.) But anchoring a putter against the belly or sternum provides a third point of contact between golfer and club (after his or her two hands, of course). That anchor serves as a fulcrum point for making the pendulum putting stroke.

Long putters have always been controversial in some quarters for that third-point-of-contact reason; previous to the introduction of belly and broomstick putters, our hands were our only connection to any of the golf clubs.

(It's the anchoring part that also makes Keegan Bradley the first golfer to win a major using a long putter. Some fans object to that contention, citing Angel Cabrera's win at the 2009 Masters. Cabrera was using a longer-than-conventional putter - it was belly putter-length - but was not anchoring it against his belly. Cabrera's hands were his only points of contact with that putter.)

Golf's governing bodies - the R&A and USGA - have so far stayed away from regulating belly and broomstick putters out of existence. Long putters just haven't been that prominent on the pro tours until recently, and even less prominent among recreational and amateur golfers. Plus, long putters have a reputation for being a "last resort" of golfers who have terrible yips with conventional putters, or for older golfers who need a more upright putting posture due to achy backs.

But as more pros go the long putter route - as younger pros try them not because they can't putt with conventional putters but because they prefer putting with long putters - some believe the USGA and R&A will - or should - act.

Golf Digest writer Mike Stachura, in the publication's Hot List 365 blog, cited comments made by USGA president Mike Davis during an appearance on the Golf Channel in April 2011:

"Clearly, the USGA and the R&A have thought about the long putter, the belly putter many times over the last few decades, nothing new. When we've looked at it on kind of a holistic basis, the question is, 'Do we want the concept of players anchoring a club against the body?' When this gets looked at, we always come back to who's using the long putter, who's using the belly putter. And it tends to be two groups of players. It's either those that are afflicted with yips or something else that's not good, or people that have back problems. And you start to say, 'Do we want to take clubs out of the hands of people who almost can't enjoy the game anymore because they're so mentally afflicted with the yips or something of the like, or people that are having back problems?' "

But as noted, golfers using long putters are no longer so neatly confined into those two small groups cited by Davis. Davis went on to say this:

"We don't see this as a big trend. It's not as if all the junior golfers out there are doing this. No one's even won a major using one of these things anchored to themselves. So we don't see this as something that is really detrimental to the game."

But now someone has won a major with "one of these things anchored to themselves." And in the immediate aftermath of Bradley's victory at the 2011 PGA, the Twitter feeds of some equipment gurus were already hot with messages predicting the USGA will now want to crack down on long putters.

Many golfers might suggest that equipment should be outlawed - if at all - before it becomes popular, not because it becomes popular. To which those who favor banning long putters would retort, "better late than never."

But Davis' comments do imply that the USGA will be watching closely to see whether juniors start showing up with long putters and whether more and more pros begin using them.

Poll: Should long putters that are anchored against the golfer's body be banned? (click your choice to cast vote)
1) Yes
2) No

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