It used to be that long putters were for old guys. You know, golfers on the Champions Tour, such as Orville Moody or Bruce Lietzke. Times have changed. In the past three weeks on the PGA Tour, Adam Scott, 31; Keegan Bradley, 25; and Webb Simpson, 26, have won using either a long putter or a belly putter. Bradley's PGA Championship win was the first time a major winner has won using a belly putter. It was historic enough for the World Golf Hall of Fame to request a replica of the putter to display. Overall, six PGA tournaments have been won by players using belly or long putters this year. They aren't just for old guys anymore.
"I can't tell you how many times I'm in a group where every single guy has got an unconventional putter, especially young guys,'' Bradley said during the PGA Championship. "But it's a great tool to have, especially in pressure situations, because you just put that right in your belly and it's not going anywhere."
Belly putters and long putters have been around for a while. But with this recent wave of success, the stigma of using the clubs is diminished. Who should use them? How do they work? And should they even be legal?
The belly putter
It's called a belly putter because the end of the shaft is supposed to rest on the belly. The typical length is between 30 and 40 inches, depending on the player's size. A traditional putter is between 18 and 36 inches.
The idea is to have the end of the shaft rest on the belly button. The player makes a pendulum-type motion, which takes the wrists out of the equation.
Players still bend over to use the belly putter and hold it with the hands together.
"You're trying to secure the end of your putter into your belly," said Pasadena Country Club head professional Brian Lake, who wrote a book in 2008 titled Putt Like a Pro. "It creates a solid pivot point. They are securing the end of the putter, which makes it a fixed pivot point. That makes the pendulum motion so much smoother.''
Belly putters must be fitted so the end of the shaft fits into the belly and the putter head lays flat on the ground. They can range in price from $30 to $175.
"They must be custom-fit,'' Lake said, "not only because of the size of the person but the girth of their belly.''
The long putter
Long putters should go up to the sternum. Either the right hand or the left hand is placed on top of the shaft, and the other is placed lower on the club. These putters are more for players who have back problems or like to have their eyes farther above the putting line.
The swing required is more of a true pendulum swing. It eliminates wrist hinge and shoulder turn, and it usually helps with the tricky 10- to 15-foot putts. More time is needed to learn distance control for putts farther away.
The putters are generally between 37 and 66 inches long. Players should also be fitted for long putters.
"You hold the club, generally, at your sternum,'' Lake said. "You hold your thumb at the top of the putter grip, and that becomes the pivot point.''
Long putters can be a little more expensive, ranging from $50 to $425.
Advantage or unfair?
Some believe belly and long putters are natural improvements to the game.
"It fixes the misbehaving hands once they start going into that stage,'' said longtime St. Petersburg putter manufacturer Bobby Grace. "That can happen at 25 (years old) or 35 or 45. It eliminates the yips. If somebody were to learn how to putt like that from the beginning, they'd be better off."
"It's not a true stroke of golf,'' said longtime Gulfport club-maker Rick Yarrington. "I've never liked them, and I never will. It gives you an unfair way to leverage the golf club and stroke the putt. A good golfer can take the hands and the wrist out of it all on his own. He doesn't need (long putters).''
The putters are legal. USGA rules say putters may not be shorter than 18 inches, but there is no limit to their length. The putter is the only club with no length restriction.
The putters started surfacing more than 20 years ago.
Bernhard Langer is one of the more notable players who suffered from the yips (or nerves) and turned to a "broomstick''-type putter. He started putting better and winning tournaments.
Though the USGA has not limited the putter's length, it has ruled on putting styles. In 1968, the USGA and the Royal and Ancient in Europe banned croquet-style putting after Sam Snead tried it in an attempt to cure his shaky putting. The rule-making groups determined it made putting too easy.
Recently, players are making putting look easier with the belly and long putters, but putter-maker Grace thinks the train is too far down the tracks to make a rule change now.
"(The USGA) can't remove them at this stage,'' said Grace, who has made his F-22 long putter for 18 years. "It doesn't remove the skill from the game. It's not like you're going to get one and start putting like a champ. When it takes skill out of the game, that's when they see that it's way too easy. If they were to take this one out, then they never should have allowed metal woods.''
Pasadena CC pro Lake also believes long putters are here to stay.
"I think when Sam Snead straddled the line, that kind of took away some skill,'' he said. "With these, you have to be sidesaddle, you still have to line up your putt. That still takes perspective, aiming and the stroke. It still takes skill.''
The USGA view
USGA executive director Mike Davis doesn't think a change will be made.
"Yes, it has been looked at seriously," Davis told the Golf Channel. "But if we (ban the long putter) and all of a sudden didn't do something else with equipment, I think a lot of people would raise their eyebrows and say, 'Wait a minute. You've done this and you didn't do something else?' So I think we're probably where we are."
That doesn't surprise Yarrington, who has been making clubs for more than 30 years and has seen plenty of rules changes.
"The USGA is a strange entity," he said. "They're made up of guys who can't break 100 and they're making rules for the greatest guys on the planet.''
Information from Times wires was used in this report.
Adam Scott | Long putter
Keegan Bradley | Belly putter