Putting woes? A longer putter may solve the problem
Golfers today have face these decisions: "Do I go with a standard-length putter and if so, what type? Should I try a heavy putter? What about a belly putter? How about a long (broomstick) putter?"
Special to The Seattle Times
Bobby Jones called putting "the game within a game," and if the great amateur were alive today, he might add that choosing a putter is "the decision within a decision."
Jones' putter was called Calamity Jane, and he used it to dominate amateur golf in the 1920s and all golf in 1930 when he won the British and U.S. Opens and the British and U.S. Amateurs, the four top tournaments of that era.
Today, Jones would be facing these decisions: "Do I go with a standard-length putter and if so, what type? Should I try a heavy putter? What about a belly putter? How about a long (broomstick) putter?"
Jones would probably stick with "Calamity Jane" but undoubtedly he would be surprised at his options.
Putter length became a hot topic last August when Keegan Bradley, 25, won the PGA Championship with a belly putter. Until then, every major in PGA Tour history had been won by someone with a standard-length putter.
Webb Simpson, 26, won twice last year with a belly putter and even Phil Mickelson, one of the best short-game players in history, used a belly putter for a few rounds in competition late in the year.
Golf Digest quoted Mickelson as saying, "You can't miss. I mean, you really can't miss from six feet." Mickelson, however, went back to his traditional putter.
In a three-week span, PGA Tour winners were Adam Scott, whose career was resurrected with a long putter, Bradley (belly) and Simpson (belly).
The long putter has been around for about 25 years, the belly putter for about a dozen years. Until last year, both lengths were usually considered the tools of flawed golfers. However, Bradley and Simpson considered themselves good with standard-length putters but even better with belly putters.
The main advantages of belly putters and the longer broomstick putter is that the club is anchored against the body so wrist action is minimized. The main disadvantages are reduced feel and more difficulty controlling distance.
There is controversy regarding belly and long putters. A lot of golfers, including Tiger Woods, think any putter longer than a conventional one should be banned. Their argument is that golf was intended to be played with hands, not with a club anchored to the body so the business end can swing as a pendulum.
A conventional putter is generally 30 to 36 inches long. A belly putter is 41 to 44 inches. And a long putter is 48 to 52 inches.
Belly and long putters are especially popular with recreational golfers who suffer from the "yips" (a nerve-related inability to make short putts because they lack a smooth putting stroke) or are prone to be "handsy" (too much wrist action).
Keep it conventional
Conventional putters are what golfers used for centuries.
Stephanie Malone, assistant pro at Broadmoor Golf Club who used her short-game skills to reach the finals of the 1990 U.S. Women's Amateur, recommends that extra-length putters be viewed as a "last resort."
Malone suggests that golfers experiment with different putting grips before abandoning conventional putters.
"Try reversing your grip — for a right-handed golfer, the left hand will be low," she said. "This stabilizes the wrists and promotes a more rhythmic stroke, two elements of putting that often break down for those struggling on the greens. A thicker grip can also help as it keeps the hands quieter. If your misses are inconsistent, you may benefit from a heavier putter, one that allows you to feel the head. Putting is, after all, about feel and confidence."
A heavy putter is about twice the weight of a regular putter. It's easier to have a good pendulum stroke and good tempo with a heavy putter because the club does a lot of the work on its own. The heavy putter has advantages on short putts, but distance-control problems are common.
"An easier way to putt"
The belly putter is anchored into the golfer's stomach, about an inch or so to the target side of the belly button, and that anchor becomes the fulcrum for the swing. The putter is gripped with both hands in the grip of the golfer's choice and the club swings like a pendulum. Wrist action is easier to control and the golfer automatically is in what is considered by many pros to be a perfect putting position. The result is a more consistent swing.
Jeff Coston, the Blaine teaching pro who has won the most Northwest majors, said, "I believe in 10 years at least half the golfers in the world will be using a belly putter. It's just an easier way to putt. It almost strokes for you."
Coston still uses a traditional putter "because I'm a good putter." However, he says his 14-month-old grandson "will never touch a regular-length putter. He will start with a belly putter."
Longer putter can be better
The long putter puts less strain on a golfer's back, which can allow a player to practice longer, a key to improvement. Some golfers say the almost upright stance used with the long putter helps them see the "line" to the hole.
The long putter was on full display in Seattle in 2010 when Bernhard Langer used one to win both the U.S. Senior Open and the Boeing Classic.
One option with the long putter is to hit sidesaddle (facing the hole and putting from the side). This is an unusual style, but some golfers find it effective.
So what should the recreational golfer do when he thinks he might putt better by switching to a different style of putter?
Coston recommends either the belly putter or going sidesaddle with a long putter. He also said it is critical to make sure any putter is "the proper length for you."
Coston also reiterated the age-old putting advice that proper speed on a putt is more important than direction and a pre-putt routine is essential. He also said that most putts are either 30-40 feet or 5 feet or less and golfers should practice accordingly.
"Get great from 5 feet in, but start from 2 feet," he said.
Coston also offered some 1-2-3-4 putting advice that works for any style putter after the green has been read and the route to the hole determined.
"I call it tick-tock, tick-tock," he said. "You look at the hole on one tick, look at the ball on the next tick, take the club back on the next tick and hit on the fourth tick. It takes your conscious mind out of it. I've won lots of golf tournaments doing that."