Consensus tough to come by on putters
Golf's governing bodies meet twice a year to talk about rules and equipment, and those sessions between the USGA and the Royal & Ancient almost always include the debate whether to ban long putters.
Resolving the issue remains a work in progress.
"There are alleyways with no exits every time we go down this path,'' USGA executive director David Fay said. "That's not to say it's not being discussed. But you've got to come up with a solution first.''
The long putters made headlines again last week when Ernie Els said they should be banned. The catalyst for his criticism was his South African protege, Trevor Immelman, who used a belly putter on his way to a one-shot victory in the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open.
"I think nerves and the skill of putting is part of the game,'' Els said. "Take a tablet if you can't handle it.''
Immelman switched to the belly putter -- the end of the club is anchored into the belly -- not out of desperation. Rather, he found that it worked better.
Paul Azinger was the first to win with a belly putter in the 1999 Sony Open. Vijay Singh has been using one the last couple of years as he makes a bid at No. 1 in the world ranking.
"I think it's becoming an easier way to putt,'' Els said. "You actually push it into your body, and then you can make a perfect stroke. Where your hands, you're not always going to be in the perfect position.''
The same reasoning applies to the even longer broom-handle putter, which is anchored against the chest and allows players to stand more upright as they get the pendulum effect.
Fay believes most officials would like to get rid of the long putters. But how?
"If you deal with anchoring, you might need a touch pad,'' he said. "Is it anchored against the body? The wind shirt? And what about heavier players?''
The other idea is to put a limit on the length of the putter.
"Then you get back to the age-old question of length,'' Fay said. "If you made the limit 38 or 39 inches, the guy who rides Smarty Jones, that would be a long putter for him.''
The method has been around longer than some players using it. Fay keeps an old magazine article by the late Paul Runyan, which he wrote for Golf Digest in 1966. Runyan talks about playing the 1936 Belmont Open in Boston in heavy winds, which made it difficult to keep his balance while putting.
Runyan said that to stabilize himself, he took a wide stance and anchored the end of the putter into his waist with his left hand, then moved his right hand down the shaft. It worked great for shorter putts, he wrote, but he lost control with the longer putts. He found the solution to that problem years later -- a longer putter.
Els would be pleased to read the next paragraph.
"An advantage I hadn't expected is that this system minimizes the adverse effect of nervous tension,'' Runyan wrote, adding that it might work wonders for Ben Hogan.
Fay said he expects to hear complaints about putters that anchor to the body as often as someone wins with one.
It should be noted that no one has won a major championship with such a putter.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press