Which Quirky Putting Setup Is the Most Successful in Golf?

Mike DudurichContributor IOctober 23, 2012

Webb Simpson won a U.S. Open with a long putter.
Webb Simpson won a U.S. Open with a long putter.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

While no two golf swings are exactly the same, no part of the game is more individualistic than putting. Everyone who plays has their own little things they do, leading to different putting methods, different putting strokes and varying degrees of success.

And because putting always has been—and always will be—the most nerve-wracking part of the game, new ways to aid with calming those nerves will always pop up. We’re living in an era with several of those: the claw grip, the belly putter, the long putter, the left-hand low.

Truth be told, they’re all fads, temporary crutches that sooth nerves and help players make putts for a while. Eventually, however, they, too, shall pass and other bizarre ways to get the ball in the hole will appear.

As we look at today’s non-traditional putting tools, there is no doubt that the extended length putters (belly and long) are the most popular. That happens, of course, when the best players in the world start to use them and are successful with them.

Three of the last five major champions won by anchoring their putters: Webb Simpson (U.S. Open), Ernie Els (Open Championship) and Keegan Bradley (PGA Championship in 2011).

When something like that happens and when Adam Scott nearly wins this year’s Open Championship with the long putter before collapsing, people start to notice. People like the recreational golfer whose putts from five feet don’t even graze the hole more often than not. And there are plenty of numbers to back that up.

Of all the putters sold by Boccieri Golf in 2011 (including the Heavy Putter), two percent were belly putters. In 2012, it was 20 percent.

At Odyssey, things went crazy after Keegan Bradley won the 2011 PGA Championship with an Odyssey White Hot XG Sabertooth belly putter. After selling 8,000 belly putters in 2010, that number jumped to 32,000 in 2011. Seventy percent of that came in the last two quarters of the year, after Bradley won the PGA. Twelve percent of Odyssey’s sales are belly putters.

At TaylorMade, the increase in belly putters is even more dramatic. From 2010 to 2011, sales of belly putters jumped 500 percent. And they doubled again in 2012.

There’s no doubt the recreational and amateur players love the belly and long putters. But the interest is growing among professionals as well. Paul Azinger was the first to win on the PGA Tour with a belly putter, that coming at the 2000 Sony Open in Hawaii.

Since then many other players have tinkered with it, used it and some have succeeded with it. This year at the Barclays, the first of the four FedEx Cup events, 20 of the best players in the world used a long putter. In 2009 and 2010, six players used the long putter.

There are many examples of how the longer putters have made poor putters better. Orville Moody was one of the worst putters on the Senior tour (now the Champions Tour) until he put a longer putt in his bag. With it, he won the 1989 U.S. Senior Open and 11 events overall. Players like Rocco Mediate, Bernhard Langer and Tom Lehman all have become better players because of the belly putters.

But are the belly/long putters magic wands? Not according to one of the PGA Tour’s new putting statistic: strokes gained.The top dozen players on that list use conventional putters. A longer standing statistic is average putts per round. None of the top 12 players there use a long putter either.

The long putters have also moved to the center of the radar screen of the folks at the United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, the ruling bodies of the sport.

Both organizations have said they are looking into the long putter, with special interest into the aspect of “anchoring” it against the belly or sternum. That decision could come by the end of the year.

As with the ruling a few years ago regarding grooves in the faces of irons, if the anchoring of the putters is deemed to be illegal by the ruling bodies, professionals will find a way to adjust. In anticipation of the ruling, players using the long putter now are practicing with conventional putters.

For the recreational player, who never plays in a USGA-sponsored or directed event, nothing will change. If putting with the “broomstick” makes those players happy and settles their nerves when they go out each weekend, they can continue to use it.

The next time you play take a look around the putting green. You’ll see a few lefthand low putters and a few claw grips. You don’t see a lot of those because they take a lot of practice and those weekend warriors don’t have time to practice those techniques.

Putters may be the best example of the old line about “boys and their toys” when it comes to the PGA Tour players. But guess what? If the long putters are banned or limited, the best players in the world will figure something else out.

Remember the “These Guys are Good” slogan? It applies to all aspects of the game for the guys who play the game better than anyone else.

For now, the long putter seems to serve as little more than a pacifier for guys who have the most talent.