Use a long putter? Never in a round. Fiddled with long and belly putters at the past two PGA Merchandise Show Demo Days.
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What took so long? That’s what I want to know. Call me a traditionalist, but I never felt like anchoring a long or belly putter constituted a golf stroke.
Several years ago, I interviewed then-USGA executive director David Fay for a feature story. As an aside, we struck up a conversation on long and belly putters. Or, more accurately, he listened as I ticked off the usual reasons why they should be banned. The look on his face suggested he had suffered through a variation of my screed more times than he might care to admit. Fay offered little rebuttal, smiled politely and suggested I read an instructional piece penned by Paul Runyan in Golf Digest. I remember Fay calling him, “Your guy Runyan” because the late Hall of Famer had conducted his original research at Metropolis Country Club in White Plains, N.Y., the course where he served as head professional for a time and where I learned the game. And then Fay said matter-of-factly, “It’s in the September 1966 issue.” I was always impressed with his recall of that particular detail. By the time I had finished my next interview at the USGA, Fay’s assistant had printed me a copy of the article. I have it still.
Runyan’s instructional piece titled “New Help for Nervous Putters” described how he tinkered with the belly method 30 years earlier (1936) to combat windy conditions at the Belmont Open outside Boston. He recommended golfers use a split-handed, belly-putting stroke with a shaft between 38 and 43 inches long.
“If and when it is used universally, it would produce a uniformity of putting skill thus far not realized,” Runyan wrote.
It took a long time for the stigma of using the so-called old man’s crutch to disappear. Some expected the novelty to fizzle out. When it didn’t, I believe the USGA and R&A leadership feared that Runyan’s prediction could come true.
“Nobody (within the ruling bodies) wants children to know nothing else but sticking putters in their bellies,” a source told Golfweek in February. “It now seems possible that an entire new generation of golfers could learn to putt this way and never use the traditional method that has been the bedrock of putting for hundreds of years.”
To me, that about sums it up. The club itself is still legal, so people with back trouble haven’t been forced out of the game. Yes, golfers with the yips will have to find a new remedy. I bet they will. As Fay once told me, never underestimate the creativity of a desperate putter. Yes, the game becomes a little harder. But who said golf was supposed to be a piece of cake? If you want easy, I hear there’s a lane available for bumper bowling.
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