There’s more to putting than you think

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Ernie_Putter1 AFP Ernie Els of South Africa uses the belly putter, which is anchored to the stomach, giving him more stability.

Johannesburg – Anyone who has played golf will know the feeling. You’re facing a two-foot putt – a little tiddler – to beat the guy you really want to beat. It’s not only the 20 bucks riding on the game that’s at stake, there are those all-important bragging rights, and the pressure gets to you. Something goes wrong inside your head, your hands start shaking and you whiff it (probably accompanied by an expletive). A non-golfer, a child or an old lady facing the same putt would probably ram it home, no problem. But when you’ve played this glorious but equally frustrating game for a while, you’ve come to realise nothing is to be taken for granted.

Even famous golfers miss tiny putts. Take Doug Sanders for instance in the 1970 British Open at St Andrews. He needed to tap in from just 30 inches at the final hole to beat Jack Nicklaus and collect what would be the only Major of his career. But he fluffed it, and the next day Nicklaus beat him in an 18-hole play-off to lift the title. When asked years later if the putt had blighted his life, Sanders replied: “No ... some days I can go 20 minutes without thinking about it!”

Putting, on the surface, seems so damn simple. But golfers and golf instructors spend their lives trying to figure out the secret of how to become a good putter.

Which brings us to the so-called long “broom-handle” or belly putters which in recent years have been the subject of so much controversy. With these elongated putters, a player can “anchor” the top end of the club against stomach or chest. With three points of contact with the body instead of just two, the result (say the experts) is a more stable, mechanical stroke less likely to be adversely affected by the jitters, allowing for an unfair advantage not in the spirit of the game.

Significantly, three of the last five Major winners have used long putters and the debate last year came to a head when the US Golf Association (USGA) and the Royal & Ancient (R&A) – the bodies that govern (most) golf worldwide – announced a proposal to outlaw belly and broom-handle putters. So it came as a surprise (or maybe not so much of a surprise) earlier this week when Steve Stricker, once a strong supporter of banning the stroke used for long putters, said he would not be surprised to see the US PGA Tour ignore the USGA and the R&A if the ban is adopted. According to Associated Press, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem had a conference call with his 16-member Player Advisory Council this week, followed by a call with the policy board.

Stricker, regarded among the best putters in golf, said: “I don’t know for sure, but I can now see the tour adopting a local rule saying that it’s OK for players to use a long putter.” But for the tour to move away from the USGA on such a matter could lead to chaos at a time when USGA president Glen Nager is among those preaching unification between the professional and amateur bodies. It could mean that a player – Ernie Els for instance – would use a long putter on the PGA Tour but would not be able to compete in at least two Majors (US Open and British Open) with the same putter.

“It’s a concern,” Stricker said. And he’s right. The problem is, many see long putters as money-making clubs, and money talks. Jim Furyk, who is on the PGA Tour policy board, said opposing the ban would open “a whole new can of worms in the world of golf”.

Putting a big problem? You bet it is ... – Saturday Star


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