A new entrant in the debate over the use of long putters entered the fray Tuesday. In Tiger Wood’s media room interview at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, he was asked about the issue.
Q. There was an announcement yesterday that the USGA and R&A are really looking or reexamining implementing a rule that would outlaw belly putters, chest putters. Do you think anchoring the clubs gives an unfair advantage? Would you ever use a belly putter? Do you think being able to putt without anchoring is a fundamental part of the game?
I’ve never been a fan of it. I believe it’s the art of controlling the body and club and swinging the pendulum motion. I believe that’s how it should be played. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to that.
I’ve talked to Peter about this, Peter Dawson, [from the R&A, golf’s rule-making body] for a number of years and gone back and forth of how we could word it. My idea was to have it so that the putter would be equal to or less than the shortest club in your bag. And I think with that we’d be able to get away from any type of belly anchoring. You can still anchor the putter like Bernhard Langer did against the forearm. But that’s still the art of swinging the club too at the same time.
But I think you can get away from the belly or the long putter by that type of wording, whether or not they do it or not. And Peter’s looked into it for a number of years, trying to get it to work, and you actually measure everybody’s sand wedge and putter before you go out and play, that’s another thing too.
This an issue that has been brewing since Jim Ferree first used a long putter in 1986. He said that it “saved my golfing life.” At the time there wasn’t any language in the Rules of Golf that would preclude their use. And there still isn’t.
Those first long putters had shafts that reached about the middle of the player’s breastbone. The putter was held by the left hand with a fist-like grip and anchored to the player’s chest; that established the only pivot point and the right hand, about half way down the shaft, was used to swing the putter.
In recent years, the belly putter has come along. With the butt of a shorter shaft pressed into the players belly, the player grasps the shaft with basically a conventional, two-handed grip and swings the club with both hands; the belly acts as the pivot point.
The claim of the long putter proponents is that it eliminates the “yips,” the involuntary spasms of the hands brought about by the extreme pressure of having to make a putt. And with all of the careers that have been resuscitated by the long putters, you would have to agree that there is something to that.
But, as Tiger says, that’s not the point. The point is that the long putter takes the swinging skill out of the game. There is little difference between the use of the long putter and the use of some sort of stand for a rifleman engaged in target shooting.
The plea for the continuation of the use of the long putter is based on the assertion that the yips are involuntary. But I’m not so sure that they are, because I once had them.
At the height of my Monday qualifying days, my putting stroke was a reliable old friend with the repeatability of a well-oiled piston. Smooth, accelerating, seamless. But with the demands of working on the manuscript chronicling my Champions Tour efforts, I took my putting for granted and didn’t keep the machine oiled.
And I began to notice that twitches had entered my hands to the point that at address, the putter head would sometimes even nudge the ball before I pulled the trigger–which was really something because I never had the putter close to the ball at address. A very subtle, bunching anxiety settled into my back and my chest. And the fluid stroke turned into a reticent wobble. Not good and not reliable. And it was all my fault.
Because I had so much experience in being in the moment and strong memory of what the stroke had been, I was able to relax my anxiety away and get everything in the drive train soft again. And with everything soft again, I worked exclusively on restoring the acceleration of the stroke. Acceleration means flow through the ball with no reticence.
And finally I had Old Faithful back. But it took me two months.
So because of that experience, that’s why I believe that while the beginning of the yips may be involuntary, you can reverse them if you are practiced enough in consciousness techniques: can you still the mind enough to pay attention to what’s happening in your body? What is the source of your anxiety? Where does it come from and where does it settle?
Anchoring the butt end of the putter against the body to constrain the variability of a putting stroke is not very different than constraining the body with any number of swing aids that, for example, keep your arms strapped close to your body.
And that’s why the R&A and USGA should quit dawdling over this issue. They need to make it clear that “anchoring” that doesn’t allow for a free-swinging motion isn’t in the spirit of the game. (I have a friend who uses a long putter but he doesn’t anchor it; he putts sidesaddle with his left hand out in front of him at the top of the shaft and and his right hand pull/pushing the shaft.) And they should establish a quick phaseout (a year or two) of the anchored putters.
Players who finally come back to the roots of the game and overcome their impediments with consciousness and mastery techniques will be left triumphant and whole again while those who would chose to cobble together compensations will always think of themselves as damaged goods finding a way.
I would always choose triumphant.