Golf

Thursday 31 July 2014

Poulter, McDowell wade into putter row

Karl MacGinty

Published 15/11/2012|05:00

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Adam Scott of Australia putts with his broom handel putter

RYDER CUP heroes Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell steamed into golf's hottest debate, the Englishman expressing his view on long putters with the same eye-popping certainty he showed at Medinah.

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Poulter needed just two words to sum up his feelings when asked about the belly putter on the eve of the Talisker Australian Masters at Kingston Heath.

"Ban it," he said bluntly, adding for good measure: "End of story. I mean, don't anchor the butt end of the club. It's simple, right?"

Not if you speak to Aussie Adam Scott, a born-again golfer since picking up a broom-handle putter early last year.

Or Keegan Bradley, who threatens legal action if golf's ruling bodies, the R&A and USGA, outlaw the belly putter he wielded in victory at the 2011 PGA Championship, August's Bridgestone WGC and the Ryder Cup.

Yet the authorities are expected shortly to declare the anchoring of a golf club to the navel, chest or chin as being illegal, though a ban may not become 'law' until the next edition of the rule book is published in January 2016.

Calls to banish long putters grew to a cacophony as Bradley, followed by Webb Simpson at June's US Open and Ernie Els in the British Open at Lytham last July, used them to win three of the last five Majors.

Scott insists the most pressing issue facing golf is not long putters, but the ludicrous distance players can hit high-tech golf balls with clubs made from space-age metals.

But McDowell explained the urgent reason why rule-makers want to 'drop the anchor,' citing his recent conversation with USGA chief executive Mike Davis. "Their research has shown that, under pressure on a Sunday afternoon, the long putter kind of takes one extraneous movement out of the putting stroke," said the 2010 US Open champion.

easier

"It just makes it physically easier to stroke the putter when the nerves are there," McDowell went on: "I think we should be levelling the playing field by banning it."

He suggested officials are "probably disappointed in themselves that it's got to this point – they probably should have nipped it in the bud many years ago."

Few of the belly putter brigade figure prominently in the PGA Tour's 'Strokes Gained – Putting' stats. Carl Pettersson in 21st place, ranks highest in that key category.

However, if long putters make relatively little difference statistically in general play, there's no doubting the benefit they bring by taking twitchy wrists completely out of the equation when the nerves are jangling late on Sunday afternoon.

Dave Pelz, the former NASA scientist who is one of the world's foremost short-game gurus, explained how the long putter eliminates two of the biggest problems for many golfers.

"Stick a belly putter in your navel and you can't rotate the shaft (through the stroke) and you can't hinge the wrists," he said. "I've been using it in my schools for 20 years to show people how their hands should feel through the moment of impact.

"It's a very good training tool. I don't try to convert people to belly putters, but many of them do," added Pelz – including his star pupil Phil Mickelson for a brief spell in 2011.

Mickelson believes it "grossly unfair" to "take away something you've allowed players to use, practice and play with for 30 years." Pelz agreed: "If you want to make the game more difficult and drive people away, then ban belly and long putters."

Yet Headfort professional Brendan McGovern, one of Ireland's foremost teachers, disagreed.

"To me, the long putter should be banned in professional tournaments and elite amateur events because it takes away part of the skill," said McGovern. "Putting is line, speed and nerve, but once you use the long putter, you eliminate the nerve.

twitchy

"A fellow who'd be a little twitchy from four or five feet and could never hole a putt, can, all of a sudden, start putting them away with the long putter," he added. "A good putter's advantage can be diminished."

Matteo Manassero, who last Sunday in Singapore became the first teenager to win three European Tour titles, is blessed with nerves of steel on and around the greens.

This, and his trademark precision from tee to green, compensate for Manassero's lack of distance – he's an average 28 yards shorter off the tee than Rory McIlroy, his playing companion at the Hong Kong Open early today.

It's galling to think of sure putters like Manassero or Poulter ceding their advantage down the stretch because anchoring allowed a potentially twitchy opponent hole out with ease.

Which all lends credence to Medinah maestro Poulter's blunt response yesterday.

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