Aug
13
2011
When It Comes to Long Putters, Kids: Just Say No
By Conor Nagle under PGA Championship

The ole Keegmeister avec friend.

Keegan Bradley, Brendan Steele, Jim Furyk, Adam Scott: there are long putters– broomhandle and belly– everywhere you look during the third round of this year’s PGA Championship.

It’s not really that much of surprise, given the nature of the Athletic Club’s test and the tendency of consistent ball-strikers to develop balky putters, but I’m not confident in the long putter’s ability to secure a first major victory this week.

Regardless of its likelihood, though, I just don’t want to see it happen.

I object to them. Not solely on aesthetic grounds– that would be weird– but on two separate counts.

First of all, and this applies more to belly putters than it does the broomhandle, their provision of a artificial fulcrum about which the club can pivot affords the user an obvious advantage over short putts.

By this, I don’t mean that players who use belly putters are better over short putts, full-stop, but that the belly putter makes its user much less likely to suffer a catastrophic misfire within a certain distance of the hole. Sacrifices are made, of course, in terms of distance control and subtlety, but there’s no similarly effective magic bullet for the poor ball-striker.

Putting the belly putter in the bag guarantees the poor putter a greater degree of consistency, a higher median standard.

Unlike the traditional question of comfort posed by contrasting styles, whether they be orthodox or cross-handed, the belly putter makes it easier to bring the club back and through on a straight line, regardless of your personal predilictions or the idiosyncrasies of your game. It effects everyone in the same way.

And that, folks, just isn’t golf.

This brings me on to the second, more emotional, aspect of my disdain: the long putter as commercial decision.

I appreciate that golf is a professional sport, that the few who play the PGA Tour have staked their very livelihoods in the game, and, as such, that principle and ambition can sometimes become luxuries too expensive to be indulged, but it’s hard to respect a player who puts a long putter in play the week of a major championship.

To do so appears, to my eye at least, an admission of mediocrity, a willingness to settle rather than compete. I don’t just say this because a player rolling the ball with a long putter has yet to win a major– that’s a run bound to be broken at some point, if not this week– but because using one is, by default, an admission of inadequacy.

With the exception of Tim Clark, exponents of the broomhandle or belly-anchored flatstick have been drawn to it through incompetence or insecurity. They’ve sought in its ungainly, enforced orthodoxy, a measure of respite: asylum from the ruinous effects of pressures that should be integral to the game.

Perhaps unjustly, I doubt that players using long putters really believe they can win major championships by anything other than luck or default. Their willingness to carry a totem of their own mental weakness appears belies any claim to the contrary.

You can ask what the big deal is, when those nerves that the long putter struggles to repress so often assert themselves in the closing stages of tournaments, and you’d probably have a point, but that so many players have proven willing to make the trade-off– to give up their dreams of genuine, self-affirming glory in pursuit of mere security– is to my eyes at least, deeply dispiriting.

“Luke Donald Syndrome” was originally coined to describe a particularly offensive form of PGA Tour complacency. Given the recent development of its inspiration, I would suggest “Belly Putter Syndrome” as a more appropriate alternative.

–Conor Nagle