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Defining the art of putting

Posted: November 28, 2012 - 12:11am

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley, two of the major faces in the debate over belly putters, said Tuesday they would not fight a change in the rules if golf’s governing bodies decide to outlaw putters anchored to the body.

That doesn’t mean they’re in favor of a ban.

“I’m obviously not happy with the ruling, but I respect the USGA, and especially Mike Davis,” Bradley said. “They make the rules, and I’ll adjust appropriately. But I’m going to accept the challenge and hopefully do well when they do ban it.”

Davis, the USGA executive director, and Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson have scheduled a press conference Wednesday morning to announce their conclusions on the future of long putters. All indications point toward a ban on anchoring the club.

At issue is not the putter itself, but whether it can be anchored to the body, such as the stomach (belly putters) or the chest (long putters).

The long putters have been in vogue for the better part of 25 years, though a recent surge in use got the attention of golf’s two governing bodies. Bradley became the first major champion with a belly putter when he won the PGA Championship last year. Simpson won the U.S. Open using a belly putter, and Ernie Els won the British Open with a belly putter, rallying to beat Adam Scott, who uses a long putter he anchors to the top of his chest.

Guan Tianling, the 14-year-old from China, used a belly putter to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur earlier this month to earn a spot in the Masters.

Dawson spoke in July about looking at the anchored putters as a rules issue instead of an equipment issue. If that’s the case and it is banned, it would not take effect until 2016 because the Rules of Golf are only updated every four years.

While a change would affect players like the recent major champions, Carl Pettersson and Tim Clark, several others are opposed to putters stuck into the body. They argue it takes away nervous hands and allows for a smoother stroke.

Tiger Woods is opposed to long putters, and he stated his argument clearly on Tuesday.

“I just believe that the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves, and having it as a fixed point — as I was saying all year — is something that’s not in the traditions of the game,” Woods said. “We swing all other 13 clubs. I think the putter should be the same. It should be a swinging motion throughout the entire bag.”

Woods said his biggest concern was not so much the major champions, but junior players.

“There have been some guys who had had success out there, and obviously everyone always copies what we out here, and that’s something that I think for the greater good of the game needs to be adjusted,” he said.

Simpson first switched to a belly putter in 2004 to help with consistency. He found one in a pro shop, gave it a try and noticed immediate improvement. But for all the attention on belly putters, he said it was the accuracy with his driver that helped him win the U.S. Open at Olympic Club this year.

“My argument the whole time is to change something that drastic, it needs to be based off facts and not what certain people think the tradition of the game looks like,” Simpson said. “But look, I’m not going to be one of those guys that says this is a terrible decision. I’m just saying to make a change this big, show me the facts. And hey, they’re the governing body, so we’ll see what happens.”

Simpson already has been practicing with a conventional putter, preparing for such a ban. He said if there is a ban, he would use the conventional putter at home, and then in pro-am rounds and make the switch when he’s comfortable with it.

“I’m just going to take it one step at a time until my comfort level gets better and better,” Simpson said. “If I feel ready by Hyundai (the start of the 2013 season), I’ll be putting with a short putter. And if I don’t feel ready for two years, I’ll wait.”

Bradley said he would be in no rush to make the change if there is a ban.

Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter were among those who lined up against anchored putters earlier this month in Australia. McDowell said the rule should have been changed years ago, and that using an anchored putter “takes one extraneous movement out of the putting stroke,” which he feels is an advantage under pressure.

Poulter, as usual, was more blunt.

“Ban it. End of story,” Poulter said.

Steve Stricker, regarded as one of the best putters in golf, has picked up a belly putter to see what the rage was all about. And it concerned him.

“It was pretty scary how fast I picked it up, to tell you the truth,” Stricker said. “I went and anchored it just right below my sternum. It was a little different feel for me, but I got pretty consistent pretty quick with it. So I can see that there was an advantage, even though I can’t see myself ever doing it.”

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