The Long and Short of Long Putters


Trying to go placidly amid the noise and haste of golfs regulatory briars, I got stuck. Right in the chest.
How is it that our drivers cant be too springy in the face, too long (soon), or overly big (ditto); our putters cant have goofy twisted necks; and our golf balls have to stay within a distance standard but its fine to anchor a putter handle to our sternums?
The long putter bothers me. Yes, I know it has saved many careers. I know it has de-yipped golfers by the thousands. I know putting is still a mystical science no matter the length of the wand the player wields.
But to me, being able to steady a club against the body doesnt feel like golf.
I hear you now: Barr, Barr, Barr. Ive seen you play. In some states, youre not even allowed on a golf course. Until you can hire a lackey to play for you and admit it, you should be in favor of anything that makes the game easier.
Well, its supposed to be fun, but golf isnt meant to be easy. Isnt that what the games historical pillars have said? Heck, Jack Nicklaus has said its not even supposed to be fair.
The lack of concern over the long putter has befuddled me. Dining with a senior U.S. Golf Association official not long ago, I asked about the future of the long wand. I expected to hear an execution date, but what I got was a shrug.
Its not going anywhere, the official said. The R&A doesnt really care about it one way or the other, so theres no huge movement to ban it.
In the world-game era of golf, uniformity between the ruling bodies is prized, so neither the USGA nor the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews is willing to do much without consenting with the other.
But in a game where success depends upon negotiating a speeding hunk of metal at the end of a stick using only your hands, why wouldnt a body-based pivot give one pause? Is the regulatory agenda simply too full for another item?
Perhaps. And perhaps, as well, long putters dont offer the physical advantage the USGA fears from hot drivers and hotter golf balls. But the USGAs best and brightest proudly include in their mission the commitment to make golf recognizable through the centuries. If Allan Robertson, the 19th-century Scot who is generally acclaimed as the games first professional, were to step up to the starter at Bay Hill today, the USGA would want him to recognize his beloved 'gowf.' And if Arnold Palmer could be catapulted into the future to check out the game as played by the crew of the Enterprise, the bluecoats would want him to be able to recognize golf then too.
Ive never seen historical material that suggests widespread use ' or any use ' of long putters in the games infancy. Neither has Rusty, one of The Golf Channels more avid golf history enthusiasts.
Rusty, my producer for our Whats In The Bag? equipment show, which premieres in April, is a long-putter devotee. As a matter of fact, hes sitting next to me on the plane as I write this, muttering something about divine retribution as he looks for a long putter to beat me with. While he searches the overhead bins, he reminds me that people still miss putts, and that the ever-present rub of the green misdirects more putts than an anchored putter can keep on line.
Undeniably, this is true. But even in a game defined by regulations, the subjective plays a role. The USGA officers themselves speak in terms of what golf looks like and feels like, venturing far beyond .83 and 460 cubic centimeters and 280 yards, plus or minus 6 percent.
High COR and hot balls dont feel like golf to them. Long putters dont feel like golf to me. (Neither does riding in carts, but thats another column.) Long putters do feel like golf to Rusty, a scrappy 9-handicapper who actually long-putts croquet style: Facing the hole, not straddling, putter handle jammed up near his armpit. He rarely three-jacks.
Maybe the length of the putter isnt the point. Ill play with Rusty (and take my six a side, you betcha); we both know whats in the little white book. The rules allow him to use that putter. They allow me to have a driver head big enough to show a movie on. Even the best game in the world isnt perfect ' no game is ' and we all have to put up with its imperfections. (Ask Roger Clemens about this issue in the visitors half of the second or third inning of any away World Series game he pitches.)
The game needs to be regulated. It also needs to be debated. Thats how it lives.