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The up and downside of long putters

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If there is any actual advantage to using a belly putter or long putter, there’s also a disadvantage.

The disadvantage is that most players who make the switch have a problem.

Most fellows who make the switch are in varying degrees desperate to remedy putting woes.

Ernie Els switched to a belly putter for the first time at the Heritage at Harbour Town last week and also brought it to South Korea for the Ballantine’s Championship this week. An opponent of the use of long putters in the past, he conceded on the eve of the Ballantine’s that he’s still adjusting to the idea of using one.

“If they banned it tomorrow, I'll still be a happy guy, but whilst it's legal, I might as well use it,” Els said in his Ballantine’s news conference. “A lot of other guys are using it. So I'm giving it a go. I must say, I feel slightly embarrassed using it, but if I can start making putts, I think I'll quickly forget about it.”

Els opened with a 1-over-par 73 Thursday at the Ballantine’s and is still looking for his first sub-par round since putting the belly putter in his bag. He shot 75-78 with it at the Heritage.

Els further explained reasons for the switch on Wednesday: “My putting, basically, my path, became very awkward. I became too squared back, and I cut through the ball a bit. Any pro, you don't want to do that. You don't put a good roll on it, and from short distances, I was becoming, really, not good. I started practicing with a belly a little bit. When you stick it in your belly, it stays on plane.”

Els is hardly alone out there with a long putter. Lee Westwood stuck one in his bag for two rounds at the Masters. He started the Indonesian Masters with a belly putter but switched back to a short putter after the first round when he won there last week to regain the No. 1 world ranking. Martin Laird (Arnold Palmer Invitational) and Brendan Steele (Valero Texas Open) won with long putters on the PGA Tour in the last month and Adam Scott made a run at winning the Masters with one.