The long view


HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – There was a day not that long ago when a PGA Tour player wielding a long putter was akin to a career “Hail Mary,” one final swing before retirement.

Those days, as evidenced in recent weeks by the likes of Adam Scott and Brendan Steele, are over. What counts now is whatever works, and for many longer putters are working.

Scott, one of the circuit’s best ballstrikers but never considered the boss of the Australian moss on the greens, switched to a long putter at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and nearly ended the Australian “hoodoo” at Augusta National earlier this month. And last week Steele outlasted all at the Texas Open with a belly putter.

It was enough to get James Driscoll thinking, who was spotted experimenting with a belly putter late Tuesday at Harbour Town.

“In 20 years there will be a much higher percentage of guys using these (long putters) than short ones,” said Driscoll.

If Driscoll’s vision of the future seems farfetched, consider that there were no fewer than two dozen Tour pros experimenting or practicing with long putters on Tuesday at The Heritage.

The stigma that used to dog the bold few who tried something “different” has faded thanks to the solid play of Scott, Retief Goosen and others.

“I remember years ago Tom Lehman kept getting harassed, they’d call it the ‘old man’s putter,’” said Mike Neal, the Tour representative for STX Golf putters. “He went back to a shorter putter, said he had to conquer it.”

But that peer pressure has been replaced by production, and the near-miss for the game’s first long-putter major champion two weeks ago.

“It was a bit (of a stigma),” Driscoll said. “But some good putters are using them now. It’s not viewed as a crutch.”