With one of the most dramatic potential rule changes looming in a decade it was not a surprise to see the likes of Spencer Levin, a long-putter convert enjoying his best year on the PGA Tour in 2012, practicing two weeks ago at TPC Boston with a standard-length putter.
In July at the British Open, U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis confirmed that the ongoing review of long putters and the act of anchoring clubs during a stroke was nearing an end, although he stressed at the time that no final decision had been made.
“We are committed to give some kind of answer this year. The reason for that we’ve said to the world we’re taking a fresh look at this,” Davis said.
Sources have suggested the ruling will come this month and many have speculated that the long putter’s days are numbered, which would explain Levin’s sudden interest in his previously discarded short putter, right?
“Is there a ruling?” Levin asked.
So maybe the potential change isn’t exactly keeping play-for-pay types up late and, to be clear, Davis & Co. have stressed that this isn’t about the long putter’s use on the PGA Tour so much as it is the club’s growing popularity among amateurs and newcomers to the game.
But that’s not to say a ruling against long putters, or anchoring, wouldn’t have a profound impact on players at the top of the bell curve. Consider Carl Pettersson, 35, who last used a short putter in 1997 when he was 20 years old.
“It would be unfortunate. It was legal when I first turned pro, I used it as an amateur,” Pettersson said. “I’d feel like I’m 15 years behind practicing, but it’s out of my control. I wouldn’t quit playing, I’d figure out some way to do it.”
Pettersson conceded that if the rule is changed he would consider a legal challenge given his historical use of the broom-handle putter. He also pointed out that unlike the rule change to grooves in 2010 a potential ruling on long putters, “doesn’t apply to everyone.”
Although the Tour does not track long-putter usage on the circuit, estimates among equipment representatives suggest that 10 to 15 percent of players use them.
Pettersson also pointed out that unlike players who use belly putters, the grip and stroke needed on a broom-handle putter is vastly different than any grip, be it traditional or otherwise, used on a short putter.
There is also the extreme case of Tim Clark, who is physically unable to hold a short putter the traditional way because of a condition that doesn’t allow him to pronate his wrist outwards.
Many of those who use long putters at the game’s highest level, a number that has continued to grow in recent years, share Pettersson’s opinion that whatever ruling is made Tour players will adjust, much like they did when the grooves were rolled back. But as they braced for a potential change there was no shortage of opinions.
“I don’t want to (get) a lawyer involved in any of that,” said Brian Harman, who earned his card last year in Q-School using a short putter and bounces between long- and standard-length models. “I’m like 100th on Tour in putting; I don’t live by this thing. It might help me out (if long putters are banned). I think there are guys who rely on it a lot more. What I don’t understand, if you want to make the game harder, eliminate hybrids. How is that legal? Make it so there are only two woods in your bag.”
Although the USGA and R&A have stressed that the recent review of long putters is in reaction to the implement’s growing popularity at the grassroots level, some Tour types view a potential change as reactionary given that three of the last five major championships have been won by players using long putters.
They also point out that, at least at the Tour level, there is little evidence to suggest that using a long putter mitigates the skills needed to putt well. Not a single player ranked in the top 10 in the circuit’s strokes gained-putting category and just two (Pettersson and James Driscoll) in the top 10 of total putting uses a long putter.
“I still think it’s a little bit of a kneejerk reaction, personally, just because some guys won some tournaments,” said J.J. Henry, who splits time between the long and short putters. “If it was for sure the way to putt there would be more guys using it. I don’t think it needs to be done. Let guys continue to do what they’ve been doing . . . forever really.”
Whatever the ruling this month Tour players will adjust, they always do. Just don’t expect them to like it.