MARSHALL: A lengthy discourse on long putters

5/24/2013

In the summer of 1989, Orville Moody won the U.S. Senior Open Golf Championship at Laurel Valley Golf Club in Ligonier, Pa.

In the summer of 1989, Orville Moody won the U.S. Senior Open Golf Championship at Laurel Valley Golf Club in Ligonier, Pa.

There really wasn't anything special about Moody's triumph at one of the USGA's national championships, except that Moody used what is now generally described as the "long putter."

Moody's extra long putter was set against his chest, thus anchoring the club to his body, and he used a pendulum swing to putt. He had made the switch because his nerves had been frayed using the traditional shorter putter, which is not typically anchored against the body.

Earlier this week, the USGA and its partner who co-authors the Rules of Golf, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, announced that beginning in 2016 the ability to anchor the putter, or any other club, would no longer be permitted under Rule 14-1b.

What makes this story of some interest is that in the summer of 1989, I was working as a Rules Official for the USGA at that same U.S. Senior Open while serving as executive director of the Kansas Golf Association.

Many of us on the committee that week observed and discussed the positives and negatives of the long putter, and the majority of us concluded that it should be outlawed. Not everyone at the time agreed, and thus after nearly two months of debate, the USGA and R&A announced that the long putter would continue to be permitted under the Rules of Golf. At that time, then USGA Executive Director David Fay said, "Putting is a very individualized art form. To inhibit a golfer's individual style would take some of the fun out of the game."

One theory behind using the long putter is that golfers couldn't handle the singularly different traditional putting stroke, otherwise known as the "yips." It's a ghastly condition where muscles and nerves in the arms twitch due to stress and pressure on the player. A golfer is as likely to leave an 18-inch putt short as he/she is to hit it four feet past the hole. The only relief that a golfer can have when they have the "yips," is to finally tap in the very shortest of short putts.

Moody had won the 1969 U.S. Open at Champions Golf Club in Houston, and at the time was using a traditional putting style. But as he grew older, his putting suffered.

Today, we see a much different scene in professional golf than what existed in 1989.

Most recently, Australian Adam Scott used a "belly" putter to win the Masters in April. Fourteen-year-old Tianlang Guan, who earned an invitation to this year's Masters, won the Asia Pacific Amateur with a belly putter. Ernie Els won the 2012 British Open using one, as did Webb Simpson when he captured the 2012 U.S. Open. Matt Kuchar won the 2012 Players Championship, anchoring the putter against his forearm. Bill Haas won the 2011 Tour Championship in much the same fashion.

You see the picture? There is a trend. And if there's something the USGA and R&A aren't smiling about, it's when they believe the traditions of the game are being challenged, abused or being taken advantage of.

Certainly not everyone is pleased with this decision — the president of the PGA of America, Ted Bishop, has voiced his opposition. Tim Finchem, PGA Tour commissioner, also has expressed concerns, and the Tour has yet to make any decision on what it might do in the future. They may opt to make a "Condition of the Competition" for an exception to Rule 14-1B, which would then certainly make it suspect that the Rules of Golf were being used. In golf, it doesn't work to have selective use of the rule book. It's all or nothing, according to the rules experts.

The PGA Tour and PGA of America have long wanted a bigger, louder voice in making the rules that govern the game. But the USGA and R&A are historically older and always have had that authority. Who wins out in this battle of power is anybody's guess. It would be my thought that the USGA and R&A will prevail once cooler heads settle the differences.

What's this mean for the average golfer who goes to play for the sheer enjoyment? Well, you can always continue to use the long putter if you're so inclined. But after 2016, if you want to compete in state and national tournaments, it's probably gonna be a no-go. No more anchoring against the stomach, or the sternum, or the forearm, or the chin.

For more information, the interested person can go to www.usga.org and look for the Latest News box and find (USGA, R&A Adopt Rule 14-1b). Good luck. And oh yes, don't worry about the yips. Just ask your golf professional for a lesson.

Sports Editor Brett Marshall can be emailed at bmarshall@gctelegram.com

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