A friend switched to a long putter about six months ago. We played recently, and whenever he rolled home a nice putt -- which was several times -- he looked up, smiled sheepishly and said, "It's cheating."
Not exactly a snappy promotional pitch.
Belly putters and long putters seem increasingly popular, even if they're anchored to the belly or chest of reluctant players. If anything, these strange-looking wands will become only more fashionable (unfortunately) in the wake of Keegan Bradley's dramatic victory recently at the PGA Championship.
Bradley used a belly putter to rally down the stretch and dispatch Jason Dufner in their three-hole playoff. Bradley thus became the first player to win a major with a longer-than-usual, nontraditional putter anchored to his midsection.
This stretches beyond Bradley. Adam Scott used an extraordinarily long putter -- it was comical watching caddie Steve Williams hand the thing to Scott -- to win the Bridgestone Invitational and contend at the PGA. Jim Furyk went to a belly putter a few weeks ago and suddenly surfaced on the PGA leaderboard. Webb Simpson used it to win Sunday win at The Wyndham Championship.
To say these putters look out of place in the hands of tour pros is like suggesting Tiger Woods struggled a bit at the PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club. It simply seems wrong for putters to rise above the belt buckle -- or, in Scott's case, to rest against his chest.
This isn't only about appearances. There's an unmistakable advantage for a player who leans the club against his body.
"I don't think it's a level playing field when guys have a putter anchored to them," my friend said. "You still have to make the putts, but the biggest thing in this game is nerves. ... The putter is anchored, and it eliminates the yips."
It's a thorny issue sure to generate lively debate and mixed feelings (even here). And this isn't meant to diminish Bradley's win; he showed admirable moxie in the final three holes of regulation and the playoff.
At the same time, neither Bradley nor Scott offered a convincing defense of the long putter. Bradley, who has used his belly version for more than two years, essentially acknowledged it keeps him calm.
"I think it's an easier way to putt," he said, "especially when there are some nerves. It's just very, very comfortable for me."
Asked his response to those who say long putters should be banned, Scott smiled and said, "I probably was one of those people. But it's not (banned), so I don't really worry about it. It's within the rules at the moment, and I'm very happy about that."
He's not alone. Players using long putters have won six times on the PGA Tour this year: Bradley twice, Scott, Simpson, Martin Laird and Brendan Steele. Bradley said it was common, last year on the Nationwide Tour, for the two other players in his group to also wield long putters.
They reduce the role of the hands in the putting stroke, with the top of the club usually anchored to the belly or chest. This creates a pendulum motion and, by most accounts, minimizes the impact of stress and nerves.
They're obviously not for everyone, or even more tour pros would convert. There's a vanity factor -- not long ago, players under age 60 would have been laughed off the practice green for using a long putter. They still might hear some snickers, but they also don't seem to care.
Stanford coach Conrad Ray used a long putter, and he convinced some Cardinal players -- including Zack Miller (now a PGA Tour rookie) and David Chung -- to put one in their bag.
"I personally think it's a better way to putt, if you can figure it out," Ray said. "It's just a simpler motion. ... When I was growing up, carrying a 5-wood instead of a 1-iron was wimpy. Now these guys just want to shoot the lowest scores they can."