With long putters of one variation or another dropping the winning shots in three of the last four major championships, Ernie Els and his fellow wielders of the belly bats have put their weapons of choice directly in the line of fire once again. And with Els and runner-up Adam Scott each anchoring his big stick in such dramatic fashion in Sunday’s British Open finale, the simmering muttering about banning the offending sticks is sure, as it has after each big victory that stars the dreaded invention, to become a deafening roar.
"The situation is that the R&A and the USGA do have this subject firmly back on the radar," Peter Dawson, chief executive of the Royal & Ancient, told reporters the day after Els jammed in a 15-foot birdie putt for a one-shot victory over Scott at Royal Lytham. “I think you're going to see us saying something about it one way or the other in a few months rather than years.”
Even Els, who took up the long putter in a desperate attempt to save his career, believes the powers-that-be should outlaw his flat stick and those of reigning PGA and U.S. Open champs Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson -- not to mention a slew of other PGA Tour players like 2010 PGA Tour money leader Matt Kuchar and last year’s FedEx Cup winner Bill Haas. Indeed, Els believes it’s cheating to shove a putter in your gut or under your chin, but noted that as long as it was allowed, he was going to join the crowd.
“As long as it’s legal,” Els said last year, “I’ll keep cheating like the rest of them.”
Two-time Open Championship winner Padraig Harrington was the latest tour pro to join Tiger Woods and others as a firm opponent of the lengthy baton.
"If somebody invented the belly putter tomorrow, it would not pass, I think we could all agree with that," Harrington told reporters after finishing the Open at 5-over par -- 12 shots behind Els. "The only reason it got through is the people that used it 20 years ago were coming to the end of their careers ... . People would have been sympathetic and didn't want to finish [two-time Masters champion] Bernhard Langer's career by telling him you can't hold it like this, you can’t attach it to your arm.”
While defenders of the elongated wands could point to Scott’s failure to launch effective putts down the stretch -- as well as Els’ twitchy attempts on the greens earlier this year at the Transitions Championship and Zurich Classic (Kuchar even said he “made a real good case of no reason to outlaw the belly putter” after suffering the worst loss ever in Match Play Championship quarterfinals in February) -- as proof that the elongated wands are only as effective as the players who control them, Harrington was not deterred.
"If the standard of putting goes up, it puts more pressure on the guys that aren't using one just to compete,” Harrington said. “So all of a sudden it's hard for a normal putter -- is he doing the right thing, should he be using the long putter? So it actually has a negative effect on others as much as a positive effect on some."
Woods, by the way, has lobbied the USGA to do something about the long putters -- perhaps by legislating their length.
Dawson noted that the debate had switched from one focused on gear to a discussion about rules, which would delay any changes from taking effect until the next Rules of Golf revision in 2016. He also made it clear that golf’s governing bodies had taken no stand yet, one way or the other.
"This decision has not been taken," he said. "Please don't think that it has."