Webb Simpson may be practicing with a short putter, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. Open champion -- a proud member of the Belly Brigade -- agreed that regulators should add his flat stick to the endangered species list.
"Do I think they should be banned? No, and here's why," Simpson, who arrived at Kiawah Island armed with facts and figures, told reporters Wednesday on the eve of this week’s PGA Championship. "You take a wooden driver compared to [today’s] 460-cc titanium, and to me that's a lot bigger difference than a 35-inch putter to a 45-inch putter.
"Last year ... nobody in the top 20 [of the tour’s primary putting statistical category] used a belly putter or a long putter,” Simpson added. “If anybody says it's an advantage, I think you've got to look at the stats and the facts."
In the wake of three of the past four major championships going to players wielding the big bats (Keegan Bradley, 2011 PGA; Simpson, 2012 U.S. Open; and Ernie Els, 2012 British Open), golf’s governing bodies are expected to determine by the end of the year the fate of anchoring clubs to golfers’ mid-sections or chests. Those who favor a prohibition -- including long-putter practitioner Els and 2010 U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell -- say that golfers who fasten putters to their bodies have unfair advantages over those maneuvering shorter blades with just their hands.
Indeed, Els said last year that the use of clubs such as his White Hot XG #1 Belly Putter should be outlawed. But, he was quick to add, “As long as it’s legal, I’ll keep cheating like the rest of them.”
McDowell, who believes a belly ban is in the offing, waffled a bit on Wednesday about whether or not long putters offered players an edge.
“If [affixing the putter to a part of your body] was so easy, everyone would be using one, you know,” said McDowell, who eventually came down on the side of traditionalists. “Putting is such a big part of the game that, you know, let's level the playing field again. Let's get everyone with a short putter back in the bag as the game is meant to be played.”
Simpson conceded he had been tinkering with two traditional Scotty Cameron putters over the past month -- just in case -- but he would beg to differ with McDowell’s assessment. He pointed to the strokes-gained putting rankings as proof that he and his bellied brethren gained no particular benefit from their elongated wands. In fact, he said, none of the tour’s 20 best on the greens last year employed a putter that would make purists want to gag.
"To me, to change something that big and cost manufacturers millions of dollars, you've got to have some pretty good facts," Simpson said. "I think just because some of us are winning majors or winning tournaments with the belly putter, I don't think that's a good reason to say, 'Hey, we're going to take them away.’”
Simpson stopped short of Bradley’s pronouncement that he would not be afraid to switch to a miniature version of his Odyssey White Hot XB Sabertooth. He allowed, however, that he was playing around with a standard-length putter to prepare for what many believe to be the inevitable.
“My theory is that I’m going to be ready for it,” Simpson said. “I don't want to be surprised by it. I'm almost kind of telling myself to expect it, and we'll see what happens.”
Should the powers-that-be outlaw his Ping Craz-E long putter, Simpson acknowledged that a change would not be such a drastic step.
“I think all players through the years learn how to adapt to certain situations, whether it's conditions of the weather or who you're playing well,” he said. “I'll just have to learn, relearn, how to use a short putter."
Whatever the USGA and Royal & Ancient decide, conventional wisdom has it that the arbiters would not implement any new rules affecting how a player employs a golf club until 2016. That should give Simpson and Scotty Cameron plenty of time to get to know each other.