Not all that long ago, the only professionals you saw playing belly putters were older players who were battling the yips and a few players on the Champions Tour (the professional tour for men 50 and older). All of that has changed over the last few years. Now, they are taking the PGA Tour by storm, and several women on the LPGA Tour are using them too. Some of the world's top professionals - Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Webb Simpson, Fred Couples, Vijay Singh, Bernhard Langer, Keegan Bradley, Michelle Wie, Tom Lehman and Adam Scott, for example - have all used them (or even longer chest putters) in professional events. In fact, Adam Scott claims his long putter has essentially rescued his career, which was showing signs of faltering due to his noticeable putting woes.
If you've never tried one of the many models that are now available, you might be wondering why they're surging in popularity among professional players. I admit to being a bit perplexed about them myself. Can these things really help your putting? I've always thought of myself as a bit of a purist and prefer standard-length putters, but I decided to try to find out what all the fuss is about.
This type of putters used to be just about the exclusive domain of older players and those who, for one reason or another, just couldn't putt worth a hoot. Until very recently, almost everyone thought they were basically for golfers who were running out of options to try to improve their putting. After all, Bernhard Langer used one to cure his putting yips ... again. Adopting the belly putter seems to have played an important role in Langer's great success on the Champions Tour, and he continues to use a long putter even today.
But younger players - players in the prime of their careers - are now picking them up too. No one could claim these younger players are has-beens, but they're swearing by their belly putters. The 2011 PGA Championship claimed by Keegan Bradley (who was 25 years old at the time) was the first major to be won with one. Michelle Wie began using one when she was 21. And Adam Scott's success with a belly putter is perhaps second only to Bernhard Langer's. Scott came in second at the 2011 Master's and won the 2011 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational with his belly putter at the age of 31.
No less than putting luminary Ben Crenshaw - one of golf's all-time masters of the flat stick - has tried one to see what's going on. Apparently so many tour players were having success with these putters that Crenshaw decided he wanted to learn how they work and how he can teach his students to use them more effectively. He sums up his impressions by saying he "found it very simple to use." He goes on to say "if somebody is not a good putter, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to them ... as long as it's legal."
The putters are, however, the subject of some fairly heated belly putter controversy.
Long putters such as belly putters and chest putters have been around for at least 25 or 30 years now. Over that time period they've shown that they're able to help at least some golfers. The end of the shaft is anchored against the player's belly, and some people believe this anchoring provides an unfair advantage because the putting stroke is so different than with a standard-length putter. With one end of the club resting against your abdomen, your wrists are taken out of the equation and the putting stroke becomes much more stable and accurate. Stockton agrees that they are effective, and he acknowledges that they're permitted under the Rules of Golf (currently, anyway), but he doesn't understand why they haven't already been banned.
Fortunately for those who use them, it looks like the USGA and the R & A - golf's two main ruling bodies - will continue to allow them to be used by professional and recreational golfers, at least for a while. After all, there's no guarantee that someone using a belly putter will hole every putt: you still need to read your putts correctly, start the ball on the right line and send it on its way with the proper speed.