Long putter issue firmly on radar, says R&A

LYTHAM ST ANNES, England Mon Jul 23, 2012 5:48am EDT

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LYTHAM ST ANNES, England (Reuters) - Some players do not like the advantage fellow competitors gain by anchoring a longer putter into their chest or stomach and officials will discuss the issue in months rather than years, Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson said on Monday.

The British Open ended on Sunday and winner Ernie Els and runner-up Adam Scott both wielded belly putters.

"The situation is that the R&A and the USGA do have this subject firmly back on the radar," Dawson told a news conference after Els's one-shot victory over Australian Scott.

"I think you're going to see us saying something about it one way or the other in a few months rather than years," added Dawson.

Els, a four-times major winner and widely respected promoter of the game, said last year he felt using a longer putter was cheating but that if they were allowed then why not take advantage.

Of the last four major tournaments, three have been won by players using such equipment.

American Keegan Bradley carried one for his U.S. PGA Championship victory in August as did compatriot Webb Simpson at last month's U.S. Open.

Dawson said he was fully aware of complaints that the long putters were unfair.

"The objections at professional level are all about if people become failed putters in the conventional way, why should they have a crutch to come back and compete against me when I haven't failed in the conventional way," he said.

"That's the general argument one hears. But we're also seeing now people who can putt perfectly well in the conventional way thinking that an anchored stroke gives them an advantage."

Ireland's Padraig Harrington, a three-times major winner, slammed their use after the final round of the Open.

"If somebody invented the belly putter tomorrow, it would not pass. I think we could all agree with that," Harrington told reporters.

"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 Bernhard Langer's career by telling him you can't hold it like this," he said in reference to the German twice Masters winner.

PUTTING SUFFERED

Langer's putting suffered when he developed a twitch while over the ball and he switched to longer putters in 1997, after his major triumphs in 1985 and 1993.

"They didn't want to say, oh, that's it, you can't play anymore. That's why it got by," added Harrington, a brilliant putter with the more conventional shorter blade who even experimented with a longer one in practice at Lytham.

"If the standard of putting goes up it puts more pressure on the guys that aren't using one just to compete. 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."

Championship chairman Jim McArthur said he thought there were 27 long putters and 16 belly putters in the Open field of 156 last week, suggesting their use is hardly rife.

Dawson added that Els's victory was in no way undermined by the South African's use of a longer putting blade.

"The Championship is conducted under the rules of play at the time and it doesn't detract in any way from the winner as long as he obeys the rules of play at the time," Dawson said.

"Bobby Jones used concave‑faced clubs for some of his major championships. They were outlawed later. Bobby Jones's victories are in no way demeaned as a result of that."

American Jones won the first Open at Lytham in 1926 and in 1930 became the only player to win all four majors in a calendar year.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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