Ernie Els hopes rulemakers rethink belly putter ban

Ernie Els: Uses anchored putter. Picture: Jane Barlow
Ernie Els: Uses anchored putter. Picture: Jane Barlow
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WITH only a few weeks left before a decision on long putters, Open champion Ernie Els hopes that golf’s rulemakers change their minds.

The US Golf Association and Royal & Ancient Golf Club have proposed a new rule that would outlaw a stroke in which the club is anchored to the body. Els used a belly putter when he won last summer at Royal Lytham & St Annes, becoming the third winner in the last five majors to use a belly putter.

“Hopefully, they don’t ban it,” Els said at the Northern Trust Open. “There’s no data that 
really confirms that they have to ban it. If there were 90 per cent of the guys using it, or if the guys using it were top of the putting ranks, guys making more putts from 20 feet, more putts from four feet. . . give me something to go by to really make me believe that you have to ban it. But I can’t see them having a really great way of explaining to me why they would want to ban it.”

The topic is so sensitive that the governing bodies allowed for a 90-day comment period on the proposed rule. That period is over at the end of the month.

The PGA Tour hasn’t said whether it would go along with the rule, which would become effective in 2016. When they announced the proposed rule on 28 November, USGA executive director Mike Davis and R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said there was no empirical data to suggest a long putter made golf easier. They said the ban wasn’t related to performance, rather defining what a golf stroke should be – swung freely, away from the body. Their 
research showed a spike among PGA Tour events of players using a belly putter or broom-handled putter that is anchored to the chest, with as many as 25 percent of the players using the long putters in some tournaments.

Els believes his win at the Open, just a month after Webb Simpson won the US Open with a belly putter, was a huge influence on the proposed rule. 
“Before Webb Simpson won – you guys correct me if I’m wrong here – but I saw a quote of Mike Davis saying that they don’t see the great benefit. . . that they don’t see that there’s any importance of banning the putter,” Els said. “And then Webb wins, and I win, and then the next thing is they want to ban the putter. So in all honesty, I’m not too sure what their reason is 
behind this whole thing. Because, as I say, there’s a handful of guys using it. It’s helped some careers. Some guys cannot putt another way, so there’s some stuff you have to follow through.”

Keegan Bradley became the first player to win a major with a belly putter at the PGA Championship in 2011. Since changing to a broom-handled putter two years ago, Adam Scott has been runner-up in two majors, won a World Golf Championship and returned to the top ten in the world. “I don’t think it’s the best decision to make,” said Scott.