October 2011: Tips From a Pro - Extra Long, Belly & Regular Putters: Which One Is Right For You?
Author: Pete Popovich
This year, more than at any time in the modern era, long putters (meaning extra-long “broomsticks” and belly putters) have become the topic of discussion on the PGA Tour. What was once considered an anomaly and a last attempt to solve putting issues before giving up the game entirely has become the latest craze. This month, we will take a look at 1) why and how these putters can improve a golfer’s putting, 2) the difference between these putters and conventional putters, and 3) what you must know if you are going to use a long putter.
HOW NOT TO USE THE REGULAR PUTTER
Extra-long and belly putters very often allow the putting stroke to be more technically sound. What this means is that the mechanics of the stroke are more readily repeatable. For instance, one of the common denominators all great putters possess, regardless of putter type, is that the putter’s extreme butt end, or grip cap, points at the same point on the golfer throughout the stroke, (call it a fulcrum point if you will.) The putter’s entire shaft may swing laterally through the stroke, but if you were to draw a line from the putter’s head up the shaft to the extreme end of the grip then extend it approximately one foot, (the distance between the grip cap and golfer’s body), this “line” would point to the same point on the golfer’s body throughout the entire stroke.
Maintaining this kind of consistency is often difficult to accomplish with a conventional length putter. But with the extra-long and belly putter, where the putter is anchored to a fixed point on your body, it is more easily done. This might not seem like a big deal to the average golfer, but consider that the hole is only 4.25 inches, and if you are off .25 inches from 15 feet, it could make the difference in missing or holing out.
Contrary to popular opinion, the putting stroke, when using a conventional putter, is not a pure pendulum stroke. How can it be when you have two points (your arms) guiding the putter? A pure pendulum is when an object swings from one fixed point, which is closer to what happens when using an extra-long or belly putter. I say “closer to what happens,” because, again, you are moving the putter between two fixed points (your arms), but at least the putter is anchored to one fixed point.
In addition to the single fixed-point advantage, the second reason extra-long and belly putters allow most golfers to improve their putting is the way they allow the golfer to set up. The extra-long putter is most notable for this, and there is no better example of it than Adam Scott, who has seen a tremendous improvement in his putting since switching to the extra-long putter. However, what no one has mentioned regarding Adam’s improved putting is the effect of his improved head and eye position and not merely a difference in his stroke. Let me explain.
The extra-long putter forces the golfer to stand more erect. Due to a more erect posture, the golfer is forced to look more directly down upon the ball. When looking down this way, the head and neck are placed very near parallel to the ground. This, in turn, allows the eye plane and head plane to be in unison. When most golfers use a conventional length putter, their eye plane and head plane do not coincide. When this happens, the golfer’s perception of the hole location, looking from the ball, is distorted; if the golfer’s perception of hole location is distorted, the chances of making the putt become significantly reduced.
As with every other club in your bag, the putter must be fit to your specific individual needs. This is especially true of the longer putters and most especially applies to overall length. If the longer putter is not the proper length, it will cause numerous problems, negating all the potential advantages. For example, if you are having back trouble and are unable to practice with a conventional length putter for extended periods of time, the extra-long putter is a wonderful alternative. But, if you do not know how long to make the putter, your set up will suffer and disallow you to swing the putter effectively. Not only will your mechanics suffer, but so will your head/eye position. With all of these things being out of position, your putting could actually get worse! The same is true for the belly putter. (The most noticeable result an improperly fit belly putter will cause is distance control. If a belly putter is not fitted correctly, distance control will suffer to a great degree.)
Switching from a normal putter to an extra-long or belly putter could greatly improve your putting. However, it is important to remember, just as in the rest of your golf game, if you do not have the instrument tuned specifically to you, it will serve no purpose and could actually hurt your game.
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