Sunshine Tour pros weigh in on long putter debate

The debate about the legality of long or belly putters is not only raging amongst global golf’s governing bodies, but also on the local Sunshine Tour.

With three of the past five Major winners using long or belly putters, the Royal & Ancient and the United States Golf Association are said to be closer than ever to agreeing on a final way forward in terms of possibly banning these putters.

But until then, a number of professionals are taking the approach that there’s no harm in using one.

Zimbabwean professional Mark Williams has used a long putter for the first time in his career during this week’s Vodacom Origins of Golf tournament at Selborne Park Golf Club, and in Thursday’s second round he signed for an eight-under-par 64 to place him two strokes off the clubhouse lead held by Doug McGuigan.

“This is my first week with the long putter in the bag, and it has its pros and cons,” said Williams. “It definitely helps on putts from inside 10 feet. I’ve been struggling with that distance. Those are the ones for birdie or to save par. I feel you do give a little away on the longer putts. It’s tougher to judge the pace. But it’s working for me, and it’s giving me an advantage at the moment.”

Williams never considered himself a bad putter, but he longed for more consistency in this area of his game.

“I’ve always been a streaky putter and I needed a change mentally. It makes a big difference when you come out and there are no bad memories and you don’t have the jitters over a certain distance. It’s all fresh and new.”

But there is a very definite difference of opinion between professionals who use the long or belly putter, and those who don’t.

McGuigan’s rounds of 68 and 66 for the lead this week have been achieved with the traditional short putter. And he believes that’s the way it should stay in this game.

“I don’t believe in them (long or belly putters). Putting is about nerves, and the long putter helps with nerves because the anchoring makes for less moving parts during the putt. When you’re nervous under the gun, you really feel it in your forearms and your hands. But that’s part of the game. The long putter or anchoring takes this out of the game. I always say that at the highest level, if you can’t run the 100 metres in under 10 seconds, they don’t let you start at the 90-metre mark.”

Williams warns that for those who have never used a long putter before, it’s not as simple as throwing a long putter in your bag and becoming a great putter.

“I spent three weeks working with it before this tournament. It takes more time working on my set-up over putts – you have to get things right there. The one nice thing is I don’t really have to think about my stroke.”

And he’s also doing his best not to see the long putter as some magic wand on the greens.

“My expectations were low this week with the long putter because I was using it for the first time. I didn’t expect to putt great and just came out on trial basis. I think as long as I can keep my expectations low and not expect to make everything, I’ll keep putting well.”

Adilson da Silva, currently second in this tournament on nine under, is ambivalent about the issue.

“I think it’s a mental thing. You see the guys holing putts from everywhere with these long putters, and maybe those who don’t agree with it are a bit jealous and wish they could be holing putts like that. But at the end of the day you still have to sink the putt, no matter what putter you use.

“To be honest, I was on the brink of switching to a long putter. A couple of months ago I just couldn’t hole anything. I was hitting the ball so well, and it was devastating. I’ve worked hard on it and it looks like I’ve got something back again. But it was hard.”

By Michael Vlismas

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