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Belly Putters: The Long and Short of It

Mar. 27, 2012     By     Comments (10)

Do long/belly putters really give players an advantage?

The Numbers Game2011 was quite an interesting year for golf; sure we didn't see Tiger return to form (signs are pointing to that occurring this year), but there were a number of things happening that kept golf fans entertained. We were treated to three different number ones in the world in Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, and Luke Donald and saw four first-time major winners (Schwartzel, McIlroy, Clarke, and Bradley), which is something that we haven't seen since 2003.

One of the biggest trends that picked up in 2011 was many players moving towards long or belly putters. It had always seemed like the long putter was for old guys or those that got the yips but the idea has become more popular as of late. Recently we have seen Adam Scott put the broomstick in the bag and the move gained even more steam with Keegan Bradley being the first to win a major with a long putter as he captured the PGA Championship in August. Three straight wins and the steady play of other long putter users such as Webb Simpson (who contended for the money title) only added to the intrigue.

Regardless of your feelings on whether or not long putters should be legal, they are here for now and more and more players, both amateurs and professionals, are putting them in their bags. The question is this: are long putters just a fad and something to be forgotten in a few years or are they the real deal? Do they actually help the players using them sink more putts or is just between the ears? We'll look at some stats from the PGA tour to see if 1) players using the long putter putt better than those with standard length putters and 2) if players who have made the switch improved upon their own putting regardless of where they ranked before.

Long vs. Standard: Is One Sinking More Putts?
Looking at various statistics from the PGA Tour, there is little evidence to suggest that putting a belly putter or broom stick in the bag will catapult you to the top of the field when it comes to performance on the green.

Overall Putting Average

RANK  PLAYER            ROUNDS    AVG    # OF PUTTS    # OF HOLES
----  ------            ------    ---    ----------    ----------
1     Y.E. Yang           18     1.521      438            288
2     Retief Goosen       13     1.523      329            216
3     Greg Chalmers       26     1.524      686            450
4     Rory McIlroy        14     1.535      221            144
5     Jonas Blixt         21     1.542      583            378
T6    Jason Day           14     1.546      334            216
T6    Brandt Snedeker     27     1.546      668            432
8     Jeff Overton        25     1.547      696            450
9     Phil Mickelson      22     1.548      613            396
10    Chris DiMarco       25     1.551      698            450
(Stats from PGATour.com, Y-T-D Stats trough Transitions Championship)

Three Putt Avoidance

RANK  PLAYER            ROUNDS    %    TOTAL 3 PUTTS    TOTAL HOLES
----  ------            ------   ---   -------------    -----------
1     Fredrik Jacobson    13    0.93         2             216
2     Paul Goydos         16    1.04         3             288
3     Matt Kuchar         24    1.11         4             360
4     Brian Gay           24    1.16         5             432
5     Jim Furyk           15    1.19         3             252
6     Greg Chalmers       26    1.33         6             450
T7    Luke Donald         13    1.39         3             216
T7    Bob Estes           16    1.39         4             288
T7    Sergio Garcia       13    1.39         3             216
T7    Brian Harman        24    1.39         6             432
T7    Spencer Levin       32    1.39         8             576
T7    Hunter Mahan        22    1.39         4             288
(Stats from PGATour.com, Y-T-D Stats trough Transitions Championship)

Looking at the PGA Tour's Overall Putting Average, the top two are using belly putters and with the rest using standard length. Late last year, Mickleson had experimented with a belly putter but has since returned to the standard length.

The Three Putt Avoidance stat shows much of the same. Of the twelve players listed, only Kuchar and Levin use the longer putter. Jim Furyk has also used one in the past but beyond that all of these guys are using standard length putters.

Obviously these are just a couple of the many putting stats available, but really they all look this way with one or two guys in the top ten using a long putter and the rest using a short putter. This really shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody though, as you must remember that the vast majority of the players on tour are still using a standard length putter. Even at the Tour Championship last year where a whopping 20% of the field was using a long putter, 80% still were using standard putters. So while that was a huge increase over the previous use, there just are not enough players using them for them to really dominate the stat charts.

Another thing that must be remembered when looking at these statistics is that they are dependent on other factors not relating to the putter. To some point, even something like driving distance will effect these stats because the guys driving it longer will have shorter irons into greens which often time will lead to shorter putts. Obviously guys who have the shortest putts will have an advantage sinking putts.

Really though, as I said above this shouldn't be a shocker. I think that most of us know that putting a long putter in the bag isn't going to make one a putting god, but the question still remains, does it help improve one's putting at all? For that, we'll take a look at a few individuals who have made the switch and see if their putting has improved.

Adam Scott
Perhaps no other golfer has served as figure head for the popularity of the long putter more than Adam Scott. Since Scott broke onto the pro scene there hasn't been a golfer with more potential in many people's opinion, yet he has never been able to win when it mattered the most - at the majors. In an effort to change that, he started toying around with the long putter to see if it would lead to better putting for him, because according to him his putting from 10 feet and in was horrible. So let's take a look at Scott's putting over the last four years and see if he really improved.

Distance    2012     2011     2010     2009
--------    ----     ----     ----     ----
Inside 5   94.64%    94.5%    93.75%   94.71%
5-10'      54.8%     59.11%   46.55%   47.67%
10-15'     33.33%    24.35%   25.68%   23.01%
15-20'     33.33%    21.05%   22.77%   13.43%
20-25'     20.00%    10.53%   17.11%   12.5%
> 25'       2.94%     5.85%    6.28%    5.97%
(Stats gathered from PGATour.com)

Looking at the numbers, he has always been pretty consistent from inside of 5 feet. Of the four years sampled, his best was with a short putter in 2009, but not by much, and his worst was also before the broomstick. From 5-10' feet however, there has been a noticible improvement for him. To this point this year he has made nearly 55% of putts in the 5-10' range and he was even better in his first year with the long putter at nearly 60%. This is up about 14% from 2010, and if stats from the Tour tell us anything its that there is not much separation between the best on tour and those further down the list so a 14% increase is huge. As he gets further from the hole, things tend to level out a bit more. So far he has made more putts this year from the 15-20' range and the 20-25' range but that just may be because of the number of opportunities he's had to date this year. Looking at 2011 (the first full year with the long putter) he made significantly less putts from 20-25' than he had the year before. That gels with the general thought that long putter help with the shorter putts but longer and lag putting becomes more difficult.

Robert Garrigus
Garrigus is another player that has made the switch to the long side, although for him the switch is even more extreme. His old putter, which he nicknamed "Mini-Me" was only 28 inches long. However, starting at the Humana Challenge this year he started using a long putter (46 inches) which he has named "Dr. Evil." Here are his stats from this year and last.

Distance    2012     2011     2010     2009
--------    ----     ----     ----     ----
Inside 5'   93.59%   95.06%   96.3%    95.89%
5-10'       47.5%    53.73%   56.63%   56.54%
10-15'      30.0%    28.35%   26.6%    24.89%
15-20'      11.43%   17.69%   19.01%   11.76%
20-25'       6.67%   12.36%   12.68%   11.58%
> 25'       12.16%    6.42%    5.2%     6.54%
(Stats gathered from PGATour.com)

So far he actually hasn't performed quite as well with "Dr. Evil," as he is making fewer putts from every range with the exception of those in the 10-15 foot range (only a slight increase) and those greater than 25 feet. Just this last week he missed a relatively short putt in the first playoff hole to lose the Transitions Championship to Luke Donald.

Conclusion
The bottom line is that the statistics don't really show one way or another if long putters really give an advantage to those that use them. There are a few players scattered about in the top ten in various putting stats but it's hard to say that many of them wouldn't be there if they used a standard length putter. Adam Scott has improved slightly using one, and so far this year Garrigus really hasn't. I think one thing that both Garrigus and Scott have gained is confidence with their flat stick. No matter what the stats say, if confidence is lost in a club then it may be time for a change. Scott felt like he wasn't performing up to his abilities with the short stick and making the change has helped his game and even if Garrigus' putting stats have declined he is at least playing well enough to get into playoffs.

My feeling on the long putters is pretty simple… if you play better with one or feel more confident, then you should go with it. Questions have been posed on this forum about whether or not they should be banned and while I think I would support a ban of some sort, until it happens they are legal to use, and if it's legal and it helps then go with it. Just know that the numbers don't show that you'll actually improve.

Discussion

  1. Old1964 says:

    Having congentital back problems I finally made the change to a broomstick putter toward the end of last season. It allows me to have longer practice sessions than previously. Generally, I don't think anchoring the putter gives an advantage regardless of the length of the shaft. Though I do make more putts over 10 feet, the longer shaft makes 20-30 foot putts more difficult.

    Thanks for the article.

  2. Back issues are one of the most common reasons that the switch is made to a long putter, and in my opinion is one reason that you may not see a ban on them as many older golfers move towards them.

    Also, not surprise about you missing the longer putts. As I had mentioned in the article, many tend to get better on the medium range and short putts, but lag putting seems to suffer with the longer putters as there isn't so much touch involved.

  3. scottyjoe145 says:

    Most people think the PGA shouldnt take the "belly putter" away, as if it has been used and won with too many times to remove them now. Didnt they just outlaw a particular groove due to the additional spin it generated?? They could remove them if they wanted. Trust me, if the stats showed it tremendously improved your putting, they would be outlawed tomorrow. I think the statistics above give evidence to why the PGA allows the use to continue.

  4. For me, the belly putter helped me tremendously in my win on Tour. The length helps keep your hands steady (especially in pressure situations). I have seen a big increase in putts made from putts made from 18-25 feet because of the "feel" I get from the putter. If anyone is on the edge of using a "regular" or long putter, go with the bely putter. It will help your speed control and help you from getting the "yips".

    God Bless

  5. Jmdmbike says:

    Frankly, not sure what all the fuss is about. People who prefer the long putter, for whatever reason, should be able to use them. If they keep people playing the game because they feel more confident with it, or it helps take pressure off of a sore back, or any other reason, it doesn't matter in my mind. As long as people keep playing and enjoying the game.

  6. The fuss about them is that many (myself included) feel that anchoring club to yourself is not the way that golf was meant to be played... it's not really swinging the club in the traditional sense and that doesn't sit well with some. It doesn't bother me as much as some, but still, I see their point. You may remember that at one time coquet style putting was allowed but that has since changed for pretty much that reason, it's not the way golf was meant to be played.

  7. griecke says:

    I always hear the comment "It's not the way golf was meant to be played" I want to know who made that decision? Just because old Tom didn't have a long putter doesn't mean he maybe wouldn't have used one if he did. WHO is making the decisions about how the game was meant to be played? You might have an opinion about that rule but to speculate on the meaning is vague and leads me to believe you don't have any solid reason.

    It's kind of like the cabinet maker who says the people today who use modern tools are not really woodworkers. BS you can bet your sweet bippy that Stradivarius would have used an electric sander if he had one. My speculation is old Tom would have used a long putter if he had not cut the shaft so short.

  8. WUTiger says:

    About 10 years ago I spent a week playing around with a belly putter. I got strange outcomes. For 20- to 50-foot putts I got excellent results, often to about two feet of the cup. But inside 20 feet, nothing much happened. Between practicing and playing, the longest putt I ever sank was 8 feet. And, 5-footers sank at about 50%.

    Can't remember what brand and model the putter was, but I just couldn't get much feel on shorter putts. If some people out there can find bliss with the longer putters, more power to them. I sure couldn't. And, I suspect that those who master the belly or superlong putter stroke might find a way around "yip" hand tremors common in over-age-50 golfers.

    One pro suggested I go with a belly putter outside 20 feet, and my standard putter for inside 20 feet.

    Come on people. It's not like we're expanding the size of the cup to 8 inches in diameter (side-to-side). If you want a belly or a super-long, go with it. I sure don't want one.

  9. Jeff Gibson says:

    I have experimented with the long putters and found the consistancy outside 20ft would improve dramatically. Short putting posed a slight challenge at first - but consistent drills breeds confidence! My daughter plays for a D1 school and uses a hand made long putter (we stuck a shaft into the other shaft essentially) and reports that she is seeing more and more long putter in the college rankings as well.

    She claims she could never switch back now - she loves it. And her putting stats back that up.

  1. [... 2011 was quite an interesting year for golf; sure we didn't see Tiger return to form (signs are pointing to that occurring this year), but there were a number of ...]

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