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Last month, during the week of Pebble Beach, the USGA and the R&A announced that they were taking a "fresh look" at implementing an antianchoring rule. Asked for his opinion, Tiger Woods referred to himself as a traditionalist and said he's opposed to belly putters or any club anchored to the body.
I beg to disagree. For more than 20 years I've used a long putter with my left hand resting slightly against my chest. Obviously I would be disappointed if I had to change a fundamental part of my game now.
There are countless nuances that must be taken into consideration to enforce an antianchoring rule. Even if the governing bodies go with Tiger's idea to make the length of the putter equal or less than a player's shortest club, couldn't a player putt with his driver? If a guy wants to putt one-handed, can he rest his free hand on his thigh—which is what Mike Hulbert did for a time—or is that considered anchoring?
I think the USGA missed the boat on this issue 30 years ago. To write a rule that would do away with alternative putters after so many years would simply be wrong. There are a lot of seniors who can't bend over to even practice with a short putter. Do away with the long putter and a lot of people might give up the game.
I actually quit golf for four years until I discovered the long putter. When I got to UCLA I wasn't making anything. I felt miserable on the course. After I graduated, in 1988, I thought I was done with the game and considered that chapter of my life closed.
I went into the golf-apparel business with my father. But everything changed in 1991 after I saw some Champions tour players with long putters on the practice green at my home course. That night I made my own long putter in my garage. I chopped off the top of a grip and broke the head off a three-wood. Then I shoved in the shaft, and it happened to come out to 49 inches. The putterhead was a little light, so I put sand down the shaft. I stuck bubble gum on the end of the shaft so it wouldn't rattle, and then I glued all the pieces together. It took me all of 30 minutes to put the thing together.
The next day I left work early to experiment with my creation. It felt good. I wasn't thinking too much about my stroke. I just stood up and hit it. Golf was fun again. I had a chance to win the 1991 USGA Mid-Amateur, and that's when I believed I could pursue my dream of being a PGA Tour player.
Maybe I could have putted using the claw or a cross-handed grip. There are all kinds of ways to putt, whether it's belly, long, sidesaddle, standard or even one-handed. Who is to say which is the right way?
At a time when we are losing golfers and having a tougher time inspiring kids to pick up the game, the last thing we need to do is make it harder. We need to figure out a way to make golf easier and faster, so more people will stick with it. If using a belly or long putter or a claw grip makes it fun for people, I'm all for it.
I've been disappointed with some of the comments of my fellow Tour players, including Ernie Els, particularly because he has been using a belly putter for about 10 months. Not long ago he was very much against alternative putters. When Trevor Immelman won with a belly putter in 2004, Ernie said, "Nerves and the skill of putting are part of the game. Take a tablet if you can't handle it."