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Ruling to outlaw lengthy putters expected today

Putter going belly up

Ernie Els putts for par on the sixth green during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge on March 25 in Orlando, Fla.
Ernie Els putts for par on the sixth green during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge on March 25 in Orlando, Fla.

The long, anchored putter likely goes on golf's endangered species list today.

Golf's rulesmakers have scheduled a morning teleconference in which the U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient Golf Club are expected to restrict the practice of anchoring a club to a part of the body other than the hands.

It's a practice that goes back nearly a century, but was considered a novelty until players began regularly winning tournaments – and majors – with a longer wand they stuck into their belly or chest.

Three of the past five major winners, including Hall of Famer Ernie Els and fellow Jupiter pro Keegan Bradley, are belly-putter practitioners. So is Guan Tianlang, the 14-year-old whiz who claimed a Masters berth by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur earlier this month.

"I think it's helping them to putt," said Orlando's Chris DiMarco, a veteran of 18 PGA Tour seasons. "Almost everybody I talk to says it's like cheating."

Adam Scott, No.5 in the world rankings, and former Players Championship winner Tim Clark use a longer "broomstick" putter that they line up on their chest. Current Players titleholder Matt Kuchar, a former Seminole High star, uses a version that extends up his forearm.

"We're seeing now people who can putt perfectly well in the conventional way thinking that an anchored stroke gives them an advantage," R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said the morning after Els captured the British Open at Royal Lytham.

USGA chief Mike Davis visited a handful of PGA Tour sites this fall to discuss the issue.

Any change isn't likely to take effect until 2016, when golf's rule book next gets its quadrennial review. A pre-emptive announcement gives current practitioners 3 years to adopt a conventional stroke.

It also may need that long to fend off possible court challenges. Bradley, for one, has hinted at taking legal action.

"I'm going to do whatever I have to do to protect myself and the other players on tour," the 2011 PGA Championship winner told Golfweek last month. "I don't look at it as much about myself. I think that for them to ban this after we've done what we've done is unbelievable."

Els, too, has suggested rulesmakers will "have a couple of legal matters" to deal with before a ban can go into the books.

A move to ban long putters fell short in 1989 when the USGA approved their use. Former U.S. Open champion Orville Moody, who had just won the U.S. Senior Open with a broomstick model, threatened legal action if a ban was enacted.

This time, a restriction would not be placed on long putters but the way they're employed. For many, anchoring the shaft against their body has produced a steadier stroke.

Hall of Famer Leo Diegel, a superb ballstriker in the 1920s but often betrayed by a balky putting stroke, experimented with various techniques until settling on a strange-looking one in which he bent over nearly 90 degrees at the waist, stuck the putter shaft into his chest and putted with elbows sticking straight out.

"Diegeling" never caught on, and longer putters didn't really enter the game until the 1980s when a handful of senior players began using the broomstick. As recently as a decade ago, long putters were considered weapons for the desperate or those with bad backs.

Recent years, though, have seen a boom in usage. Els switched grudgingly last year, and Phil Mickelson went to a belly version for a brief time. Bradley and U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson were belly practitioners before they turned pro.

"There's a whole generation of kids right now that are growing up playing golf, never using a short putter," said reigning FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker, user of a traditional model and considered perhaps the game's best putter.

But Rocco Mediate, whose 1991 Doral-Ryder Open victory was the PGA Tour's first with a broomstick model, calls the outcry "overdone."

"It doesn't make you better," said Mediate, who went back to a short model years ago. "If it was the way to go, 144 guys would use it. … And even guys that do use it don't make every putt – because if they did, I'd be using one."

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