- Rick Reilly, Columnist, ESPN.com
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People have been cheating with putters since before the birth of Mulligan.
In a back room at USGA headquarters, I once found putters with firing pistons, putters with rubber-band faces, putters with mirrors so you can see the ball and the hole at the same time. Putters you plant in the ground and pull back like a pendulum, putters you lay behind, putters that stand up by themselves. Level-bubble putters, rolling-ball putters and drop-the-ball-down-the-rainspout putters. All now banned.
Which is why it's crazy that one of the most flimflam ideas in putting since "good-good?" is still legal -- the long putter.
If there is any sense in the world, that will all end very soon.
The long putter, aka the belly putter, aka the broomstick, aka the cheatstick, makes putting easier because you can anchor the butt end against your chest or your gut. That takes out half the variable in a putting stroke. It's steroids with a leather handle.
Let me ask you: If you could serve in tennis knowing the toss would be at the same spot every time, wouldn't you? If you could shoot at a target range with the pistol bolted down, how much easier would it be? If a tailback could start on track blocks, wouldn't he?
Cheating is cheating, no matter how much Callaway makes on it.
And yet usually sensible humans like Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els are trying to talk the USGA and the Royal and Ancient out of doing the right thing: banning the act of "anchoring" a putter against the body. Those two governing bodies are poised to do that this spring. Meanwhile, the panicky PGA Tour's policy board -- which includes players and commissioner Tim Finchem -- met via conference call Monday to decide whether they'll:
A) go along with the ban, beginning in 2016.
B) ignore the ban, creating holy hell among the heavenly world powers of golf, or;
C) try to jerry-rig some mess that would allow amateurs like you and me to have them and pros like them not to, which is sort of like having separate road rules for cars vs. buses.
From reports of people on that call Monday, it looks like Finchem will be trying to sell C.
"But I'd have a hard time with that," Mickelson says. "If we start to play the game with a completely different set of rules -- using balls that don't go as far, grooves that spin less, and putters that aren't as efficient -- why would people come out and watch us?"
No, all three organizations need to Ban Them or Keep Them, nothing in between.
In the Keep Them crowd: Els, Keegan Bradley, and Webb Simpson -- who've won three of the past five majors using the scamstick -- Bill Haas, who won the $10M FedEx Cup with one, and people who love their hedge funds.
(Funny about Els. He's telling everybody now there's no evidence it helps. But when he switched to it, he laughed: "As long as it's legal, I'll cheat like the rest of them.")
"I think Tim Finchem will back his players," says Bradley, who hasn't used a short putter since 2008. "I can play with it. [He won nine college tournaments with it.] But what about all of the regular Joes out there who just play for fun? I get tweets all the time about it. 'Keegan, I can't lean that far over. I'll have to quit the game.' What are those people supposed to do?"
The use of long putters is up 12 percent in the past three years for one reason: It makes it easier to putt. So do gimmes. Does Finchem want to allow them?
"But these things have been around 30 years," Jim Furyk says. "It's kinda late now to go backward."
Couldn't you say the same thing about steroids?
And, yes, USGA officials should've squelched the long putter when it was first popularized by Charles Owens in the early 1980s, but they let it slip. Perhaps they were busy watching "Diff'rent Strokes." I don't know. Not my problem.
Just like it's not my problem what somebody like touring pro Kevin Stadler will do without the long putter, which he's used for 15 years straight.
"I literally can't get it into the hole with a short putter," he says. "The last time I used it [at USC], I averaged 37 putts a round. When I switched, the hole went from looking like a dime to a bucket. I have no idea what I'd do for a living without it."
Look, golf is hard. Nobody knows that more than me. Putting is hard because the stupid golf ball just sits there, not even moving. It's the pressure, the nerves, the bets that make hitting it into the little hole so impossible. Used to be a guy like Bernhard Langer would get the yips and retire to the broadcast booth. Now, he gets out the wonder wand and plays 20 more years.
Tour pro Carl Pettersson, who has used one exclusively for the past 16 years, told The AP's Doug Ferguson, "It feels a bit like a witch hunt to me."
He's right. It IS a witch hunt. Because long putters make you putt like a witch.
Anchoring the putter is cheating, same as Vaseline on the club face or "Gimme a circle 4."
"Wait," asks CBS' Jim Nantz, "You want to ban anchoring?"
No, dude. You're fine.
Rick Reilly says it is time to ban the belly putter once and for all.