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Thursday, April 21, 2011
Ernie Els experimenting with belly putter


Ernie Els' woes with the putter are not contained to this year. He's been bemoaning his work with the flat stick for some time, wondering where the magic went on the greens.

The Big Easy is lauded for his fluid swing, but the three-time major champion is fully aware that a résumé that boasts more than 60 worldwide wins is also due to good putting.

"All of a sudden, it's like, 'Man, what's going on? I'm not making these putts anymore.' Normally when you make a certain putt, from there the momentum comes," Els said.

Those comments were made at the 2009 Memorial, but pick a time during the course of the past few years and Els, 41, has complained about his putting.

Now comes word that Els is toying with a belly putter. He had one in his bag during the pro-am for the Heritage this week and Golf Digest said he was "giving it a tryout."

Whether or not it becomes permanent remains to be seen, but even the thought of working with such a putter and putting it into play suggests Els has reached a point of frustration.

This year, he ranks 159th in putting average and 190th in putts per round on the PGA Tour. His best finish is a tie for 15th at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Last year, when Els won twice on the PGA Tour and captured the South African Open as well, his putting had improved. He was 59th on the PGA Tour in putting average after he was 138th in 2009.

That year, he had Callaway make him a putter that looked and felt like the one he had used with great success a decade or more ago.

For Els to use a belly putter or even practice with one does not come without some irony.

It was in 2004, at the SAP-Deutsche Bank Open, where he called for such putters to be banned.

"Nerves and the skill of putting are part of the game," Els said. "Take a [pill] if you can't handle it."

He went on to say: "It's just becoming such an easy way to putt and you are actually pushing the putter into your body and then you can make a kind of perfect stroke with your hands.

"Physically or scientifically, you put the club up against your body and it's resting against something. If you were to put a pencil at the end of the putter, you're going to almost come back on the same angle every time and that's why I say they should be banned."

For now, the rules of golf allow belly putters -- which are typically about 45 inches, or around 10 inches longer than a standard putter. The long putter is usually around 50 inches.

Such putters offer up plenty to debate, as Els acknowledged all those years ago. There is clearly an advantage to being able to anchor the club.

But those who use them, including Adam Scott, who recently switched to the long putter, will say they are not a magic wand.

Scott has found success with the long putter, but is it fleeting? If such putters were so good, why doesn't everyone use them?

For now, at least, Els is willing to see what all the fuss is about -- and whether it will help him get putts in the hole.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.