Webb Simpson favors belly putter

Updated: August 8, 2012, 2:18 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson took issue Wednesday with the idea that the putter he and others have used to win major championships should be outlawed.

Golf's governing bodies are studying a revision to the rules that would not ban belly or long putters, but would make it much more difficult to use them because of language that would not allow anchoring the clubs to the body.

[+] EnlargeWebb Simpson
AP Photo/Steve HelberWebb Simpson said there is no statistical evidence that shows how long putters give players an advantage.

"Do I think they should be banned? No, and here's why," Simpson said at the Ocean Course, where the PGA Championship begins Thursday. "You take a wooden driver compared to a 460 cc titanium (the kind used today), and to me that's a lot bigger difference than a 35-inch putt to a 45-inch putter.

"Last year, the strokes-gained putting (a statistical category), nobody in the top 20 used a belly putter or a long putter. If anybody says it's an advantage, I think you've got to look at the stats and the facts."

Both the United States Golf Association and R&A -- the game's rules-making bodies -- have said they will come to some conclusion on the matter by the end of the year.

Peter Dawson, the R&A's CEO, said at last month's Open Championship that "we're seeing now people who can putt perfectly well in the conventional way thinking that an anchored stroke gives them an advantage. I think that's the fundamental change that we've witnessed in the last couple of years."

Three of the past four major champions -- Keegan Bradley at last year's PGA, Simpson at the U.S. Open and Ernie Els at the Open Championship -- used a belly putter to win. Adam Scott, the runner-up at the Open Championship, uses a long putter. With both putters, the hands typically are wedged into the stomach or the chest.

But no player in the current top 10 of the PGA Tour's strokes-gained putting category and just three in the top 20 use a long or belly putter. The strokes-gained stat measures players against the number of putts a PGA Tour player is expected to make from every distance.

"To me, to change something that big and cost manufacturers millions of dollars, you've got to have some pretty good facts," Simpson said. "I think just because some of us are winning majors or winning tournaments with the belly putter, I don't think that's a good reason to say, 'Hey, we're going to take them away.'"

Simpson is playing for the first time since the Greenbrier Classic because of the birth of his second child with wife Dowd on July 28.

Graeme McDowell, who won the 2010 U.S. Open, putts conventionally, and played in the final group at each of the past two majors, would like to see the rule changed.

"When you can anchor the putter to a part of your body, that just takes one extraneous movement out of the putting stroke; that putting under pressure with that type of putter is easier. It's just kind of a physical fact that if you can just take one element of movement and motion out of the stroke that holing putts will become easier.

"But having said that, if it was so easy, everyone would be using one. They have their advantages and their disadvantages. It just so happens that a lot of very good players in the world now are using long putters and it's tough to ignore the timing of the decision, if one gets made, that the major champions in the last 12 to 18 months have wielded the long putter.

"It wasn't such a big issue two, three, four years ago, when perhaps they weren't quite in the spotlight and winning major events. But the Open Championship, what was it, one, two . .. Adam Scott.

"But there's no doubt I welcome it (a change). I think the game of golf, putting is such a big part of the game that let's level the playing field again. Let's get everyone with a short putter back in the bag as the game is meant to be played.''

Simpson admitted he has begun to experiment with a conventional putter in case the rule is changed. "My theory is that I'm going to be ready for it," he said, although because this would be a rules change and not an equipment change, anything in regards to anchoring would not go into effect until 2016.

"The one area where I'm a lot better with the belly putter is my speed," said Simpson, who has three PGA Tour titles. "Even the last few weeks at home taking the short putter out on the course, my speed both ways -- hitting it too hard and too soft. And to make putts you've got to have great speed. So that's my only worry.

"But I think all players through the years learn how to adapt to certain situations, whether it's conditions of the weather or who you're playing well, and so I'm just them in that category. I'll just have to learn, relearn, how to use a short putter."

Despite using one himself, Els had said he thinks belly putters should not be allowed. "As long as it's legal, I'll keep cheating like the rest of them," he joked last year.

But Els said that even though he would have time to make a transition if the rule is changed, he'd like to go back to the short putter by the end of the year.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

ALSO SEE