Earlier this week, Hank Haney issued a rather obvious statement that nevertheless made headlines.
As breathlessly reported by ABC News and countless other outlets, “Tiger Woods’ former swing coach thinks the 14-time major winner’s chances at the Masters depend on his putter.”
News flash? Not. It nearly always comes down to the putter, does it not, at Augusta National? If you don’t sink big putts there, you’re toast.
As Charles Howell III, who is returning to play the Masters for the first time in three years, said this week, “The golf course is not easy. Putting on the quick, tilting greens is not easy.”
So this time Howell is packing a new weapon in his bag: a belly putter. And he is far from alone.
Last year, when Adam Scott hung around the Masters leaderboard with a long putter, it seemed alien and even unsettling to have someone with a non-traditional putter getting anywhere near a green jacket.
Now, 12 months later, the belly putter has become commonplace on the PGA Tour, a phenomenon ignited by Keegan Bradley’s belly putter breakthrough at the PGA Championship and accelerated by a run of professionals riding their belly putters to victory.
Yet it was these same events that also prompted professional backlash against the belly putter. As a story in Bloomberg.com noted, “It wasn’t until Bradley’s victory in August that opponents began to say that the long putters violated the spirit of the game.”
The central issue is the fact that long putters are typically anchored to the stomach or sternum, which many players believe creates an unfair advantage that is inconsistent with the definition of a golf swing or stroke.
Bubba Watson and Tiger Woods are among the professionals who have stepped up to voice their opposition to long putters. Even Ernie Els, who plays with a belly putter, recently called for a ban. Arnold Palmer weighed in a few weeks ago: “The long putter really does not have a place in the game.”
It’s one thing for belly putter to find the winner’s circle on the PGA Tour, and even at a major tournament like the PGA Championship. But the Masters? That’s a different story. And it’s more likely to happen this year than any year before.
The Masters is the epitome of golf tradition, and a victory at Augusta National with a belly putter will be seen by some as a slap in the proverbial face. Others will embrace it, and say it’s officially time to put the issue to rest and accept the long putter as a way of PGA Tour life.
In other words, if a long putter is the last club standing at the 2012 Masters, the debate is going to get much louder before it gets quieter.