Did Ernie Els “cheat” his way to a British Open victory today?
Els, who was famously outspoken against the belly putter until he decided to use one himself, recently defended his switch by stating, “As long as it’s legal, I’ll keep cheating like the rest of them.”
Els once called for an outright ban on the belly putter, stating that anchoring the club to the body gives the golfer an unfair advantage. “Nerves and the skill of putting are part of the game,” he said.
But last year, with his putting woes mounting, Els made the switch to a belly putter. He certainly gets points for honesty with his “cheating” comment. He didn’t pretend to have a change of heart. He just decided that if he couldn’t beat them, he’d join them. “Nothing should be anchored to your body, and I believe I still believe that,” he said. “I was in such a state that I felt that I needed to change something, which I did.”
Now Els is the third major winner to use a belly putter over the span of the past four major tournaments. Prior to that, no one had ever used a belly putter to win a major. The belly putter’s sudden ascent on the PGA Tour has become more than a mere trend. It has become a pattern that is literally changing the way golfers succeed in the most pressure-packed environments, ie: major tournaments.
The defense of the belly putter in the wake of Els’ victory has already begun. PGA.com just posted a piece by Steve Eubanks, in which he wrote, “The long putter did not save Adam Scott from bogeying the final four holes, nor did it solely cause Els to be the only player in the field to shoot under par on Sunday. Lengthening the shaft and holding it against your body is not pixie dust. You still have to execute the shots.”
Yet in the same piece, Eubanks acknowledges something that the anti-belly putter crowd will no doubt be shouting from the rooftops: “Without them (long putters), neither Adam nor Ernie would have been in contention, much less battling for the Claret Jug to the last putt. Scott, long considered one of the game’s best ball-strikers, struggled mightily with conventional putters and had hit a low point on the greens before sticking the longest of instruments under his chin. Els’ putting woes are well chronicled. Even when he was at his best of late, his inability to convert short putts kept him out the winner’s circle.”
No, Els did not cheat today. He won fair and square, using the same type of putter that many of his competitors now use.
The real question is whether or not belly putters cheat the spirit of the game. Many believe they do, and even Els is apparently one of them. On that note, you can expect the belly putter debate to become hotter than ever as Els’ name is etched once again onto the Claret Jug.
P.S. What are your thoughts on the belly putter debate? Let ‘er rip in the comments section below!