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Did Els Beat or “Cheat” the Competition?

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!

About Sean Weir

Sean Weir is the founder and editor of PutterZone.com, and the author of Putter Perfection, the definitive guide to putter fitting. Profile: Google+

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  1. Yeah – ban the belly putter …. and the metal wood …. and solid golf balls …. and graphite shafts ….. and distance markers …… and flag sticks ….. and hey I reckon tees are cheating ….. and what about throwing up grass to test the wind ….. and caddies are obviously aiding a golfer …..

    Frankly I think we should all be blindfolded as well _ golf is just way too easy! _ and too popular too!

    Gotta stop people enjoying the game or being creative!


    Simon Moore
    _ inventor of the term “bellyputter”
    _ founder of the first belly putter company
    _ uses belly putter

    • All of those other things you mentioned don’t even compare. Just get the club off your body because it’s not a golf swing. Web Simpson said his hands were shaking on the final putt in the US Open. I think it’s Simpson and Els who have the longest streak of no 3 putts. They’re not going to make every putt, but they’ve become much better putters with a gadget. If you’re struggling with any part of your game, you go and work on it. The reason everyone is not going to the long putter is there are some who don’t need it because they’re great putters, and there are others who just don’t want to take away from the integrity of the game.

      • Dave

        In these arguments we can be narrow, and wide

        IF you choose to focus on a single thing you can make a tight argument ….. but that is just silly

        There are 100s of things that exist now that did not 100 years ago …

        So a belly putter is a gadget and a golf tee is not?
        Metal woods …. have they made golf easier …. and sound different?
        and … Trust me _ you can miss plenty of putts with ANY putter …. ask Adam S …..

        The belly putter is known to have been used first in 1937 …. and a patent filed in 1961 …. and first win 1990 ….. It is a putting stroke ….. reading the reports it seems the ban if it happens will be on anchoring and the drafting may protect the long putter and “bad backs” ….. so here is a prediction :
        IF the belly putter is banned …. the long putter will become very very popular …. maybe the norm ……. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT?

        As a purist …. which looks more like golf to your eye???? …. belly or long?

        By the way _ the belly putter is not new Dave …… it is older than hybrids, the graphite shaft, rubber type grips, GPS, titanium drivers, high tees,

        What is traditional then ??????

        Cheers Simon

    • Fair points, Simon, and great to hear from you!

  2. Everything evolves. I don’t have a problem with new technology as long as it is within specific guidelines. There is a definite advantage to anchoring a putter against any part of your body. You can have a ten foot putter if you want and I don’t care, just don’t anchor i against your body. I’m not the only one who feels this way, just ask Arnie how he feels. Ernie Els is a class act and he was totally against the long putters a few years ago. He was desparate so he wen to it and it helped him. It really turned Adam Scott’s game around too. Like I said, they’re not going to make all of the putts and when you choke – you choke no matter what putter you use.
    I don’t care how old the belly putter is. I just don’t understand how the USGA allowed it in the first place. The long putter is even worse like the one Adam Scott uses. He’s almost directly over the ball and it’s like a perfect pendulum. Tell me what the problem is with working on your putting as a golf professional with a regulation putter. It’s just a crutch. Too bad Dufner didn’t have one when he missed 2 crucial short putts in the PGA championship. Bradley made a really long putt on 17 that he probably would have missed with a traditional putter. So the last 3 out of 4 majors were won with the belly putter. I’m at the point where I root against anyone using a long putter. It really makes me cringe.

    • I’d like to express my humble opinion about this putter “scandal” !! It seems that many of these so called golf experts/fans, they have no clue how the belly or long putter works ! It is NOT the anchoring that makes the putter more stable on short or medium length putt, it is the overall heavier club that makes the putter more stable. Also, the belly putter swing it is not a perfect pendulum, it is more an arch swing. And, by the way, I’ll advise those against the belly putter, to try a 60 foot uphill putt with a belly and with a traditional putter and then, let me know which one is easier to control the speed !
      Best regards

  3. My biggest gripe is the magnificent rangefinder. Help in knowing exactly how far the pin is is taking one of the few remaining skills out of the game.

  4. Ok Freddy and Simon I’m going to get off the long and belly putters for now. I respect your opinions. Since Gary mentioned the rangefinder, I just want to express my opinion on what I think is the most rediculous rule in golf – hitting out of a divot. So you’re on the 18th tee at the Masters and tied for the lead. You have to dig deep and try to make the perfect swing under tremendous pressure. You pull it off and it lands in a divot. You should be able to drop out of a divot. I believe in being penalized when you miss the fairway or the green, but it makes no sense when you hit a great shot. So on the same day on the same hole when two players hit the ball in the exact same spot, why does one player get to hit it off the nice fairway and the other get penalized? Especially when you’re playing in one of the last groups when the most divots are out there. It’s man made by another player. The other one is the spike mark on the green. Gary, I was just discussing the rangefinder the other day. The pros have a caddy to give them the exact distance to the pin, so why can’t amateurs use a rangefinder for the same thing? I still believe that you have to pull of the shots with your swing even if you know the exact yardage.

  5. I personally don’t like the belly putters but while they’re legal you can’t stop guys from using them. They are available for every golfer in world to use if you want to.

    I would love to see every golfer using the traditional putters but I think that’s unlikely to happen in the near future.

  6. Ernie Els does not speak for the thousands of golfers who have been using long putters for many years.

    I have been using a long putter, Ping B90, for over 12 years including in USGA sanctioned competitions. If a rules change were to be considered, it should have been done when these putters were first introduced and popularized. Now the USGA will be discriminating against those who not only have invested in this equipment, but also have spent countless hours practicing the technique the USGA purport to forbid.

    The real advantage in putting goes to the player who has the most skill and has developed his/her skill and technique through practice.

    In tennis, there are no rules about racket materials, technology or size. Relevant rules regarding tennis equipment apply to tennis balls. Can you imagine tennis officials restricting the techniques for strokes? Should tennis officials ban the two-handed backhand? Outlaw the drop shot? Should basketball ban the underhanded foul shot? Should baseball ban bunting?
    In short, golfers should be allowed to play and compete, using putting techniques they prefer, without adding any additional restrictions.

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