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Clark’s win tainted by use of the long putter

May 10th, 2010 · 12 Comments

Golf as done everything it can to make putting as easy as possible, especially compared with how it was in Jack Nicklaus’ prime.

The greens are smooth as pool tables, the balls are now perfectly balanced, scores of regular length putters fit every style, and training devices ensure that a player is lined up perfectly. Under these conditions, how can a pro miss? And still, some so-called professionals have to resort to using the long putter?

A big problem dragging down competitive golf today is the huge number of mediocre players. One way too weed them out is to make everyone use a standard length putter. If a guy can’t meet the challenge of putting the right way, he shouldn’t be on tour. If his nerves jangle under the heat, too bad.  After all. isn’t that what the big championships are all about – to see who can handle the pressure?

Now if Tim Clark had won THE PLAYERS fair and square, I would have applauded him as loudly as anyone. Other than the long putter, his story is a great one – a 5’ 7” David slaying the 6’ plus Goliaths of the tour with precision golf, a modern day Gary Player (same height, both from South Africa). But he used the long wand and so, at least in my mind, his win will always have a big asterisk next to it.

In the wake of his victory, you won’t hear much if any open criticism from the talking heads about the long putter tainting his win. Still, if you read between the lines, it is there. In the weekly PGA Tour Confidential David Dusek reminded us that “Ernie Els roasted him years ago for using a long putter.” And Michael Bamburger said that he “putted like a man who does not need the long wand.”  But Clark evidently does needs it, and can’t win without it.

But make no mistake, the long putter is a crutch for putting challenged golfers. It looks unseemly. Is not real golf the way it was intended to be played (like Sam Snead’s croquet putting style wasn’t – which was quickly quashed by the USGA). No one starts their career using it. It is a give up club when the wielder realizes he can’t put like the big boys any more. And I’d bet that most users are secretly embarrassed that they have to resort to it.

Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, and Tom Watson, who all remain as competitive as ever when they play, have never resorted to using the wand. They are real golfers who would never think of such a thing.

Fortunately, no one using a long putter has ever won a major, and no player had ever won THE PLAYERS with one prior to yesterday. Thankfully, most users have been players middle of the pack players like Clark and a few former major champions such as Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh, and Fred Couples, who are no longer a threat to win majors. As a consequence, long putters left to ply their trade with little comment or criticism.

That could all change in a heartbeat. All it would take is for Tiger Woods to adopt the long wand. Poor putting has cost him several majors over the years, so he could be motivated to try this “game improvement” club.

Picture Woods using one in your mind. Wouldn’t that look ridiculous? If he broke Nicklaus’ record for major titles, winning the next five with the long putter, would you respect his accomplishment as much? Would the record deserve an asterisk?

In the post 11/27 world, it is open season on Woods. For proof, I ask that you read about his neck injury that he sprung on the golf world yesterday. So, if Woods adopted a long putter, a 1,001 scribes would come down on him hard, and not just for the sport of it. Those who hated his cursing and club throwing now freely condemn his behavior. So, should he adopt a long putter, many would abandon group think and voice their disapproval of the infernal broom as well.

As for Tim Clark, since THE PLAYERS is not a major, and he’s not a historically significant player, he gets a pass from the media while the rule makers continue to avoid dealing with the long putter issue. But if Woods wins a major with one, hopefully that would give the USGA and R&A the wake up call they need to do what they should have done long ago – outlaw the damn things from our great game!

Tags: PGA Tour · The Game


12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mel // May 10, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    I like Tim Clark – by all accounts a nice guy – but I hate the long putter. Someone on the broadcast yesterday said Tim uses the long putter because of a peculiar wrist problem. How does that make sense? He can drive the ball, chip the ball, dig the ball out of the rough or the sand but he needs a special putter? I’m with you – ban the darn thing.

  • 2 Phil // May 10, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    I am glad to hear I am not alone on this. And, as you say, Clark seems like a good guy. With his wrist problem, you would think that it would prevent him from getting too handsy with his putter.
    I was rooting for Molinari because he’s got such a fabulous swing – then I noticed he was using the broom, and that changed that.

  • 3 BD // May 11, 2010 at 8:10 am

    I agree and disagree. I think the governing bodies should outlaw the long putter (actually, not the long putter per se, but the method of making a stroke whereby one end of the club (the putter in this case) is pressed against the body).

    I don’t, however, think Clark’s win at the PLAYERS is diminished for his having used a club and method of making a stroke that is perfectly legal under the rules. For all I know, Tim Clark doesn’t like the aesthetics of the long putter, either; but his job as a competitor is to score the best he can under the rules. In his case, but not in the case of Tiger or most other elite golfers, the long putter ISN’T a “game improvement club.” If it were, you can be sure they would all be using it.

    It’s not a golfer’s responsibility to make his play of the game as aesthetically pleasing as possible. If it were, you would presumably be railing against Jim Furyk for exposing everybody to that mad convulsion he calls a “swing.” A competitor’s only responsibility is to follow the rules and do his best to score the lowest rounds possible.

  • 4 Les // May 17, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    What about the clubs and balls? Jack,Gary,Arnold or Lee didnt hit 370 yard drives. I believe the game has been far more tainted by distance enhancing technology rather than long putters. (I use a long putter)

  • 5 Phil // May 18, 2010 at 10:21 am

    Hi Les,
    I agree about the ball – it needs to be cut back 10-15%. And those giant driver head are ridiculous. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on the long putter.

  • 6 Plank // Sep 28, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    Your argument against the long putter is asinine. I don’t use one, but hardly take issue with those who do. Putting is about one thing: the marriage of speed and line. This is really no easier with a long putter than a short one. I know fantastic putters who made the switch because they weren’t able to continue practicing at the level they wanted due to back issues, and so made the switch. They putt just as well with the long-boy. Tim Clark has a physical deformity that doesn’t allow his arms to pronate/suppinate, and therefore putting normally is almost impossible.

    My question is this: where do you draw the line? A 10-15% reduction in the ball is an arbitrary number. Why not 17%, or 31%? Who sets the number? Big headed drivers? Lets get rid of those, but can we still use metal? What about shafts? Steel can’t be ok can it? Certainly if we were real golfers we would still be stuffing our own featheries and teeing the ball up on clumps of sand. (for the record, I would be totally ok with a head size limit of, say, 220cc and no lofted clubs above 56*, also arbitrary numbers)

    Get off your high horse and move on. I hate to be an elitist, but if you had ever played competitive golf at a high level you would realize that it doesn’t make an iota of difference. Low score wins.

  • 7 Emma Keller // Nov 17, 2010 at 7:58 am

    The long putter is ridiculous. It is cheating, plain and simple. Every club in the golfer’s bag, starting with the driver, is shorter than the one above it, except the putter now. THAT is a huge change, especially given the fact that the “golfers” who use it, can also use the broom (which is longer than the driver!) to take drops from bad lies. In a sport where the rules are so damn rigid that Dustin Johnson could be denied a title because he grounded his club in a place where spectators were allowed to sit, it makes absolutely no sense that this club is permitted.

  • 8 eheheh // Feb 15, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    why not just ban everything and go back to:
    woods: the original persimmon wood (not the metal woods).
    irons: nothing but blades
    putters: the original bulls-eyes

  • 9 eheheh // Feb 15, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    forgot to mention the original wound balata balls.

  • 10 Randy // Mar 24, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    The sky if falling, the sky is falling. The long putter will be the end of us all.

    You have cast cavity backed irons.
    Your woods are not woods.
    The only wood shaft here are the ones stuck in some of the posters…..
    Gutta percha anyone?
    Sand wedge has bounce does it?
    60 degree wedge working for you.

    Just because you have a legal right to say something doesn’t mean it won’t be ignorant when you say it?

  • 11 Brett // Apr 1, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Wow this article is ridiculous. For someone to say Clarks win is Tainted because he was using a long putter is laughable. I will bet you that Mr. Capelles golf game is handicapped in the double digits and he has never broken 80. Yet he writes as if he was was a competetor and Clark was being unfair. Maybe Mr Capelle you should try using a belly/long putter and see how much u think it will improve your game.
    So if using a unconventional length putter will in your eyes put an astrick next to his name how do u feel about guys using metal woods, I mean Geeze the Lee Trevinos, Jack Nicklaus, and Arnold Palmers had to use them. If your preaching tradition then let’s look at the golf ball, or the new forging process with irons and grooves.
    I am an advid golfer,played in college and have a +1 handicap. I have never used a belly or long putter in competition and don’t ever plan on it. But I had to give my 2 cents after hearing all these remarks about a tainted win.
    My opinion which I know you all don’t really care about is, if your going to write about something, understand what you are writting about and try and look at the whole picture. Technology has not only made the game more fun but also it has helped every handicap in some way or other.
    Hahaha I can’t believe I just spent 15 min writing this !

  • 12 LSK // Aug 21, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    No win is tainted if played within the rules. However, whether belly or chest putting is easier or not, or improves a player’s game is besides the point. When the game is no longer recognized and has lost all connection to it’s glorious past a line should be drawn. Third body part club contact is not a swing. Use it at you local club or course, but not in competition.

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