Steve Eubanks: Leave the long putter alone

Adam Scott had hit a low point on the greens before switching to the longest of instruments.

Eubanks: Leave the long putter alone

Adam Scott and Ernie Els battled for the Claret Jug down to the final green thanks to long putters. That's fine with Steve Eubanks, who thinks critics need to accept their place in the game.

By Steve Eubanks,

Surely no one felt cheated by the drama. 

No matter what you felt when this Open Championship ended – sadness and empathy for Adam Scott, euphoria for Ernie Els, or conflict over the fact that one of them had to lose – you probably didn’t think that the game had been bastardized in the process.   

So, can we finally dispense with the arguments over the long putters?

Throughout the week, debate raged anew over the anchoring implements: those long wands that have helped so many professionals and amateurs play past their primes by curing the yips and solidifying otherwise shaky strokes.  Representatives from the R&A announced that they would be “reviewing” the long putters as commentators shouted “ban them” from the rooftops, as if the game is now imperiled by their use.  

But without them, 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 (and out of the Masters this year for the first time in two decades).  

The long putter did not save 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.  

Those who have been clamoring to ban the long putters seem to forget how long they have been around. Paul Runyan played in the Belmont Open in Boston in 1936 with a homemade belly putter, and later told Golf Digest, “An advantage I hadn’t expected is that this system minimizes the adverse effects of nervous tension.”

Johnny Miller put one in play in the 1980 L.A. Open. His fellow competitors laughed in his face. “Now it’s no big deal,” Miller said.  

The general consensus is that long putters are an asset inside of 10 feet for players with yippy tendencies. Anchoring the club to your torso or under your chin keeps the stroke more consistent. But for putts outside 15 feet, when speed and feel are critical, the long putters are not demonstrably better, and, in fact, are probably worse.  

But statistical arguments aside, are we really that bent out of shape over Ernie Els winning again? Has the integrity of the game been jeopardized since Keegan Bradley broke through at last year’s PGA Championship to become the first major winner with a long putter?  Bradley’s win came only 75 years after Runyan put a belly putter in play in Boston. 

So what if a few careers have been extended? Don’t we want to see Fred Couples continue to play? What if a long putter had extended Ben Hogan’s career another decade -- would that have been a bad thing? 

And what of this Open Championship? Given all of the emotions wrapped up in the final round -- especially the final hour -- does it really matter what kinds of putters were used by the last men standing?  

The game continues to evolve as it has for centuries with no innovation to date jeopardizing its existence. 

Until someone can build a contraption to alter men’s souls, that’s the way it will remain. This year’s Open Championship is proof.