Monday, May 02, 2011

Ever since Adam Scott's unlikely run at this year's Masters, long and belly putters have become a hot topic yet again on the PGA Tour. As even former critics like Ernie Els have been tinkering with super-sized flatsticks, we asked the top custom fitters at our partner Hot Stix Golf what they look for when they decide whether or not a long putter is right for one of their customers.

Mike Helfrich, general manager, Hot Stix Golf
Usually, fitting for a long putter is based on the customer's request to try something new, but fitters will also recommend that certain golfers give one a try. The most common reasons for a fitter to recommend going long would be:

1) INJURY Going to a long putter may put the player in a better position to avoid aggravating back pain.

2) THE YIPS It is common for someone who gets "flinchy" to try a longer putter. It is easier to keep the putter swinging freely when it is long and, usually, anchored somewhere on the body.

\n3) VISION Different people see the line better from different body positions. If someone complains about having trouble seeing the line or lining up over the ball, a longer putter may help.

4) SIMPLY BAD PUTTING If someone has always been a bad putter, or very inconsistent on distance, it is certainly worth trying a long putter. A new position with a whole new kind of stroke can help.

\nAllen Gobeski, national fitting manager/master fitter, Hot Stix Golf
Fitting a long putter is not that different from fitting a standard putter. The first thing we are trying to figure out is where the customer feels comfortable anchoring the putter. Once that is determined, we look for the same things as a standard fitting.

\nDoes the putter sit fairly flat on the sole? (Keeping in mind that a putter lie angle cannot be more than 80 degrees upright, according to the USGA.) We want the eyes to be anywhere from over the ball to a little bit on the inside so the player has a good opportunity to see the line properly. We then look at the shaft lean at impact. This helps us determine how much loft is necessary for the proper lift, skid and roll. (If the shaft is leaning forward, the player is taking loft off; if it's leaning back, the player is adding loft.) The weight is purely a personal preference. Some golfers prefer very heavy long putters and some prefer fairly light.

Unless someone asks to be fit for a long putter, I seldom recommend it. I'm a purist and hate to see them. On rare occasions, I have started standard putter fittings and found terrible positions and strokes. When this happens, I fit either a belly or a long putter.

I think that Mike's second and fourth reasons (yips and poor putting) account for 95% of the people who go down this road.

Finally, I would add that the ultimate testing ground is the Tour. If it were a superior method, more pros would be doing it.

\nSteve Grosz, senior club fitter, Hot Stix Golf
\nI have to agree with both Mike and Allen, and in all the putter fittings I have done, I don't think I've recommended a long/belly putter more than a handful of times. There are two times I would suggest it:

1) The person loves to practice but can't without pain.

2) The person simply can't make a good stroke because of a twitch.

I guess I look at the long putter as the last resort, and you need to keep a bullet in the gun. Once you've gone there, there is nowhere else to go!

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