Long putters populating Senior Players leaderboard

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Peter Senior wields one of a multitude of long putters populating the Senior Players leaderboard.
August 19, 2011
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM correspondent

HARRISON, N.Y. -- A new broom always sweeps clean. There is no debate about that. The question these days is whether there could be a new normal now that the long putters are sweeping up at the Senior Players Championship.

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The elongated putters go back three decades and Peter Senior remembers the early days. There were so many critics and doubters that Senior played with his broomstick but always practiced at home with a conventional-length putters in the event the naysayers prevailed.

In a high-powered leaderboard at Westchester Country Club, the top two -- Fred Couples and Senior -- use some form of a long putter. They are joined in the first 10 by Jeff Sluman (73) and Tom Kite (68), tied for fifth and eighth, respectively. Michael Allen (73) and Mark Wiebe (71) are in a group tied for 11th. It's a healthy representation for long putters.

Couples, with a belly model, shot 66 and leads at 8-under-par 134. Senior (69) is a stroke off the pace at 7-under, followed by Corey Pavin's 69-136.

Senior, an Australian who is enjoying an outsanding year, started using a broomhandle putter he borrowed from Scot Sam Torrance. In 1989, Senior won four titles with it and the all those victories with the strange putter were not well received by the golf community.

"All of a sudden everybody was on to me," Senior said. "They were saying it should be banned, it's cheating, all this sort of stuff. But I've putted badly with it as well. There's no recipe for good putting. You've still got to work out the line. You've got to hit it well."

Over the years, there have been calls to ban the long putters -- the belly models and the broomhandles -- because they are anchored against the body, thereby creating a third contact point in addition to the two hands.

Nothing has been done although there was always a suspicion in the minds of those using them that legislation may be forthcoming to outlaw the long putters.

Today, Senior has no such concerns. Back then, he figured he was OK as long as Sir Michael Bonallack, former chief executive of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, used a long putter. Now, Senior believes the use is so wide-spread that it would be difficult to turn back the clock. At last week's PGA Championship, Keegan Bradley became the first-ever major winner to use a belly putter.

Over the years, Senior has changed models and lengths. He started with a 46 1/2 -inch broomhandle anchored under his chin.

"I'm down to 45 (inches) now," Senior said. "I used to putt like Sam Torrance, and then I forgot which chin I put it on. I had to shorten it a bit and put it on my chest. And it's worked out pretty well since then."

Sluman, Senior and Gary Hallberg -- all with long putters -- topped the 18-hole leaderboard at Westchester. Sluman's decision to switch at a young age was made easy. He had the yips. In recent years, he's gone back-and-forth. Earlier this year, he went back to the long putter at the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am. His putting statistics have improved dramatically -- he's moved up to No. 11 on the Champions Tour.

"My thinking from six feet and in now is I'm surprised if I miss," Sluman said. "Before I was surprised if I made them ... That's not really good for your career out here."

The long putters were always believed to be antidotes for the yips. But when the twentysomethings started converting -- PGA Champion Bradley is 25 -- it suggests there's more to it.

"My thoughts are biased," said Pavin, who has always used a blade putter. "Obviously, they work. People wouldn't be using them if they didn't help them. They're legal and there's nothing wrong with it."

Bobby Jones had Calamity Jane. Pavin, who has been under-par in 19 of his last 20 rounds on the Champions Tour, has his instantly identifiable Bullseye putter.

Pavin began the Senior Players No. 2 on the Champions Tour with a 1.702 putting average. Mark Wiebe is No. 1 with a 1.696 average. Wiebe uses a long putter.

When Pavin won the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock, about 68 miles east of here as the crow flies, he had the equivalent of another classic putter, the 8802, in his bag and he has also used a Scotty Cameron model in the last decade. The Bullseye is back in good graces.

"It was sitting on the sideline there for awhile," Pavin said. "I actually had to go find it. It was in a closet."

A new broom sweeps clean, it's true, but an old broom knows all the corners.

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