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Long and belly putters get notice

Like teenage girls and fashion designers, professional golfers can spot a trend and follow it.

Last year, it was white pants.

This year, it's the belly putter.

And for the more daring, or the more desperate, it's the long putter.

More than any other part of the game, putting is personal.

It's the part of the game where, essentially, anything goes. Different grips. Different stances. Different putter designs.

Robert Garrigus uses a 28-inch putter that looks like something he pulled out of a kid's bag, while Adam Scott nearly won the Masters using a putter he anchored just below his chin and wielded like a croquet mallet.

It's the belly putter that's getting the most attention.

Generally five to 10 inches longer than standard length putters, belly putters get their name because they are usually anchored in a player's belly to stabilize the stroke. Long putters are generally 45 inches, or as long as most drivers, and are anchored at the top of a player's chest.

Ernie Els, who has been on record saying longer putters should be outlawed from the game, put a belly putter into play at the Heritage two weeks ago.

Davis Love III used one at Hilton Head.

Martin Laird won the Arnold Palmer Invitational using one. Brendan Steele won the Valero Texas Open using one.

No wonder putter reps were the most popular guys around the practice green at Harbour Town two weeks ago.

"When a guy succeeds with something different, you can almost count on a spike in interest the next week," said Johnny Thompson, who represents Callaway golf and Odyssey putters.

"If guys see the ball going in the hole consistently, it doesn't matter what it looks like. They'll use it."

Larry Silveira, a tour rep for Scotty Cameron putters, said he had more belly and long putters built during Hilton Head week than in any week he could remember.

"We'll see how it goes the next couple of months, if it's a trend or if it stays," Silveira said.

When Scott nearly won the Masters after switching to a long putter in March - he said in 2004 "the belly putter should be banned" - it brought more attention to the trend. No player has won a major championship using a belly or long putter.

Webb Simpson has been using a belly putter since 2004 when he picked one up as an experiment and liked it enough to put it in play.

"It was just a random trial and I made everything with it," Simpson said. "I've always said if I could make everything with it, I'd putt with a broom."

Several players use belly putters in practice sessions because it forces them to be more disciplined in their stroke. Excess body movement with a belly or long putter exaggerates flaws.

At Harbour Town, Bill Haas and Camilo Villegas, two young stars, both practiced with belly putters. When CBS announcer David Feherty saw Villegas practicing with the belly putter, he asked why.

"He said it feels simpler," Feherty said. "It might be simpler but his stroke is beautiful with the short putter. Where do you go from there?

"For me, it makes sense to a certain extent if you've gone through the motions with everything else but I think players are quick to go there. There's no reason to do it unless (your stroke) looks like you've just been tasered by a South Carolina state trooper."

Some players find a middle ground. Matt Kuchar uses a 45-inch putter but anchors the extended shaft along his left forearm rather than his chest because it feels more comfortable.

D.J. Trahan uses a longer putter but doesn't anchor it against his belly. He tried that for a month but wasn't getting the results he needed. That, ultimately, is the bottom line.

"I need to make more putts, plain and simple," Trahan said.

After missing the cut at the Heritage, Els took the belly putter with him to Korea last week. He had 28 putts in the first round at Harbour Town, 31 in the second on small greens. For a player who has suggested such clubs should be deemed illegal, it was a big step for Els.

"The main thing stopping me has been a pride thing because a long putter says, 'Hey, I've got a weakness,'" Els wrote on his blog.

With more belly and long putters on both the PGA and European Tours, there has been increased discussion as to whether rule makers will consider banning them because they allow players to physically anchor a club to their bodies.

"Until the very top players are all using it, I don't see any reason (for changing the rule). Just let guys do what they want but I'm a little biased, I guess," Steele said.

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