ANCASTER, Ont. - Graham DeLaet’s return to the Canadian Open golf tournament this week is marked with a sense of relief and a sense of adventure.
Relief because his 12th place finish at the Greenbrier Classic two weeks ago in West Virginia helped him regain his full PGA status after missing last season with a back injury; adventurous because this week of all weeks – at the event the player from Weyburn, Sask. circles on his calendar every year – he’s switching to a long putter, just as the controversy over “belly putters” broke last week at the British Open.
Last week, the top two finishers, Ernie Els and Adam Scott used “belly putters” – so called because the player props the end of the shift against the belly to stabilize the shot. It’s a trend that has purists shaking their heads.
Almost immediately, Britain’s Royal & Ancient Club, which serves as a rule maker of the sport, promised to decide whether players could keep using the longer shafts in a few months.
Even Els has chimed in about the 41-to-44-inch shafts, saying, “Nothing should be anchored to your body and I still believe this.
“But as long as it’s legal, I will keep cheating like the rest of them.”
Brant Snedeker, an American who finished third in the British Open and a strong putter who doesn’t need the help of a long shaft, would prefer that officials enforce a rule – that anchoring a club is not permissible – that he said is already in the books.
“I think it’s going to be a very touchy subject with a lot of players,” Snedeker said. “I would love a recall of that rule.”
Snedeker said he feels that anchoring a club against the body “takes a lot of nerves out of it.
“I feel like when you’re under pressure and under stress on the 72nd hole and you gotta make a five-footer, I want to know how your hands feel.”
He says he does not know what’s fair but he blames the rule makers – the USGA (United States Golf Association) and the R&A . “They got themselves in the situation, so they’ve got to figure a way out of it,” he said.
Players in greater numbers than ever are using either the belly putter or the long shaft (48-to 52 inches). Els became the third major championship winner to use a belly putter over the past few weeks. The belly putter has apparently saved the sagging careers of Els and Scott.
DeLaet doesn’t think it will be a big deal for golfers to switch back to the conventional putters which are between 32 to 36 inches because they all grew up using the shorties.
“I can see the argument both ways, but right now, I’m just trying to get the ball in the hole.”
Some feel the longer putters give a player an advantage over others, because they are using a steady fulcrum that tends to negate the skill of the free swing. DeLaet says he doesn’t know if the club gives an advantage or not. The long putter requires a player to stand more erect, and that puts less pressure on DeLaet’s back, which he still works at strengthening through exercises.
He’s putted well with both long and short putters, and he’s putted poorly with both of them, too, he said.
“I think more than anything, it’s the mental side of putting that gets the ball in the hole,” DeLaet said.
Still, lately, DeLaet turned to the long putter because he found his short game inconsistent. In the couple of weeks off since the Greenbrier, DeLaet took the long putter out “just to kind of mess around,” and found he was making a lot of putts and birdies.
He figured it would help to have confidence in his putt early, because if he makes a couple of five- or six-foot putts early, he’ll putt well for the rest of the day. “If I don’t, I kind of lose my confidence and sometimes struggle,” he said.
He’s used the long putter before but he’s played with the conventional putter for the past 18 to 24 months with inconsistent results.
DeLaet missed the Canadian Open last year because he was still recovering from surgery to shave away a part of a disk that was pressing against a nerve. But he believes he’s a good enough player to compete, although he still has work to do. He’s played four times at the Canadian Open, but never at the Hamilton Golf and Country Club. “The Canadian Open is special to me,” he said. “It’s so nice to be back.”
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