After holding on to win the Wyndham Championship in his native North Carolina over the weekend, Webb Simpson became the 12th first-time winner on the PGA Tour this year.
That speaks volumes about the wave of generational change sweeping through golf, but there’s another statistic that says at least as much about how the sport is changing.
Simpson became the sixth player using a long putter to have won on the PGA Tour this season.
The most prominent was, of course, Keegan Bradley, who became the first player to win a major using a putter anchored to his body when he won the PGA Championship in Atlanta.
There’s nothing in the rules of golf that prohibits putters from being braced against the body, either to the stomach, the method employed by Bradley and Simpson, or the sternum, which is favored by Adam Scott.
But the purists argue that there should be; they say that anchoring a club so as to steady the nerves in the hands contravenes the spirit of the laws.
And maybe they’re right.
Scott freely admits he frowned upon players who used long putters until his putting became so “atrocious” earlier this year that he tried the broomstick putter “as a last resort.”
Since then, the Australian’s had his best finish at a major – tied for second at the Masters – and won the prestigious Bridgestone Invitational.
Would he have done so with a conventional putter?
Maybe, but given the number of clutch par putts he needed to hole at Akron – and given his historical difficulties with 4-footers – probably not.
On the other side of the coin, would Scott Hoch have choked on that 18-inch putt at the 1989 Masters playoff if he’d had a long putter?
Or three-putted the final hole at the 1987 PGA Championship when a two-putt would’ve gotten him into a playoff?
Would Sam Snead – who never won a US Open and had his croquet-style putting stance outlawed because golf’s ruling body essentially thought it made putting too easy – have missed a 2 ½-footer to extend the playoff at the 1947 US Open with a long putter?
Would Doug Sanders have yipped that 3-footer to win the 1970 British Open with a belly putter?
And what of the 2-footer – that never touched the hole – that would’ve gotten Ben Hogan into a playoff for a green jacket in 1946?
“Historically, most of the people who use long putters or belly putters are golfers who have mental demons—I hate to use the ‘Y’ word [for that dreaded affliction known as the yips]—or maybe have trouble bending over because of some physical ailment," Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director, told the Wall Street Journal.
“We’d hate to pull these putters away from them, because golf is a game. It’s for fun and recreation.”
For fun and recreation? I’m not sure how much fun Hogan had in his latter years, standing frozen over the ball, unable to pull the trigger on short putts.
Perhaps the answer lies in allowing long putters for recreational play, but outlawing them for professionals.
Because there’s little doubt that putters whose nerves are shot can be re-born with a long putter.
Doesn’t that give them an advantage they don’t really deserve?
Shouldn’t dealing with nerves be an integral part of winning a golf tournament?
Is it really any different to what Phil Mickelson felt on the last hole of the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot? Or what Colin Montgomerie, seeking to win his first major, felt with a 7-iron in his hand on the last fairway at that same major? Or what got the better of Greg Norman at the 1996 Masters and Jean Van de Velde at the 1999 British Open?
Indeed, is it any different to a foul shooter stepping to the line needing to make two to win a game, or a kicker needing a field goal with time expired?
Davis says the issue of the legality of the long putter may be revisited if there was “evidence they are giving anybody undue advantage.”
“If it got to the point where, hypothetically, teachers across the world began to realize that these putters, these pendulum strokes, are absolutely a more efficient way to putt and that their students will putt better this way than they could ever hope to putt conventionally, that might become analogous to croquet-style putting,” he says.
“Then we’d have to ask, ‘Is this what we want? Is this good for the game?”
Young players aren’t even waiting till their nerves are fried anymore before going to the long putters.