Long putters may finally come out of the closet

Keegan Bradley and his belly putter won the 2011 PGA Championship

He may be the first, but after his come-from-behind PGA Championship win Sunday, we’re betting Keegan Bradley won’t be the last long putter-wielding pro golfer to hoist a major trophy.

“Personally, I think it’s an easier way to putt,” 25-year-old Bradley, who’s maneuvered a belly putter for more than two years, told reporters following his first major title. “Especially when there’s some nerves.”

While oversized putters have taken center stage two weeks in a row — after Bradley came from five back to win in a playoff and Adam Scott swept to victory at the Bridgestone Invitational with his broomstick handle — the success the young guys are having with bats that used to be the refuge of desperate old men may not be enough to shut up the big-stick bigots.

One argument, according to those who want the USGA and Royal & Ancient to ban the big sticks, is that the club attaches to a part of the body no Ping or Callaway has previously dared touch. The point at which the putter affixes itself — either the stomach or sternum — creates a pendulum stroke that may or may not provide the user a competitive advantage over those who grip clubs only with their hands.

Blah, blah, blah. Haters simply believe the elongated blades are some sort of crime against the nature of golf. Sure, you may want to avert your eyes when Scott sticks his left elbow out like a chicken wing to finagle his 49-inch Scotty Cameron by Titleist broom. You may even cringe each time Bradley sets up with his almost 47-inch Odyssey White Hot XB Sabertooth instead of crouching down like Robert Garrigus with his teensy-weensy 28-inch Scotty Cameron for Titleist Studio Design Squareback 2 baton.

But Bradley, Scott, PGA contender Brendan Steele, and a host of players to be named later who are, do doubt, anxiously awaiting Fed Ex deliveries of their new tall flat sticks, could care less about your prejudice. The belly and chest clubs may be awkward, but until golf’s governing bodies rule otherwise, they’re completely legal and the answer to many a player’s putting prayers.

Just ask Scott, who put his lengthy wand to good use when he beat Rickie Fowler and Luke Donald by four strokes at Firestone.

“Why did I switch?” Scott asked in a July Golf Digest column. His answer was simple and to the point.

“My putting confidence was really low, and my stats from less than 10 feet were atrocious,” Scott wrote. After his teacher, Brad Malone, gave him an extended putter to try, he said his “rhythm immediately improved, and I was putting a great roll on the ball.”

Still, Scott wasn’t quite ready to out himself as a proponent of the expanded putter.

“I was interested but wanted to keep it quiet, so Brad bought one for me at a local golf shop,” Scott admitted. “I practiced only in my back yard.”

Now, with Scott’s win and Bradley’s triumph, maybe others who know first-hand the benefits of casting aside their short sticks will no longer feel the shame of shoving the stretched-out stalks into their guts. Perhaps the reigning PGA champ will finally make it safe for golfers to proclaim with pride, “We’re here! With legit gear! Please don’t jeer!”

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