Haas, Langer defend long putter use
Bernhard Langer and Bill Haas provide a cross-section in the debate over long-handle putters. They both still think there's no problem with them.
Langer, a two-time US Masters champion, has used his broom-handle putter for 15 years. Haas tried a long-handle belly putter in 2011 and said he had "some success" with it, but then reverted to a regular club this year.
With golf's governing bodies proposing a new rule to restrict the way the broom and belly putters are used, both players defended the long-handled clubs on Thursday at the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
The Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the US Golf Association proposed the rule - to come into effect in 2016 - that players could not anchor the putters against their body during the stroke, outlawing the style of three of the past five major winners: 2011 US PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley, US Open champion Webb Simpson and British Open holder Ernie Els.
The putters aren't being outlawed, just the way they are used, with players not allowed to rest or anchor them against their stomach or chest.
Haas said the anchored style didn't make putting easier and there was no need to change anything.
"I thought I putted worse with it (the belly putter) for a while," the American said. "I think it's just a way to putt. I've heard Webb Simpson talk about it and he says stats show the best putters aren't belly putters users."
Langer launched an even stronger defence of the longer putter style, the veteran German saying the authorities' proposal to change the regulations was not "the end of it," hinting at a legal response from users.
"It has been out for that long," said Langer, who thinks the long-handle putters have been around for about 35 years. "If there is anything illegal about it, why did they not stop it right away? If it is that easy with a long putter, a belly putter, why aren't 90 percent of the pros and 100 percent of the amateurs using it?"
Carl Pettersson of Sweden, one of the strongest defenders of the long-handle clubs alongside South Africa's Tim Clark, declined to talk to reporters about the issue after his opening round at the Nedbank Challenge on Thursday.
But Langer suggested there would be a challenge to the rule proposal.
"I do not think it is the end of it," he said. "There are pros that are on tour that grew up with that putter. They have invested 15-20 years in practising, maybe 30 years practising with a long putter or belly putter, and now they have to switch and they make a living doing that."
Research shows a small but gradual increase in the number of players using the long handles, leaving golf's governing bodies worried that players will turn to long putters as an advantage instead of a last resort. That raised fears from authorities about the purity of the sport.
"Our objective is to preserve the skill and challenge," R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. "This rule is not performance-related. This is about defining what is a stroke."