We had to be careful, but 2021 was the year of the long putter. The U.S. Mid-Amateur Champion (Stewart Hagestad), U.S. Senior Amateur Champion (Gene Elliott) and Most Dominant Senior Pro (Bernhard Langer, 64, bless him) all wielded the big broom. By small degrees, the golf these men play is more akin to recreational play, though chances are the only scuttlebut you’ve bothered to hear is from the Big Tour. Like when Xander Schauffele said in June that he thought arm locks should be banned after trying it himself.
Debates over unconventional putting styles have raged at least since Leo Diegel started Diegeling in 1924, and Sam Snead switched from croquet style to side saddle in 1968. After Keegan Bradley, Ernie Els and Adam Scott reeled a series of majors pressing their butts to their bellies and chins, the governing bodies decided that didn’t look quite right and banned pegging in 2016. Then guys with long putters got migrated the grip a few inches from their body, and several notable putters, like Webb Simpson, changed to armlock, or the method pioneered by Matt Kuchar where a longer grip is held firmly against the forearm during the stroke .
A faction within the PGA Tour Player Advisor Council (PAC) now wants to ban arm locks. Why have 13 clubs that articulate between the hands but not 14, their plea. Again, it would be obvious to take away anything Bryson DeChambeau does. Last season saw the eradication of green reading books and the limitation of drive shafts to 46 inches. What’s next, a ban on protein shakes and ivy capsules? Certainly, these are only models of local rules to be adopted during professional events; they do not apply to casual golf. You can still get your nerd complete. Please don’t take more than four hours.
Let’s admit that the raison d’être of most opinions about equipment is to justify a self-centered emotion: everything I like should be allowed; what’s different from what other golfers do shouldn’t be. Whether you can’t quite get out of the mini-rounds or the clean-cut semi-finals of the third flight, it’s fun to imagine how a new order brought about by a rule change could shake in your favor. There are even golfers, albeit few in number, who think points and sightlines should be illegal. I don’t know if these fanatics correlate with any particular political affiliation, although the horseshoe theory teaches us that the extreme ends of a continuum actually bend closer together than the either party realizes it.
Hagestad was an elite Division I athlete competing for the University of Southern California when he had a poor putting performance at the Pac-12 tournament. He read an article in Golf Digest about using long putters, and before he knew it, he had spent an hour in the corral of a Roger Dunn Golf Shop. “I said to myself, If we’re gonna make a change, let’s be wildrecalls Hagestad. He walked away with a Scotty Cameron broomstick Titleist Kombi, trained hard, then three years later won his first US Mid-Am. In 2017, he visited the Cameron studio and picked up a touring prototype that Adam Scott had rejected. It’s been in his bag ever since.
“[The long putter] re-inspired me to roll it in a different way, gave me a chance to fall in love with the putt again,” says Hagestad, who alternately suffered and ignored criticism and trolls. He says a lot of people don’t realize how much harder speed control can be with a higher mass head, and that in strong winds a long putter with its extra surface area can really wobble. Think of the mast of a ship.
I putt with an 8802-style blade that Equipment Editor Mike Stachura calls me an idiot to my face. Sure, it doesn’t have tech, but I love it (most of the time).
It’s my simple wish for you, reader, about to dive into the 2022 Hot List. Whether it’s a new driver, hybrid, iron, wedge, or even a long putter, I want you to find the love.
As long as golf is played, there will be disputes over which clubs should be allowed. For now, we’re giving you the best 138 out there.