After 28 years at Inwood Country Club, head pro Tommy Thomas is retiring this month. He is getting married, heading to Colorado and starting a new phase of his life. One thing that he will not be changing, however, is his long putter. That is staying with him. "With it, you always hit a putt solid," he said.
Phil Tita, the head pro at Tallgrass Golf Course in Shoreham, said that his belly putter works so flawlessly that it feels like he is cheating. "Until they tell me I can't, I'm going to putt with it," he said.
How long will anyone be able to use a long putter, at least the way they are using it now? That is up in the air. The U.S. Golf Association is said to be looking into the way golfers anchor those long clubs against their bodies, and might rule in the next month or two that the practice is illegal.
So this is a heads-up to anyone who is shopping for a long putter: Beware that the USGA is on the case, or get one now while the getting is good. Either way, evidence suggests that long putters do work. Keegan Bradley, the St. John's alumnus and Wheatley Hills member, won the PGA Championship with one last year and Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open with one this year.
"The real truth is that nothing could be easier than playing and practicing with a long putter," said Thomas, 62, who said he has had a great run with outstanding people at Inwood and will remain active in golf, running a series of tournaments on the West Coast.
He used to play on the PGA Tour and has maintained friendships with pros such as Howard Twitty and Tom Purtzer. Eleven years ago, those two told him it was ridiculous that he had played so well in a Senior Open qualifier, but missed the cut because he putted so poorly. Thomas was persuaded by Mark Brown, the head pro at Tam O'Shanter and the most successful local long-putter aficionado, to try a special tall club made by Scotty Cameron.
The first time Thomas used it in a tournament, he was awful. He three-putted 10 greens. "But I had the most enjoyable day of putting that I had ever had," he said. He kept using the putter, and hopes to keep doing so. "There's really nothing you have to practice," he said. "You just take your stance -- put your feet about six inches apart and put your left hand on it and your right hand on it."
Tita had pretty much the same reaction a few years ago at a Florida mini-tour event, when he first used a belly putter (which is shorter than the "broomstick" putters that many golfers use). It removed the fitful hand movements that define traditional putting. Long-shafted putters are essentially a cure for the yips.
"Wherever I point it, the ball will go that way," he said. "When I first tried it, I said, 'You've got to be kidding me. I can't miss a three-footer.' "
But purists, including some tour pros, believe that anchoring the club against the chest or midsection violates the rules. They are urging the USGA for a ban. Tita doesn't disagree, but he won't change until he has to.
Thomas said he might have to figure out a way to use his long putter without "anchoring" it. "I don't think it would necessarily be fair if they outlawed it," he said, adding that six or seven Inwood members buy long putters from the pro shop every year.
Tita sees more public golfers at Tallgrass using long putters. He does not discourage them. "They're out there to have fun," he said. "Why not make the game more fun?"