Golf Putting – Should You Try A Belly Putter?

The belly putter is basically a cross between the traditional putter (32″ to 36″) and the “Long Putter” (46″ to 50″) used by the likes of Bernard Langer, Rocco Mediate, Ian Woosnam, and a few other professionals. 

The long putter is typically “anchored” at the chin, or breastbone, where the top of the putter is held with the left hand, (by right handed golfers), and the right hand is placed down the shaft. 

It is a very simple stroke – basically a one handed stroke, and is thought to be more accurate for short putts, and easier to use in pressure situations.

The length of the belly putter could range from 38″ to 46″, depending on the height and putting stance of the golfer.

The belly putter has caused a bit of a storm in the golf putting world over the years. On the one hand a golf major was won for the first time in 2009 and at The Open in 2012 Ernie Els used a belly putter, but on the other hand a lot of people are kicking up a fuss demanding that they be banned.

So why do some people favour them, why did it take so long for a belly putter to win a major, and as an amateur golfer should you try a belly putter?

Belly Putter / Long Putter / Broomstick Putter – is there a difference?

In a word – YES.

The long putter and the broomstick putter are one and the same thing and are longer than a belly putter – typically around 50 inches and is anchored to the sternum.

The belly putter is anchored just above your navel and is typically around 40 inches long.

The reasons for using a belly putter or a long putter over a traditional ‘short’ putter are actually the same, so for the rest of this article unless I specifically mention it, when I say ‘Belly putter’ I am also talking about ‘Long putters’.

A short history of the belly putter

  • The first belly putter was patented by Richard T Parmley in 1960.
  • Phil Rogers was the first golf pro to use a belly putter in the late 1960’s.
  • The long putter was first introduced in the early 1980’s.
  • Johnny Miller was the first golf pro to use a long putter.
  • During the 1980’s and 1990’s belly putters gained more popularity with many golf pros such as Sam Torrance, Bernhard Langer, Tom Lehman, Vijay Singh and Adam Scott.
  • In 2009 Angel Cabrera wins the US Masters with a belly putter (although used unconventionally).
  • In 2011 Keegan Bradley wins the US PGA with a belly putter (conventionally used).

Why was the belly putter invented?

A number of golf pros suffer from what is called putting ‘yips’. The ‘yips’ is quite a complex area in its own right but the most common effect is that golfers literally freeze over a putt and cannot even take the putter head away from the ball – they are unable to

control the muscles needed to execute a putting stroke. They can manifest themselves in other ways and although the outward affect is a physical one, many golf gurus believe it starts from a psychological issue (e.g. having to hole a 2 foot putt to pay the mortgage!).

The yips have been the downfall of many fantastic golfers including Adam Scott and Bernhard Langer but luckily they have battled through and belly putters have helped them enormously. Unfortunately many golf pros have quit golf due to the yips.

However – many have overcome the yips, and many of them by switching to a belly putter.

How does a belly putter help golfers with the yips?

Firstly, let me say that belly putters are not an instant cure to the yips! But they can definitely help. Simplistically it’s because the muscles used with a belly putter are less prone to freezing – as I’ve mentioned in my golf putting lessons it’s much easier to control the big muscles than the small muscles. With a belly putter you use far fewer of the smaller muscles so are far less prone to the yips.

Are there other benefits to using a belly putter?

Yes there certainly are – a couple of big ones!

The wrists are virtually removed from the putting stroke therefore they cannot ‘break down’ during the putting stroke – a common problem on pressure putts.

Since your hands are not gripping the club but more ‘guiding’ the club head there is less chance for a wrong grip or for you to twist the putter (although it’s still possible).

One great advantage of long putters is when you are taking relief and have two club lengths. This is one area that I think the rules could be tightened up by simply saying ‘No putters are to be used’ since it is outside the spirit of the game (in my opinion).

Also your stance is more upright so it puts less pressure on your back – this only really applies to practicing your putting since 30 or so putts in a round shouldn’t be troubling you.

Are there any dis-advantages with belly putters?

Again there certainly are…

The biggest problem is that you have less feel so judging pace is a lot harder.

Another problem (more so for amateurs) is that they take a long time to get used to.

Finally – again more so for amateurs – fitting them into the back of your car can be tricky!

So what is all the fuss about with belly putters?

Many people claim that they are against the rules of golf that state a club must not be anchored against the body.

This of course depends how you use a belly putter. As mentioned in the history Angel Cabrera won the 2009 US Masters with a belly putter but didn’t anchor it against his navel – so in my opinion he was not breaking the rules. In 2011 Bradley Keegan used the belly putter in a ‘conventional’ way and had it anchored against his navel – which in my opinion is strictly illegal.

Other people claim it gives golfers an unfair advantage – but if that were the case we’d all be using them, and many more tournaments would have been won with them, so I am not buying that argument!

Should amateur golfers try a belly putter?

Some amateur golfers suffer from the yips so it may be worth a go. But please remember that everything else is the same. You still need to read the green, judge the pace and of course strike a sweet putt.

How to Use a Belly Putter

The concept, or theory, of the belly putter is to “anchor” the butt end of the putter into your belly area (at the belly button or an inch or two below).  The grip end of the putter remains in this position throughout the stroke. 

In essence, the belly acts as a stabilizer, or “center” for the putter, and should help the golfer develop a more repeatable and more consistent stroke.

Because of the longer shaft, and heavier weight of two grips, it is important that the putter head be heavier.  Traditional putter head weights are 300-320 grams.  Suggested belly putter head weights would be in the 360 grams to 400 grams or more.

The Grip

There are several possible grips with the belly putter.

1. Traditional reverse overlap, with the hands gripping the putter in the conventional area of the club.

2.  “Baseball” grip, again with both hands down the grip.

3.  Left hand down low grip.

4.  Long putter grip.

We prefer the traditional reverse overlap with a very slight modification.  Here’s how we like to grip the putter.  (For right handed golfers)

1.  With the right hand, grip the putter towards the middle of the lower grip, and with the right index finger pointing straight down the side of the shaft.

2.  Take the left hand index finger, and place it over your 3 right handed fingers.  Place the remaining three left handed fingers on the grip just above the three right handed fingers.  Use a “semi-loose” grip, say a 3 on a scale of 1-10.

The purpose of this grip is to get the two hands acting as “one”.

The Stroke

Grip the putter as described above – with your arms, wrists and hands extended straight down the shaft.
Your shoulders/arms/wrists/hands, and even half your fingers – are forming a straight line. 

As you look down at your grip, you are looking at an almost perfect shape of the letter V.  (Where your arms are the side of the V, and your hands come to the point of the V.)

You now have the makings of a near perfect “one piece” putting stroke.  You have taken the “small muscles” out of the stroke – the muscles most affected by the jitters, and that are the most inconsistent in controlling perfect direction of the stroke.

This, in our opinion, is the start to a consistent, repeatable, putting stroke, with much less chance for error.

To initiate the stroke, just “feel” your left shoulder (or left upper arm) start the stroke.  The entire “one piece” moves automatically.  It’s almost robot-like.

Again, the stroke is consistent, it is repeatable, and it is so easy.

[Note: When putting with the grip “anchored” at your belly, it is important not to “sway” your body during the backswing and forward stroke.  Instead, visualize your belly pointing straight ahead, and not moving, throughout the entire putting stroke.  To be successful with any putting method, we must keep the body and head still.]

Practice this with these additional thoughts in mind to improve your putting.

1.  Work on a nice, SLOW, tempo.

2.  For practice purposes, mark a small letter X on the ball, (or use the logo), and have the X just above the centerline of the ball when you are getting ready to putt.  Work on concentrating on the spot, and watching your putter hit that spot, during the stroke.

3.  Alignment is critical.  It is said that most golfers are not aiming where they think they are aiming.
Here’s another suggestion (Are you getting sick of our suggestions?)

Develop a pre-shot routine that you do the same way every time, as follows:

When getting ready to take your stance, have your feet together, with your left foot just slightly behind the ball (and of course a foot or so away from the ball).

Next, put the putter down behind the ball, and take aim precisely where you want to start your putt.  Now put your left foot into position, and then your right foot.  (Your feet should be pretty much in a square position to the line of putt.)  Doublecheck your aim, think about the distance and start your stroke with the left shoulder thought.

THAT’S IT!

We think the combination of a belly putter and this putting style will improve a whole lot of people’s putting.

If you think you’re putting could stand some improvement, why not give it a shot.  What do you  have to lose but a few strokes?