Padraig Harrington’s remarks on the topic of belly and long putters were a subject of conversation on Monday when the R&A held its post Open Championship press conference. The media was more interesting in putters it seemed, than on the championship itself. “We appreciate that there is much speculation about this and that we need to clarify the position as soon as possible. And I think you're going to see us saying something about it one way or the other in a few months rather than years,” stated R&A chief, Peter Dawson. “The objections I find from those who object at professional level, at elite level, are if people have become failed putters in the conventional way, why should they have a crutch to come back and compete against me when I haven't failed in the conventional way,” Dawson explained. “But we're also seeing now people who can putt perfectly well in the conventional way thinking that an anchored stroke gives them an advantage. I think that's the fundamental change that we've witnessed in the last couple of years,” he added.
Part of the challenge faced by the ruling body of the game, is the needs of a few are potentially impacting the many. Out of 156 players in the Open Championship, there were 27 long putters and 16 belly putters in play, according to Jim McArthur, chairman of the R&A’s Championship Committee. “We do monitor it, and I think the biggest event last year was something like 21 percent of players use long and belly putters, but it seems to be averaging about 14 or 15 percent,” said Dawson. “Interestingly, at the Amateur Championship at Troon, the count was quite low. It was, again, medium single figures. I've checked with the manufacturers, that at the club level or recreational level, if you can call it that, they are much more used in the United States than they are anywhere else in the world,” said Dawson.
The issue isn’t the apparatus itself, belly or long putter. Rather the method employed with it, according to Dawson. “Anchoring is what we're looking at, method of stroke, and it's all about putting around a fixed pivot point, whether that fixed pivot point is in your belly or under your chin or on your chest. I don't distinguish between the two,” he said. “I do stress, this decision hasn't been taken. Please don't think that it has. It has not,” he stressed. “But if it is taken, the rules of golf are changed every four years, quadrennial review, and the next quadrennial review is January of 2016 when there will be a new rule book,” he continued. “If that were to happen and we were to announce it in the reasonably near future, I think the amount of notice people would be getting of the change would be perfectly reasonable.” On a point of clarification, Dawson added, “Equipment changes don't follow the four-year cycle, although we are always on equipment changes mindful about the need for notice periods and the opportunity for manufacturers to comment,” he said.