Faldo the latest to have belly laugh, at least until long putter is outlawed

Nick Faldo has always had the stomach for the fight and yesterday proved just how courageous he can be by revealing that in his ceaseless quest for a fourth Claret Jug he will be using a belly putter for the first time in his career.

"Throwing it in the bag in the week of the Open is a bit of a nightmare, but I do not have a lot of choice," he said, although his fellow professionals who have campaigned long and hard for the extended putter to be outlawed would have simply looked to the heavens. Another one lost to the dark side, they would have muttered to themselves, another one who has forsaken the spirit of the game in the search of a few saved shots.

Not that Faldo was being anything less than honest as he spoke of his reasons for switching to the ugly implement that an ever-swelling legion of professionals are jamming into their navels and saying to hell with the elegance. "Yeah, I do not agree with pros being able to anchor the club but, hey, until they change the rule which says you can then I'll do it as well," said the 46-year-old.

It was a line that would have sounded worringly familiar to anyone who has been keeping track of a debate that has been raging since Sam Torrance pioneered the use of the first extended putter way back in the early 1980s in his revolutionary bid to counter the dreaded yips.

Colin Montgomerie was similarly candid of his own utilisation of the belly putter, saying in his autobiography "The Real Monty": "Though it is hardly in my interests to say so, I think that all long putters ­ yes, all of them ­ should be declared illegal. Long putters ­ be they anchored to the chin, the chest or belly ­ all give the player the three pivotal points of two hands and the body rather than just the two hands.

"You would never be allowed to have a brace that helped to keep your right arm on target when throwing a dart. Nor would you be allowed anything to steady the moving arm in snooker. It is extraordinary, to me, that golf officialdom has not acted on this score."

This is a belief shared quite vehemently by Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, who as the world Nos 1 and 2 would be thought to have a bit of clout. "They should definitely be banned," said Els earlier this year. "I believe nerves and the skill of putting are part of the game. Take a tablet if you can't handle it." But so far the game's bodies in charge of the rules, the Royal and Ancient and the USGA, have refused to act and set a limit on the length of the putters in regulations that at best could be described as flaky. Peter Dawson, the secretary of the R&A, did hint that they were looking into it, saying "the advent of the belly putter has reopened the debate". But Dawson admitted that "at the moment they are legal and I do not expect any imminent announcement otherwise". And as more and more professionals take the plunge and as the belly putter is greeted as a saviour in golf shops all over the land, it is going to become almost impossible for the rule-makers to nip this yip-beater in the bud.

Which suits Faldo and the other belly-laughers, who include the world No 3, Vijay Singh, and the highly-touted young South American Trevor Immelman among their number here this week. Indeed, it was Immelman who convinced Faldo of the benefits of a change to a game-improving device that is the direct descendant of the broomhandle and is based on the same theory that if you take any wrist movement out of the equation then you can achieve a consistent swing that is as close to perfect as you will get. Imagine a pendulum in a grandfather clock.

"I think we're going to give it a go," said Faldo. "I picked three of them up and had two putts with them and I thought 'well...'. Once you've taken the mental decision that you're going to give it a go, it definitely helps. I have been putting with it now for five days in practice and was given a lift when Trevor told me that he did just four hours with it and it felt good. I thought, 'well I can do that, I can put four in, hopefully I will put 24 in and I will be fine.'

"There is nothing really difficult about doing it. I'm just trying to adapt. And it definitely helps you with the release of the ball ­ it is totally different. I have been really struggling and not enjoying my putting at all. It's been a huge headache but this definitely frees that up. It is a tough week to make a decision but I may as well because I am not happy. There is no point taking in old memories this week. I'm better off starting off with some fresh thoughts."

THE CHOICES ON THE PUTTING GREEN LENGTH IS THE KEY

CONVENTIONAL PUTTER

Putters, or "cleeks" as they were first known, have been an integral part - some say the most important part - of golfing equipment since the game's inception in the 15th century. There have been thousands of designs to the conventional putter, although to this day putters are either of the classic blade or mallet variety or a combination of both. The average length of the putter is 32-35 inches (Tiger Woods' is 34) and are either centre-shafted or heel-shafted.

BROOMHANDLE

Pioneered by the former European Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance in the early 1980s, the "broomhandle", or "long" putter is on average 50 inches in length and made to rest against the chin or the chest. Most players then employ a grip similar to the way you would hold a broom - one hand at the top, the other midway down the shaft. The advantages are the removal of wrist action and a true pendulum swing, although there is a reduction of feel and distance control.

BELLY PUTTER

Developed in the late 90s as an update on the broomhandle, the belly putter was first to used to winning effect by Paul Azinger at the 1999 Sony Open. Typically 38 to 43 inches in length, the belly putter - now used by Nick Faldo - uses the abdomen as a third point of contact along with each hand to deliver balance and stability throughout the stroke. Advantages are the same as the broomhandle although pros say they gain more "feel" than with the longer implement.

GOLF'S BELLY DANCERS FOUR WHO RISK FEELING 'LIKE THE ANTICHRIST'

VIJAY SINGH

Switched in 2001 and within a year had leapt from being ranked 100 in the PGA Tour's putting rankings to being in the top 10. The Fijian claims "it doesn't make that much difference", but critics point to his incredible consistency on the greens and his rise to No 3 in the world rankings. Unique in that he uses a "cack-handed" grip as well.

COLIN MONTGOMERIE

Freddie Couples persuaded the Scot to try the belly putter in 2002 telling him the effect it had on his game "was the difference between night and day - but more so". Montgomerie was converted and within seven months had jumped from No 40 on the European Tour putting stats to No 2. But nevertheless believes they should be declared illegal.

TREVOR IMMELMAN

The 24-year-old defied conventional wisdom that the belly putter was for older players suffering the "yips" when he began using it at the British Masters in May after being inspired by playing with Vijay Singh. Two weeks later he won the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open in Germany where he raised the ire of his fellow South African Ernie Els.

TOM LEHMAN

Goes through putters like Darren Clarke through Havanas although seems happiest with the belly or broomhandle putter. The 1996 Open champion admitted that his putting horrors meant "it was no fun playing" and ignored the advice of fellow American Rocco Mediate who said that "using that thing will make you feel like the Antichrist".

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