|Ernie Els of South Africa watches his birdie putt on the 18th green during the final round of the British Open golf championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes, northern England July 22, 2012. (REUTERS)
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, ENGLAND - It seemed like Ernie Els was the only guy who had the stomach for winning a major Sunday afternoon.
The popular 42-year-old posted a number and then Aussie Adam Scott couldn't match it, bogeying each of the last four holes in one of the great collapses in major championship golf to open the door for Els to win the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, his fourth major.
Els' victory was aided by his use of the belly putter, making him the third of the last four major winners to use a putter that is anchored to the body (Keegan Bradley won last year's PGA Championship using a belly putter and so did Webb Simpson at this year's U.S. Open).
Scott has been using a long putter -- he holds the top of it against his chest just below his chin with his left hand and propels it forward with his right near waist level -- since before last year's Masters and it has rejuvenated his career.
But, after listening to the rulemakers from the R&A in their post-championship debriefing Monday, it sure sounds like they won't allow players to anchor the putter to their body for much longer. (Of course, the ruling bodies of golf could have acted boldly when use of these putters became a tactic a few years ago, but at least they're doing something about it now. Obviously the success of guys using the belly putter is making them sit up and take notice).
"The situation is that the R&A and the USGA do have this subject firmly back on the radar," said Peter Dawson, the executive director of the R&A. "We appreciate that there is much speculation about this and that we need to clarify the position as soon as possible. I think you're going to see us saying something about it one way or the other in a few months, rather than years.
"There are still further meetings to be had, so we're just going to have to be patient I'm afraid and wait and see the outcome. But as you know, it is under active discussion."
That sure sounds like there is going to be a ruling to ban both the long putter and the belly putter.
Dawson said the fact a guy using the belly putter and one using the long putter finished 1-2 in the British Open isn't the catalyst for the discussion. The fact is, by the R&A's reckoning, there were 27 long putters and 16 belly putters being employed by 43 of the 156 players in the Open. It is an issue.
The philosphical debate is whether anchoring a club to your body violates the spirit of the game. Many purists view it as a crutch for a poor putting stroke and, at least at the elite level, it shouldn't be allowed.
There has been some talk of limiting the length of the putter as a way to eliminate their use, but Dawson said the ruling bodies are cutting to the chase and just looking at the method of stroke. It might be that the rule won't ban long putters, it will ban anchoring a club to the body.
"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. It's a matter of stroke issue," he said.
Dawson said there has been an important distinction evolving: the long putter was once viewed as the last restort for players with the yips. Now there are a number of players who are fine conventional putters, but simply believe being able to anchor the club against their body is a better way to go.
"The objections I find from those who object at (the) professional level, at elite level -- and this was the older objection -- 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?" he said. "That's the general argument one hears. 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."
Now another change is coming.
The days of seeing a guy with the broomstick and another with a belly putter battling down the stretch for a major championship sure sound like they are numbered.