Mickelson Opposes Possible Ban of Long Putters

Phil Mickelson is aligned with the players who oppose the possible ban of long putters. From the site of this week's $6 million Barclays Singapore Open, a European Tour event that starts Thursday, the four-time major winner said such a move would be "grossly unfair."

"It's not an issue that I'm involved with, I understand both sides," he told reporters. "It's just that I don't think you can take away what you've allowed players to use, practice and play with for 30 years. I think it is grossly unfair."

Mickelson's comments came on the heels of remarks made last week by Keegan Bradley - "Lefty's" friend, protégé and partner in the 2012 Ryder Cup's two-man matches - that he may sue golf's powers-that-be if the USGA and Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews - the game's two main ruling bodies - prohibit belly putters or putters anchored to the body.

Bradley became the first player in history to win a major title with a belly putter when he took the 2011 PGA Championship. He has been joined in the litigation chorus by "broomstick" wielders such as Tim Clark, who won the 2010 Players Championship.

Ernie Els - who used a long putter en route to winning the Open Championship for his fourth major title this summer - has long asserted the club is legal and also hinted at legal action, as has 2012 U.S. Open champion, Webb Simpson.

Mickelson has dabbled with a broomstick, but his primary putter of choice is a conventional blade. His comments this week are the polar opposite of fellow luminaries Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, who both have said they don't believe long putters are legal.

Back in February at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Woods remarked: "I believe it's the art of controlling the body and club and swinging the pendulum motion. I believe that's how it should be played. I'm a traditionalist when it comes to that."

Adam Scott, who also uses a long putter, disputes Woods' claim. "I am not necessarily sure his views on what a putter should be are correct at all - his view that the putter should be the shortest club in the bag has never been a rule of golf. I do not see why it should be now," said Scott, whose caddie, Steve Williams, previously worked for Woods.

In addition to major champions Bradley and Els, Simpson used a belly putter to win the U.S. Open at Olympic Club. Two of the past three Players champions - Clark and Matt Kuchar - and 2011 FedEx Cup champion Bill Haas used long or belly putters as well.

One of the main reasons for the calls of banning long putters is that some believe anchoring a club to the body provides an inherent advantage and more control. But folks like Bradley, Els, Simpson, Clark, et al feel their hard-earned titles would be denigrated if such putters are suddenly prohibited, and that their legacy might one day be construed that they were "cheaters" by using a club that was later ruled to be illegal.

Simpson has begun practicing with a regular putter in preparation for a rules change. But that doesn't mean he'll agree with such a decision. "I'm friends with a lot of the R&A and the USGA guys and I know they are trying to do it for the betterment of the game," he said. "But I don't think it's a good decision."

Simpson also doesn't believe the rule change is borne out by improved putting statistics by players using long putters. "If you look at the stats, last year there was no one in the top 20 of the 'strokes gained' category who anchored a putter," the thoughtful North Carolinian added.

"So you have to throw out the argument of 'it's an advantage' right there. There's a bunch of arguments going around but I haven't heard a good one yet."

On Sunday, European Tour chief George O'Grady confirmed that the USGA and R&A have been discussing the rules change. The two governing bodies are expected to meet in the next few weeks and perhaps come to a decision prior to the start of the 2013 season on the various world tours, although it's more probable that a formal vote won't take place until March. The decision might also take into account the current rules cycle, which runs through December 2015.