The Long Putter
I first used a long putter back in 1989 in the British Masters at Woburn. After a first round 74, which included 38 putts with a regular putter, I found myself on the putting green with Sam Torrance, and he let me try one of the very first models that he had been tinkering about with.
It wasn't a pretty thing, but after a few minutes it seemed to work, so I decided to give it a go. The next day I shot a 66, and the long putter has been in my bag ever since.
In fact, that same year was probably my best ever. I went home to Australia and won six times, including the PGA Championship. If you use a long putter, or are tempted to try it, I hope some of these ideas help you to make it work.
Get ready to create a pure pendulum action
By its very nature, when you set up to a putt with a long handle you are getting ready to make a near-perfect pendulum stroke, the shaft of the putter fairly vertical as you set the face squarely behind the ball.
Personally, I find that I putt best when I settle most of my weight on my left side, with a sense of easing my whole body in the direction of the target, which also gets my hands ahead of the ball.
As for the grip itself, I wrap my left hand around the butt-end, the knuckles facing forward. The key to the right hand is to make sure that the forefingers sit behind the shaft. As I will explain in just a moment, the right hand really holds the key to setting your stroke in motion.
Grip and ball position are keys to success
One of the things that I find with guys who use the long-handled putter is they don't get their hands far enough forward at the set-up. This is something you have to be aware of; set up with your hands too far behind the ball (as illustrated above), and you will struggle to get the ball rolling properly off the face at impact.
I have always been a firm advocate that to have your hands ahead of the putter is key to solid and consistent striking with the long putter, especially on slower greens.
With the hands comfortably placed, I feel that the inside of the right thumb takes the club back to start the stroke, while the forefingers gently accelerate the putter on the way through.
Feel it in your fingers...and roll the ball on line
Having the hands work independently of one another - or suffering some sort of breakdown in the wrists just when you least need it - are common problems in putting: problems that the long putter can solve very quickly if you adhere to a few basic pointers.
The first of these is that the hands are placed softly on the club. While the left hand really does very little other than sit quietly on the butt of the club, stabilising the shaft, it is vital that it is relaxed, not vice-like. With the fingers extended as you see here, the right hand then provides you with a terrific 'feel' for the face.
A gentle pressure on the inside of the right thumb is all you need to ease the putter back, the forefingers guiding the putter down the line towards the hole. The pressure in the hands doesn't increase during the stroke-the feel is consistent throughout.
Slight downward strike gets the ball rolling on line
Another of my key beliefs is that the only way to get a putt truly rolling properly is to have your hands slightly in front of the ball at the set-up, and that in the stroke itself you then aim to hit slightly down on the ball as you release the putter through impact.
That may well go against the grain of many putting articles, but if you watch the world's best putters (even with the short stick) you find that they do tend to hit ever so slightly down on it Jose Maria Olazabal is a great example of this.
What you have to remember is that a putter is designed with a certain amount of has loft on the face. Try to hit 'up' on the ball and you only add to that loft, which causes inaccuracy.
SWING THOUGHT - 'Soft' and smooth
Once you are feeling comfortable at the set-up, developing a stroke that repeats is all about making sure that your body stays still through the entire motion; the hands, the arms and the shoulders work together to give you a very simple and effective pendulum action that sees the head of the putter stay low to the ground as it swings back and forth on a consistent path.
Maintaining a soft grip pressure in both hands (particularly the right hand) is another absolute 'must'. The original idea behind the long putter was to take the pressure out of the hands, and for me the key to a good putting day is to sense the flow of the stroke in the palm of the right hand - you do literally pour the ball into the middle of the cup.