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Iowa men’s golfer Ryan Marks finds success with long putter

BY TOMMY REINKING | OCTOBER 23, 2012 6:30 AM

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Iowa golfer Ryan Marks doesn’t putt like most golfers, but in the coming years, most golfers might putt like Ryan Marks.

He uses what’s known as a long putter when on the green. The use of a long putter is unusual in college golf, and it faces controversy in the PGA.

Iowa head coach Mark Hankins said a long putter benefits Marks because of his 6-4 frame.

“When putters were created, they were made with a 5-10 player in mind,” he said. “Ryan doesn’t fit that average model. He’s an abnormal size player, and using a long putter allows him to have a more consistent stroke.”

Long putters come in numerous varieties, but all are longer than a standard putter. The most prevalent is known as a “belly putter,” because players have the end of the club pressed against their abdomen. Marks has the end of his putter pressed against his chest when he putts, but some long putters even go as far as the chin.

“This last winter break I picked one up,” he said. “I had been struggling with my putting, but I was still reluctant to try it. I tried a few out and got comfortable. Now, I can’t imagine going back.”

Having a putter held against the body makes it easier to swing the club like a pendulum, something that would be difficult for players of Marks’ stature. The putter he uses is 48 inches long; most putters are 35 inches.

Hankins said he guesses 20 to 25 percent of college golfers using nontraditional putters, but that number is growing. One reason for the high number of traditional putters is that changing to a new club is something that some players don’t need to do.

“It’s just a comfort thing,” junior Steven Ihm said. “I’m already really good with my putter, so there’s no need to change. There are a lot of benefits, but they’re not for everyone.”

Use of the long putter has been a recent controversy in the PGA. Three of the last four major tournament winners used the club, causing some to proclaim that to use it is cheating.

Opponents of long putters contend that having the club steadied at the midsection makes putting easier. The arms move the putter less and nerves play less of a factor because the club is held more stationary.

Hankins said he doesn’t buy it.

“Look at the Ryder Cup and the best players in the world,” he said. “Only a handful of players use the long putter. If it was absolutely easier to putt with them, then why aren’t all of the best players using them?”

Golfers around the world are awaiting rulings by the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient — the governing golf body in the United Kingdom — about whether the putters will be banned in competitive play.

“I don’t really mind it either way,” Marks said. “If they get banned, I’ll get by. I’ll still use one to train to get my shoulders to rock. But until it’s banned, I’m going to keep using it.”

Hankins said most players use long putters based on individual need, not because it makes the game easier. This is especially the case for Marks.

“Tall players do things nontraditionally,” Hankins said. “For Ryan, [switching to using a long putter] was a good choice. He believes in it, and that’s what’s most important.”


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