With a ban on anchored strokes looming, Harrington switches to belly putter

Padraig Harrington will try anything that makes him play better golf, even a method of putting he believes should be outlawed.

Despite his support of a proposed rule that would ban anchored strokes, Harrington switched to the belly putter Thursday in the Wells Fargo Championship. It didn't appear to help him much — he made only one birdie in a round of 80 — but he plans to stick with it.

"I took it out last week, and mechanically, everything I do with my putting stroke is better with the belly putter than without it," he said.

Harrington is a "Working for Golf" ambassador for the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, which along with the U.S. Golf Association proposed the new rule last November that would ban the anchored stroke. It has become one of the most divisive issues in golf. A final ruling is expected by the end of the month.

Switching to the belly putter hasn't changed Harrington's mind. He still thinks it should be banned. Then again, this is an Irishman who wears glasses even though he has 20/20 vision.

Harrington, though, was quick to point out that it's within the rules at the moment, and will be until 2016 even if the governing bodies adopt the proposed rule on anchoring.

"I don't support the belly putter," Harrington said. "I think it's bad for the game of the golf. If something is going to help me for the next 3 ½ years, I'm going to use it. It's the same as the box grooves. It's hurt me deeply having the box grooves banned, but I knew it wasn't for the good of my game. It was the good of their game."

Harrington has only one official win since the last of his three majors in the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills. He has struggled mightily with his putting, and in recent months has been using "SAM PuttLab," which analyzes 28 parameters of the putting stroke.

"I've been working on that for a good while, and my putting stroke has been coming around," Harrington said. "I was bored last Monday and I was like, 'Oh, I wonder what that looks like.' And I was surprised to see everything was better. In terms of mechanics, it was a far better stroke."

He used the belly putter in his pro-am round Wednesday and said it went great.

"It wasn't very good today, but I will use it again tomorrow, no doubt," he said. "I just wasn't quite as comfortable, which I kind of knew was coming. The grip of my normal putter is open and the grip of this is square, so I'm not quite used to it yet. There was a bit of resetting when I was over the ball, which, obviously I prefer not to have. But that's just familiarity. It will be interesting to give it another go tomorrow."

Four of the last six major champions have used an anchored putting stroke, starting with Keegan Bradley at the 2011 PGA Championship and the most recent Adam Scott at the Masters, using his broom-handled putter.

Harrington compared the anchored stroke to the change in box grooves, or square grooves, in the 5-iron through wedges. Changes to the dimensions of those grooves changed in 2012, and the Irishman said it affected his game. He believes it has cost him at least one shot per round because he hasn't adjusted to the change. Likewise, he said some players will struggle to adapt to the conventional putter if the ban is adopted.

"It's not for the good of some individuals, but for the good of the game, absolutely," he said. "For the majority, I believe anchoring shouldn't be there. It doesn't look good. The commentators are talking about it. You guys are talking about it now. It's a story, just like the grooves. As much as the grooves cost me dearly ... six months after they were gone, nobody talked about it. It will be the same with the putter."

Harrington said last year after the British Open — won by Ernie Els, who used a belly putter — that he hoped the R&A didn't wait until he was 50 to outlaw anchoring.

Now, he might be on borrowed time. The 41-year-old figures he'll be more competitive before 2016 than after the ban might take effect.

"It's not such a big issue," he said. "But then again, I might use it for the next 3 ½ years. As I said, I have no problem using something within the rules of the game. If somebody wants to give me a couple of shots handicap, I'll take that, too."

No one was more surprised than Harrington that he went to the belly putter. He messed around with it in recent years and never liked how it felt. Only when he saw the results from his putting analysis did he decide it was worth a shot.

"That encouraged me to get over the 'I don't like the feel of this' because I accelerate better, and I do so many things better with it," he said. "Before it was a feel thing. Now I'm saying, 'Well, I can get through the feel thing.' If it's going to be a better putting stroke, why not?"