Rocco Mediate remembered the chuckles and the verbal barbs from his peers when he first used a long putter 12 years ago. He didn't care because standing more upright reduced the pain in his back, caused by countless hours of practice with a conventional putter. ``The long putter back then wasn't looked at as something a professional would use,'' he said.
Mark Calcavecchia agreed: ``I remember when everybody looked at Rocco like he was nuts.''
Mediate, whose five PGA Tour titles include the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic this year, has almost $9 million in career earnings.
No longer is the long putter stigmatized. Today, it's a teammate of the ``claw'' grip, belly putter and the belly putter/reverse grip.
They are welcomed to be tried by all on tour. Major club manufacturers feature putters of varying lengths, head configurations and components.
``Are you kidding? Look in my golf bag,'' said Jesper Parnevik, pointing at five putters he had for a practice round at the Buick Classic last week. ``Long, belly, different size-heads. I've tried most of them, and the different grips too. And I'll try even more.''
To make more putts.
``Look at me. I used the claw when I won the World Match Play Championship [in February],'' Kevin Sutherland said. ``I've gone back to a conventional grip because I wasn't judging speed that well. But I'm certain I'll go back to the claw at some point. I've just got to fine-tune it.
``We're all looking for the fastest way to get the ball in the hole, no matter what the putter or grip looks like.''
Chris DiMarco held an imaginary putter and showed a few inquisitors his claw grip last year at the Canon Greater Hartford Open. The enthusiasm in his voice was palpable.
``It makes my stroke smoother, and I've got so much confidence now,'' he said.
Seven years ago, DiMarco was ready to give up the game because his putting was so lousy and he had failed at the tour qualifying school.
His friend and fellow pro Skip Kendall suggested he try the claw. Kendall remembered it from seeing a mediocre player use it while growing up in Milwaukee.
Kendall showed DiMarco how to pinch the grip with the thumb, forefinger and middle finger of the right hand -- like a claw.
DiMarco altered the grip a bit, using his right hand to grab the club more like a player using a long putter would.
He calls it his ``psycho'' grip.