The Anatomy Of A Belly Putter - Length And Putter Comparison
A putter is not just a putter. Of the hundreds available on the market there are differences between them ranging from the minute to the massive but broadly speaking putters can be split into three distinct groups: the "conventional" (or "standard" putter), the "belly" putter and the "long" putter.
The difference between these three is the length of the shaft and many a golfer has quipped that progression through these putters follows age - ie as the golfer gets older his hands become less steady and so the move from conventional to belly to long takes place in order to provide more support.
However, in the past 10 years in particular (starting really with Fred Couples back in 2001/2002) both the belly and long putter have become mainstream pieces of golf equipment bringing with their rise to prominence an equal amount of controversy (link to controversy page).
There is a saying that putting is all in the wrist, but today this is only the case if the player is using a conventional putter:
The Conventional Putter
A conventional putter is typically 32 inches to 36 inches in length making it the shortest type of putter and also the one requiring the most skill to successfully use. A still body and good wrist control is essential.
The Belly Putter
A belly putter is typically 6 to 8 inches longer than a conventional putter and is most often available in 41 inch length, 42 inch length or 43 length. By adding a third point of contact in the stomach of the golfer reliance on the hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders is either reduced or removed enabling a pure "pendulum" swing that has less room
The Long Putter
Long putters by definition are the longest putters available, and there is no movement of the wrist required in order to use these. Additionally, since the back is straight, back pain is reduced, but these putters offer the least amount of control over the ball since the player is farther from the ball than he is when hitting a conventional or belly putter.
The belly putter therefore sits squarley in the middle of the putter range providing more stability than a conventional putter and more control and feel than a long putter.
However, as with the long putter (if not to the same extent), you do partically compromise for this added stability and this compromise translates into less feel and less control over distance.
Most golfers who have made the switch to the belly putter have been happy to make that trade off purely because they'd rather hit it consistently straight first and judge the distance second.