By Tony Jimenez
VIRGINIA WATER, England (Reuters) - Ernie Els would not have won last year's British Open without the aid of a belly putter, the South African four-times major champions said on Wednesday.
Golf's governing bodies announced on Tuesday a ban on the anchoring of putters from 2016 and Els believes he would have had little chance of lifting the Claret Jug if he been forced to use a more conventional approach on the greens at Lytham last July.
"I was in such a state on the greens then that I don't think I could have won the Open with a short putter," the 43-year-old told reporters on the eve of the European Tour's flagship event, the PGA Championship at Wentworth.
"It was a psychological thing for me and even with the long putter I didn't putt that great - I was probably in the bottom 10 of the putting stats at Lytham.
"But I'm in a much better place now," said Els. "I feel I can get back to working with the short putter again in the future."
Els has begun the process of re-adapting to the shorter putter.
"I've already used it at a tournament in Asia in March," he explained. "It wasn't as much of a pressure tournament as the PGA or a major but I felt okay with it.
"I've been practicing with it and it feels great but you have to take it out on the course. There are obviously going to be more eyes watching us now.
"I probably won't put the short one in the bag until after the major season this year, then at the end of the year I'll start playing a lot more tournaments with it."
Four of the last six majors have been won by players using an anchored putter and Els believes the club manufacturers will react to the ban from the Royal and Ancient and the United States Golf Association by creating new devices to use on the greens.
"I think there will be another design of putter coming and the players these days are so good and spend so much time practicing that they will get used to playing a different way," he said.
"Luckily for me, if I'm being selfish, I've won 60-odd tournaments and only one was with a belly putter but it is going to take time for the rest of the guys to get back into competitive form with a different type of method."
Els, who also won the 2002 British Open and the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997, believes some players will take legal advice over the anchoring ban.
"I think you're going to have guys going that way," he said. "This is a real issue for some players...they are probably going to take some action."
Els also believes he could continue with some form of long putter without breaking the new rule.
"Callaways built me a longer putter with a lot of weight in the handle," he said. "You can still use it fairly close to how the anchoring works but not quite."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)