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PGA makes right call in putter ban

Posted: December 11, 2012 1:54 p.m.
Updated: December 12, 2012 5:00 a.m.

The belly putter needs to go. That seems to be the consensus in the world of golf, except of course, for some of the world’s top players that still use it.

Earlier this month, golf’s governing bodies proposed rule changes that would ban anchoring a club in making a stroke, effectively erasing belly putters from the PGA Tour beginning in 2016.

As Michael Bamberger of Sports Illustrated somewhat humorously wrote, anchored putting is typically achieved “by sticking the butt end of a long-shafted putter into one’s belly (you read that right).”

Believing such clubs give players an unfair advantage, the tour is set to institute new rules stating that if a player anchors a club during stroke play, for instance, it would be a two-stroke penalty for each occurrence. In match play, it would mean the loss of the hole. The rule technically does not alter equipment rules and consequently would allow for the continued use of belly putters, as long as they are not anchored during the stroke.

Referring to the traditions of golf, Mike Davis, the executive director of the U.S. Golfing Association (USGA) said “one of the most fundamental things about the game is that we believe the player should hold the club away from his body and swing it freely.”

While there are no true statistical measures as to the benefits of the belly putter, allowing the continued anchoring of clubs would increasingly change the face of the game.

It would certainly be odd to see kids increasingly anchoring their putters at the local putting green, trying to emulate some of the stars of today’s PGA Tour. It frankly seems odd that so many young players on tour even use the belly putter.

While players have been using belly putters for years now, they became popular on the Champions Tour in the 1980’s. Previously used mostly by senior players, the clubs are viewed by some as a much more effective way to putt, particularly for players who were losing their skills on the greens.

Charlie Owens, a former army paratrooper and a pioneer of minority golf, is largely credited for creating the original long putter after welding two club shafts together to form the so-called “Slim Jim Putter.” For most of his time on tour, he walked with a limp due to injuries sustained in the Army and began using the tinkered putter as a way to combat the “yips,” the apparent loss of motor skills that occasionally occurs in sports.

“I would freeze up on a two-footer,” Owens said to Golf Digest. “Putting is a peculiar animal, and it works in mysterious ways.”

Eventually, the belly putter began to gain traction. Three of the past five major champions -- Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els -- actually used belly putters in their victories. Bradley, who has used a belly putter for much of his life, actually made history by becoming the first player to win a major using an anchored putter at the 2011 PGA Championship.   

However, realizing younger players are picking up the habit, several notable PGA stars have voiced clear opposition to the continued use of anchored putting.

“I just believe that the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves,” 14-time major champion Tiger Woods said. “We swing all other 13 clubs. I think the putter should be the same. It should be a swinging motion throughout the bag.”

Twelve-time tour winner Steve Stricker agreed, saying “anytime you can take your arms and hands out of it, especially your hands, I think when you anchor it in your chest, it’s a huge advantage.”

The USGA and the PGA agreed with Stricker, Woods and a number of other players who felt the belly putter should go. They made the right call, but it’ll certainly be interesting to see how younger players cope with the loss of their beloved belly putters.

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