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Belly Putter Debate Heats Up

The Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club had it all this year: Hollywood-scripted sunshine, Lefty pulling rabbits out of his hat (and a golf ball out of a spectator’s shorts), and high drama on the 18th hole to force a three-way sudden death playoff. The only thing missing was another belly putter.

Indeed, Bill Haas’s putter is a Cameron Studio Select Kombi putter, while Keegan Bradley’s putter is an Odyssey White Hot XG Sabertooth (pictured here). Just imagine if Phil Mickelson had stuck with the belly putter he was flirting with a few months ago. We might have seen the first three-way “belly off” in the history of the PGA Tour.

It’s just another sign that the belly putter isn’t going away. Or is it? There are rumblings that the USGA is itching to revisit the legality of the belly putter, and specifically the act of anchoring any putter to the body when putting. Tiger Woods famously came out against the belly putter two weeks ago. Shortly thereafter, Ernie Els said he’s in favor of banning it…even though he uses one.

The issue is getting stickier by the day as young tour stars like Haas and Bradley keep winning with their belly putters. It’s hard to believe that before Bradley’s victory at the PGA Championship last summer, the belly putter was still largely considered a fringe option, a sort of last resort for old guys on the Champions Tour.

Now here we are, six months later, and the belly putter is still lighting up the PGA Tour while putter makers triple and even quadruple their belly putter sales forecasts compared to last year at this time.

In other words, it’s precisely the wrong time for the USGA to decide to pick a fight with the belly putter. Any powerful opponents at the rules-making level had to have been caught flat-footed by the belly putter’s sudden surge of success, both on tour and on the retail shelves. This genie rocketed out of the bottle, and now it would be hard to putter back in…

There are four issues with banning the belly at this point, one of which we haven’t really heard discussed elsewhere.

First, you would be removing key clubs from some of the PGA Tour’s hottest young hands, like Bradley and Haas, which would be a really strange development. Second, you would effectively eliminate a game-improvement option from the recreational golf ranks at a time when the game is suffering at the recreational level. Third, you would be pulling the rug out from one of the hottest retail categories at a time when equipment makers are trying to navigate a fragile economy.

The fourth concern is particularly interesting: if the belly putter is declared illegal, does it cast a dubious light on Bradley’s major victory at the PGA Championship? It’s one thing if the belly putter has won a tourney on some random Tour stop, no one is going to really remember or care. But now that the belly putter has won a major, the question is a bit stickier. What if the belly putter gets banned and Bradely never wins another major. Would that unfairly paint Bradley’s career into a corner, adding an asterisk to his finest achievement?

All of these questions may be moot if the USGA ignores the naysayers and just stays the current course. But if guys like Woods and Els get their way and the talk of a ban heats up, you can expect some serious fur to start flying across the world of golf.

About Sean Weir

Sean Weir is the founder and editor of PutterZone.com, and the author of Putter Perfection, the definitive guide to putter fitting. Profile: Google+

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