That collective groan you just heard is from putter makers and numerous professional golfers in the wake of today’s announced proposed ban on anchoring the putter to the body, which would effectively pull the rug out from under the booming belly putter industry.
As reported by the Associated Press, the belly putter won’t technically be banned under the proposal, just neutered: “The Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the U.S. Golf Association said on Wednesday the rule would not outlaw belly putter or broom-handle putters, only the way they are currently used. The proposed rule would make it illegal for golfers to anchor the club while making a stroke and not take effect until 2016.”
Matt Kuchar is among the players who use a belly putter anchored not to their torso, but to their forearm. This type of use would still be permitted. But the vast majority of belly putters users do anchor the putter to their belly (hence the name, right?).
The ruling is sure to be divisive, and to say that the Royal & Ancient and USGA are behind the curve would be an understatement. They are trying to stuff the cat back into the bag only after the belly putter enjoyed an unprecedented run of success on the PGA Tour over the past year, racking up three major victories and numerous other wins along the way. And the cat is sure to do some scratching along the way. Many professional golfers have resurrected their competitiveness (see Ernie Els) or made their name (see Keegan Bradley) with the belly putter. Bradley has been quoted as saying he respects the proposed ruling but is not happy about it. Others may not be so diplomatic.
We predicted this mess back in April in advance of the Masters, stating that “if a long putter is the last club standing at the 2012 Masters, the debate is going to get much louder before it gets quieter.” Well, as it turned out, the belly putter made its major noise this year the British Open and U.S. Open and not the Masters. But the effect was the same. These high-profile victories sent the debate into overdrive, and ultimately resulted in a reactionary ruling that, if it is going to be made at all, should have been made much earlier.
Since those major tournaments were won with a putting style that may be outlawed, would we put an asterisk by them in the record books? Hopefully not, but it’s a legitimate question. Those tournaments were won fair and square. Nevertheless, this proposed ruling potentially casts a pall over them.
We also reported earlier in February on how the success of the belly putter on tour has created a booming business for putter companies. Needless to say, these companies can’t be too happy about the proposed ruling.
Here’s what Tiger Woods has to say about it: “I just believe that the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves, and having it as a fixed point – as I was saying all year – is something that’s not in the traditions of the game. We swing all other 13 clubs. I think the putter should be the same. It should be a swinging motion throughout the entire bag…There have been some guys who had had success out there, and obviously everyone always copies what we out here, and that’s something that I think for the greater good of the game needs to be adjusted.”
It may not be what everybody wants to hear, but it could be the final word.