In 2011, Keegan Bradley became the first professional golfer to win a major on the regular tour using a belly putter when he triumphed in the 2011 USPGA Championship.
A year later, Ernie Els used his belly putter to great effect to win the British Open and Webb Simpson followed suit in landing the US Open, both with the aid of this type of club.
For the first time since the belly putter started to gain wider acceptance on the tour, the USGA and the R&A had a decision to make, would belly putters become a mainstay of golf for years to come, or would they be outlawed?
That decision has now, apparently, been made and it looks likely to be bad news for anybody who is using these types of putters, certainly in the conventional way.
Royal and Ancient Chief Executive Peter Dawson spoke on the BBC to clairfy the changes to the rule regarding the belly putter. While he was at pains to point out that the use of the club would not be banned, the act of “anchoring” the club to a part of the body, be that the chest, belly or even the chin, would be outlawed.
Dawson stated that he and the bigwigs at the R&A and USGA reckoned that by anchoring the club against the body, in any way, meant that this movement was “not a golf stroke”.
Players such as Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Adam Scott and Ernie Els will now have until 2016 to either start putting again with the shorter, conventional putter, or to devise a way to use the longer-handled putters in such a way that they are now not anchored to the body.
Both the USGA and R&A have also said that theu will accept comments over the next three months from anyone concerned about the issue to take into consideration.
Tiger Woods spoke out in favour of the decision stating that “I believe the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling the nerves.
“We swing 13 other clubs, the putter should be the same.”
However Ernie Els and Keegan Bradley, speaking earlier in November, were less enamoured “I’m going to do whatever it takes to protect myself and the guys on tour, whatever that is,” stated Bradley in early November, while Els stated “I believe they (the R&A and USGA) are going to have a couple of legal issues coming their way”
Bradley went further in his diatribe against the decision stating:
“To say they will ban this after we’ve won majors is unbelievable. It’s the way we’ve practised and made our living.
“Some players have put in 15 to 20 years or practice and all of a sudden they are going to make up a rule. That’s harsh.”
Adam Scott too was outspoken about the potential decision to ban longer putters stating “If we are talking about the equipment side of things, the length issue is probably the most important because tees are moved back. Greens are not changed because people are putting with a long putter.”
Graeme McDowell however disagrees. He reports a conversation with USGA Chief Executive Mike Davis who, McDowell explained, showed that research “has shown that under pressure on a Sunday afternoon, the long putter just kind of takes one extraneous movement out of the putting stroke.
“It just makes it physically easier to stroke the putter when the nerves are there (and) I think we should be levelling the playing field (by banning it).”
Clearly, this is an issue which in an attempt to unify an aspect of golf, is actually dividing it. Matt Kuchar described the situation succinctly when stating that all players who use the shorter putter would be happy, while those who use the longer putters would not.
So, if by 2016 this decision is upheld and the ban comes into force, is it the right decision for top level golf?
Obviously, this very much depends on your view. Those who use the belly putter will argue it is a restriction of golfers freedom of choice and that the belly putter offers no advantage, golfers who use the shorter putter will likely disagree.
However, in the interests of fairness, the rule does only state that anchoring the putter is to be banned, not using the putter itself. As such it will be interesting to see whether players opt to use the club without anchoring it to the body. How that may evolve is anyones guess.
From my perspective, I tend to view the physics of it to explain my reasoning. To my mind, anchoring the putter at any fixed point, chin, chest or belly, restricts movement, a movement which could potentially be to the negative of a putting stroke, especially when the pressure is on.
Since the way this negative effect is reduced is an artificial method, ie lengthening the club so that it anchors against the body, I do agree that this ban is required to ensure fair play.
However, we would be interested to hear your thoughts below!
All Pictures courtesy of Ernie Els, Keegan Bradley, Graeme McDowell & Odyssey Facebook pages