Left Handed Belly Putter
Against the Left Handed Belly Putter:
Behold the left handed belly putter: ruining the game, one indented abdomen at a time. These things need to be banned, as offensive as orange golf balls or Johnny Miller’s 1973 plaid pants. Problem is, the Rules of Golf offer no help. You can get out your magnifying glass and study the rules, futilely searching for a reason to declare the left handed belly putter illegal. You can parse the verbiage on the rules for golf clubs-words like adjustability, length, volume, alignment-hunting for the passage that will banish these atrocities forever.
Left handed belly putters: Should they be banned?
You won’t find anything to help your case. The Rules of Golf, like a speakeasy during Prohibition, provide a safe haven for evildoers. In the absence of firm, legal ground, let’s turn to the philosopher Louis Armstrong, who never used a belly trumpet. If somebody asks you what’s so wrong with the left handed belly putter, you channel Satchmo’s definition of jazz: If you’ve gotta ask, you’ll never know. Some things just are. When the Rules of Golf tell you the object of the game is “playing a ball with a club from the teeing ground into the hole by a stroke or successive strokes in accordance with the Rules”, the only missing codicil is: ”And that means no contraptions. Dig?”
It’s time the Rule Makers added another key phrase, too: “You golf your ball with your hands, not your beer gut.” The proliferation of the belly putter threatens to obliterate golf’s purity, not to mention its aesthetic. The sight of Champions Tour golfers using belly putters in the last two decades to steady gin-frazzled nerves is bad enough; the sight of the otherwise likable Keegan Bradley,25 years young and full of vinegar, using his sternum to guide his putts en route to a PGA Championship calls for a full-scale intervention by the powers that be.
Put simply, the left handed belly putter detracts from the essence of the game, that brutally difficult moment in time when your eyes, brain and hands must mesh to create perfect contact. Adding your stomach to that equation, a plane on which to rest the putter to steady nerves and create a fault-free swing plane, provides a crutch. It’s like giving a sprinter a third leg to generate power, a basketball player a trampoline from which to dunk, a baseball player steroids with which to smash home runs.
Speaking of which, has Mark McGwire come out in favor of belly putters? Let’s stay with the baseball analogy. If the belly putter were a baseball rule, it’d be the designated hitter. In fact, if we allow players to anchor putters to their body, why stop there? Why not take a page from the American League’s awful rule book and institute the “Designated Putter”? Might as well. You’re already allowing putters to lean on an enhancement. Let’s just allow the player to get his ball to the putting green, then motion to a player in his golf cart to come trotting on-an ace putter, a dead-eye marksman who will sink the knee-knocker, then trot back to the golf cart to await his next assignment. Golf would have its own Frank Thomas or Edgar Martinez figure, a well-compensated DP.
And if these left handed belly putter users are so hell-bent on using the full body to anchor the golf club, why stop at the belly? If we are to open this Pandora’s Golf Bag, let’s create a “Full Body Putter,” in which the player removes his putter from his bag, then dons a full Velcro body suit. The putter grip would be made of Velcro as well so that the putter would never have any chance of leaving the body at any time. Attach it to your neck, your chin, heck, your rear end, if that works-and let the magic of a rules-free putting green work to your advantage. Sound insane? Of course it does, just like the notion of letting players, at the game’s most critically nervous juncture, steady their nerves by anchoring their putters against the broad plane of their bellies.
Then again, crafting this argument has got me thinking. If the belly putter is OK, and if total lawlessness reigns on the putting green, surely there’s room for my new invention-the “Remote Control Putter,” using the ever-familiar TV remote to guide your putter from afar. You’d never have to leave your golf cart! Genius, I say. Coming soon to a 3am Golf Channel infomercial near you.
Putting left handed is hard unless you use a belly putter
For the Left Handed Belly Putter:
Since long-shafted left handed putters have been around for decades-helping older golfers with bad backs and yippy hands and are even gamming currency among young guns on the PGA Tour-outlawing them makes about as much sense as Prohibition. And as the recent Ken Burns series illustrates, that smooth move did not exactly lead to a more sober, fair and orderly society. Would an 18th Amendment of golf induce players to make belly putters in basement hideaways? Sneak onto speakeasy courses that cater to illicit clubs? Create opportunists as violent as that Nucky Thompson guy on Boardwalk Empire? Nah, although I can envision protest bumper stickers being printed even now: “If left handed belly putters are outlawed, only outlaws will have left handed belly putters.”
Seriously, the-USGA and the Royal and Ancient must be facing issues more pressing, and even existential, than belly putters. The health and future of the sport remains dicey. Major initiatives are under discussion to make the game friendlier and less hostage to rules as inscrutable as the Internal Revenue Code. So why ban a club that may make the game slightly easier for some players, especially now?
It’s not as if the Blue Coats didn’t have their chance back in the day, before belly putters became more prominent. Former USGA Technical Director Frank Thomas, who made rulings on equipment for more than a quarter century, did indeed want to ban them. In an interview with TravelGolf.com he lamented that “Of all the decisions I made, that was the one that was overruled, unfortunately.” Well for once the Commissioner of Conformation did not get his way.
But the argument against long putters endures, however tainted by hypocrisy that could almost shame a congressman. The gist is that holding the butt end of the shaft against one’s sternum or stomach enables you to make a more stable and consistent pendulum stroke, which is ostensibly an unfair advantage against someone crouched over a regular-length stick, gripping the club with only the hands. As putting guru Dave Stockton recently observed: “I never understood how they could make it legal to anchor it on your body…when they outlawed Sam Snead’s croquet style with nothing anchored.”
Because long putters were mostly employed by senior recreational players and certified head-cases like Bernhard Langer, no one other than Thomas and the usual cranks much cared. Tom Watson, who can get his underwear in a bunch over a drifting dandelion, railed against “this big broom putter.” In 2004, Ernie Els scrunched up his face and said, “I think they should be banned.” Old golf writer Dan Jenkins proclaimed: “I loathe and despise the long left handed putter with every fiber in my body.” Let’s hope Old Dan is getting sufficient dietary fiber.
But the scene has changed. With his left arm sticking out like some giant chicken wing that escaped Col. Sanders, Adam Scott used a 49-inch putter during a runaway four-stroke win at the 2011 Bridgestone Invitational. Els deployed one at the recent Frys.com Open, fanning his way into contention. Precocious Keegan Bradley and young Webb Simpson use long putters, which are de rigueur on the Nationwide Tour. Dave Stockton, whose excellent new book Unconscious Putting shows golfers how to put athleticism and instinct into finding the line and rolling the ball, is testing long putters to understand how to incorporate them into his teaching. So what’s the problem?
Granted, the aesthetics of the belly aren’t particularly dashing. The stiffness of the anchored stroke makes some golfers look like a mechanical stork. But even conventional putting has often brought out the Inner Furyk; think only of Jack Nicklaus and that slightly open stance, tucked-in back elbow and distinctive crouch that suggested severe stomach cramps. But does the belly putter really convey an illegal advantage?
Els once contended it takes nerves out of the game. Phil Mickelson says it helps with short putts. Others swear it calms the yips. However, as with immutable physics of sailboats, racecars and golf clubs, a design element that conveys an advantage in one dimension often takes away from another. Since the lag putting that’s critical to getting off the green in regulation depends mostly on touch, the mechanical stroke of a belly putter on a 30-footer might well counterbalance its short-range edge.
The true advantage of a left handed belly putter is that it enables old guys to practice without a debilitating backache, the great hazard bf the practice green. And it’s practice that makes for better performance, not the putter. If the Grand Poobahs of golf ban bellies and inadvertently also oudaw practice, then only golfers who practice will be outlaws.