The Loop

Tiger Woods' belly ban idea a little half-baked

February 08, 2012

GOUGE: It must be nice to be Tiger Woods. Voice an opinion and all of a sudden it becomes an international crusade. Gee, I've only been killing the belly and long putter for half a decade. Maybe if I started wearing a red shirt and hitting 280-yard stingers with my 3-wood people would start listening to me.


As to the specifics of his suggestion, namely that the putter be restricted to a length no longer than the shortest club in the bag (generally the highest lofted wedge), it's a delightfully practical albeit half-baked attempt at proposing a rule that technically doesn't ban anchoring the putter but in large effect does. (I suppose one could choose to putt with a low-lofted hybrid jammed in your belly button, but at that point one could argue your game on the greens might be better served by some advanced pharmaceuticals.)

While practical and diplomatic, Tiger's idea is hardly original to him. Peter Dawson, the head of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews who once suggested that a solution for distance was to ban the tee, juts his chin out just a little farther in characteristic disgust when the subject of belly putters is brought up. Insiders know the R&A has not been particularly thrilled with the long and belly putter for a long time before Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley were getting paid to play golf. While others have proposed a limit on the length of the putter tied to the length of the driver minus a certain number (say nine inches), there's little doubt that whatever geometric theorem you invoke, the Tiger belly ban is just a politically demure way of getting around what's really distasteful, namely anchoring the putter to something other than your hands.

Arnold Palmer said in an interview on the Golf Channel in October the long and belly putter should be banned. Also on the Golf Channel, Brandel Chamblee has made the case intelligently that the belly putter could be Exhibit A in the case for bifurcation, that average golfers should be allowed to use almost anything on the putting green, but elite players should be restricted to conventional-length putters.

It would be so much easier for golf's ruling bodies if they just took the same approach to belly putting that they took to croquet-style putting back in 1967. Back then, USGA Executive Director Joe Dey and others in charge recognized that something wasn't right and just said, "Be gone." His words then: "We felt it was the only way to eliminate the unconventional styles that have developed in putting. The game of golf was becoming bizarre. It was some other game, part croquet, part shuffleboard and part the posture of Mohammedan prayer." I like that. Bizarre is what we have when players use a long putter to extricate themselves from cacti, dry creek beds or jungle, as was the case last Sunday with Spencer Levin.

The bottom line on long putters and the rules is this: If you don't like something and want to get rid of it, just get rid of it. Don't legislate it. Say it's wrong and move on. Golf's ruling bodies haven't done that and now they're faced with concocting byzantine language and arbitrary measurements to prevent the spread of what can only be characterized now as a global pandemic. Good luck with that.

BOMB: Although we think about belly and long putters differently (I'm fine with them, you feel they're a "global pandemic") we have some common ground--namely that if the ruling bodies or professional tours or both are going to do something about it then pussyfooting with language is borderline ridiculous. We don't need a rule that says a putter a should be no longer than the shortest club in your bag. Just pick a quantifiable measurement for putters that everyone is comfortable with. Or, just ban anchoring altogether. There, we're done. That gets rid of the primary benefit of belly putters (although I'm still not convinced it's a better mousetrap) while not discriminating against the guy who is 6-foot-8. Or guys such as Matt Kuchar, John Senden, Kevin Sutherland and Angel Cabrera--all of whom currently use putters 36 inches or longer but don't anchor them. What would their shortest club in the bag be? Wedges are typically in the 35- to 35.5-inch range although a 64-degree can be as short as 34.75 inches. So those using a 64-degree wedge would have to go shorter than 35 inches.

We saw where a convoluted solution got us with the groove rule. Once designers started finding ways around it then words such as "intent" and such were used to disallow certain designs. Wouldn't it simply have been better to say the groove had to be in the shape of a V and give parameters? Same applies here. If you're going to do something, do it. Make it clear. Make it understandable. Make it firm.

Making that more possible than ever before is the stance taken by new USGA President Glen Nager--an attorney and former U.S. Supreme Court law clerk who probably knows a thing or two about litigation. It has been thought for long and by many that golf's ruling bodies sought soft solutions to equipment regulation because of a fear of litigation by manufacturers. But if we are to believe Nager that should not be the case.

"We have a substantial reserve to protect us against unforeseen events and litigation in the market in the face of regulatory initiatives might implement," Nager said in remarks after taking over as USGA president.

If that's true there's no need for a solution with as many moving parts as the one put forth by Woods. Although I don't see the need for regulation in this area, if the USGA and R&A are going to do it they need to adopt the New York Giants' motto during their Super Bowl run. "All in."

*("Gouge" is Mike Stachura, Senior Editor-Equipment, Golf Digest; "Bomb" is E. Michael Johnson, Senior Editor, Golf World.)