Belly putter not foolproof, but use on PGA Tour quickly becoming a trend

phil mickelson
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Phil Mickelson is one of the many prominent PGA Tour players to try out belly putters in the past six weeks or so.
By
Doug Ferguson
Associated Press

Series: Product Spotlight

Published: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 | 12:25 p.m.

Even more surprising than Phil Mickelson using a belly putter at the second stage of the FedExCup playoffs was a direct message that showed up during the weekend on Twitter.

“I have a belly putter!”

It came from Brad Faxon, who, when contacted Tuesday in South Korea for confirmation, had just been told by security that he and Jeff Sluman were not allowed to play cribbage in the hotel lobby because it was too close to the casino.

“Can you believe that?” Faxon said.

The ban on cribbage? Sure.

A belly putter for the guy reputed to be among the best in golf with the short stick? Hard to believe.

“I’m dead serious,” Faxon said.

Only a week earlier, he said the belly putter for most people was a “second, third, fourth or last resort” when all else had failed, and that some USGA officials, no doubt, were turning in their graves for not ruling against the concept of anchoring a putter to the body. Faxon then called Paul Vizanko at the Scotty Cameron Putting Studio in California and ordered one.

Before anyone starts looking for dogs and cats to fall from the sky, Faxon said he won’t be using the belly putter on the Champions Tour this week in South Korea or anywhere else in competition. He was simply curious.

“I wanted to see what all the hype was about,” Faxon said.

The belly putter first gained attention when Paul Azinger used one in a seven-shot victory 11 years ago at the Sony Open in Hawaii. The hype to which Faxon refers began last month, when players won three straight PGA Tour events with long putters.

Adam Scott, who in February switched to a long putter that he anchors to his chest, won the World Golf Championship at Firestone. A week later at the PGA Championship, Keegan Bradley (belly) became the first player to win a major using a longer putter. Webb Simpson (belly) won the following week in Greensboro, N.C., and then won again at the TPC Boston.

Maybe it’s more than a fad.

“It’s like the two-handed backhand in tennis,” Faxon said. “Twenty years ago, it was not the norm. Now it’s the better way to go. The belly putter and the long putter are going to trend that way. Young kids are not going to be afraid to switch.”

There have been ample anecdotes about an entire threesome using a long putter. Ian Poulter tweeted that of 10 guys on the practice green in Boston, eight had long putters.

More telling are raw numbers.

There were six players using longer putters in 2009 and 2010 at The Barclays, the opening playoff event for the top 125 players. This year, the number of long putters jumped to 20.

One of them was Jim Furyk, who is having one of his worst years. Since getting a few pointers from Bradley -- three weeks before Bradley won the PGA Championship -- he has put himself in position to advance to the Tour Championship.

“Ten years ago, no one ever went to the belly putter unless they couldn’t putt,” Furyk said. “So I didn’t really think of it as unfair. I thought of it as desperation, if that makes sense. For me, it was still desperation, but I’ve seen some guys that have gone to it where they are decent putters, but they think it’s a better way.”

The debate is whether such putters should be banned because, some would argue, anchoring them to the belly or the chest eliminates the skill. The USGA has shown little interest in ruling against them, and some believe it’s too late now.

Azinger thinks the argument is hollow.

“Everyone wants to act like it’s foolproof,” he said. “It’s been around for 11 years. Now somebody does something and it blows up. You’ve still got to make putts under pressure to win. Ernie Els has jacked so many short putts with a belly putter, and I didn’t hear anyone complaining about them.”

Azinger still doesn’t know what made him try it at his home club in Florida toward the end of 1999. There was a longer putter that had been made for someone much shorter than him. For some reason, he stuck the end of the putter into his belly button.

“I was making stuff all over the pro shop,” Azinger said.

He switched the putter head to one he liked. He changed the lie and angle. He moved the ball back in his stance and put more weight on his right leg to make him feel anchored.

“I was instantly better,” Azinger said. “[Legendary PGA instructor] Paul Runyan watched me putting in 2000 and said it was the best single-lever action putting stroke he’d ever seen. To this day, I don’t know what that means. But when I grabbed that thing, I became a better putter. And I was back in the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup and in the top 20 in the world.”

Still, the belly and long putters raise one question: If it’s so good, why isn’t everyone using it?

The PGA Tour’s most reliable statistic for putting is called “strokes gained.” The top 12 players on the list use a conventional putter. The more traditional statistic is average putts per round. None of the top 12 players on that list use a long putter, either.

Steve Stricker is No. 1 in “strokes gained” and No. 3 in putts per round.

So why isn’t he using one?

“I like how I putt. I like the conventional wisdom of the short putter. Is that saying it nicely?” Stricker said with a smile.

He did try one at the TPC Boston to see what it was like.

“It was a totally different feel,” he said. “I’m used to following through with my hands.”

Just then, Padraig Harrington walked by and caught the tail end of Stricker’s comments.

“Don’t tell me you’re talking about a long putter,” Harrington said. “The day Steve Stricker goes to a long putter, we’re all in trouble.”

Aaron Baddeley is another great putter. He stared blankly when asked why he isn’t using a belly putter, then understood the point of the question and said the same thing Stricker did.

He then was asked another question. The day pigs fly is when who uses a belly putter?

“Tiger Woods,” he said. “And Brad Faxon.”


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Comments

sburrowes

The solution to the use of the belly putter is simple. Let golfers use the belly putter but ban the anchoring of the putter against the body. Case closed.

dennisrbabcock

4 players win a major with a long putter(anchored) and the putter should be banned. Which has had a bigger impact on the tradition of golf, the metal driver or the advances in golf ball technology? Maybe we should ban those as well.

Give me a break. Much ado about nothing......

dennisrbabcock

90% of all 2012 tournaments were won by players using short putters. Looks the R&A needs to see if there may be any shenanigans going on with these clubs.

ronnie-bell

I have watched the pro's play for years and I play myself for fun, I always thought belly putters were for older players who could not bend or who had a nerve or nervous problem and then younger pro's started useing them who can bend and should have no nerve problems, looks like a distinct advantage to me for younger people, therefore I beleive the USGA should ban them on the PGA tour and allow them onley on the senior tour

internetinfoman

No way an anchored club is allowed in the game of golf. The hands are the only connection to the club. Next they will be using Rocko's swing vest! I don't care how long you want a puttter just don't anchor it to any other body part or area other than your hands.

thevansr

I enjoy watching the tournaments until I see someone win using a belly putter.
It looks like someone using a walker in a race.
If you can't win with a short putter you should not be playing with the real golfers.