Belly putters could catch on

But it's only a gut feeling!

Bob Warters's picture
Mon, 15 Apr 2002

I reckon the art of putting is about to change. It’s a gut feeling – literally!

Tiger Woods may have won the Masters with his traditional stroke but the new way of getting the ball in the hole for many amateurs will be like a shaft to the solar plexus.

Azinger and Singh with their belly putters.

Vijay Singh, Paul Azinger, Mark Calcavecchia and now Colin Montgomerie are rolling them in with uncanny accuracy with the handle of the putter stuffed in their belly button.

Their putting skills have improved immensely, they believe – with Singh moving up from 99th in the US Tour putting stats in 2000 to 4th a year later and the others discovering that a club anchored into the midrift makes for more consistency.

Tiger, Brad Faxon and Retief Goosen may be the orthodox wizards with the wand but the tummy technicians could strengthen their grip on Tour just as those who prefer left-below-right have prompted thousands of handicap golfers to follow suit.

While Ping were first to introduce the broomhandle in the hands of Sam Torrance some 12 years ago, Titleist's master putter designer Scotty Cameron is responsible for introducing the unwieldy-looking belly putter.

It normally measures 43 to 45 inches - about a foot longer than a normal putter - and is designed to be placed in the pit of the stomach. This method gives players a solid anchor point which, claims Cameron, results in a more stable stroke.

"Anything to putt better," says Cameron. "Every little advantage or anything that feels good and works. Some guys like it; some guys don't."

However, it's possible the United States Golf Association may decide to outlaw it, just as they’ve done to counter technological advances in drivers and balls.

Considering the importance of the short game, the USGA could make the belly putter its next target.

The rule book states: "A club may not be substantially different from the traditional and customary form and make."

The long putter has been around since the 1980s, and has passed USGA scrutiny. Now that the belly putter has made the game easier for some pros, the USGA and ultimately the R&A, may start frowning.

"They're going to govern different ways to keep this game as traditional as possible," Cameron admits.

Odyssey White Hot Mid-putter.

Paul Azinger was the first to popularise the ‘midrift-putter,’ developed by Cameron and after he won the 2001 Hawaiian Open close friend Fred Couples also jumped on the bandwagon.

The belly putter is a game-improvement club as was the Dave Pelz three-ball putter, created for DA Weibring but later ruled non-conforming by the USGA.

The precedent of banning putters apparently dates back to 1911, when the R&A ruled the mallet-headed, centre-shafted Schenectady illegal.

In the 1960s, Sam Snead's side-saddle method was ruled illegal, and 20 years later the USGA ruled popular tapered and bulged putter grips non-conforming.

"If Vijay wins six events this year, the USGA could look at not allowing players to anchor putters on their bodies, whether it be the belly or the chest," says Cameron. "It's definitely an advantage for some players."

Meanwhile both Titleist and Odyssey with its White Hot Mid-putter (£149) are bidding to provide amateurs with the chance to knock shots of their game.

It’s only a gut feeling but I reckon it will catch on.



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