“Belly putter” is not a phrase that sounds serious. But this week the United States Golf Association took the serious step of proposing a ban on long-handled putters that rest on players’ bellies and chests.
The USGA is still accepting comments on the issue, but the ban is expected to be approved and would take effect in 2016. Bill Pennington, who writes the “On Par” column for the New York Times, joined Bill to discuss the proposed rules change.
BL: The patent for a “body pivot putter” was issued in 1965, but when did long putters really start to catch on with PGA golfers?
BP: It’d be more like the early ’80s, really, and they were viewed then a little bit as they are now, as these really ugly looking things, an unsightly way to make a golf stroke. But the fact is, they were used mostly by people who weren’t putting well anyway and didn’t putt that much better with the long ones and didn’t win a lot. So it was kind of like, “Oh, all right.”
And then of course the last couple years, people started winning with them and now they say, “Hey, wait a minute. This is not what we had in mind.” It doesn’t look good when a guy wins $1.5 million with what looks like sweeping a broomstick across the green to win it. it just doesn’t look athletic.
BL: The USGA controls the rules of golf in this country, not just for the pros but for all golfers. But do you think people playing for fun at their local municipal courses will grab a hacksaw and cut their long putters down so that in 2016 they’re abiding by the rules?
BP: No, I don’t. How many people take mulligans? That’s not allowed by the rules. How many people really putt in order and play in order? There are so many rules that are routinely ignored.
BL: You don’t even mention stepping on the other guy’s ball when you find it in the rough.
BP: Or driving over it with your cart [laughs]. If Fred in your foursome, who’s played with you for 20 years and uses that club because he has a bad back, are you really going to make Fred not use it and then he goes home and now you have a threesome or you never see Fred again, over two bucks, or because it’s a USGA rule? It’s gonna cause some problems. I think there’s going to be some negotiations going on.
BL: What about very short golfers using regular putters that just look long on them, or very heavy golfers with bellies that rest on their standard putters? Are they still in good standing with the USGA?
BP: The proposed rule says that you cannot intentionally rest it against a body part. Who’s going to police that? Is everyone else on the green supposed to be watching your stomach? “Hey, that touched your shirt!”