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Belly Putter Kerfuffle  Has Potential to Ruffle

There has been a lot of talk and controversy swirling around the pending belly putter ban by golf’s governing bodies, the United States Golf Association and Royal & Ancient Golf Club. A decision is expected later this month, and you will see plenty of belly putters used during this week’s Masters tournament.

The controversy stems from the fact that the belly putter is the only golf club connected to your body other than by your hands when hitting a shot. It rests against your belly and allows the putter to swing like a true pendulum. The theory of this method is that it provides a consistent stroke and prevents jittery hands from taking over on those knee-knocking putts. Three of past five major champions have used the belly putter, which has been used in competition on the PGA Tour for the past 40 years.

The governing bodies are often looked at as out of touch with the average golfer and a golf industry that is experiencing a major lack of growth due to time, cost and how tough the game is to play. Why take the fun out of the game that is for most, a very difficult one and full of shots to fear and forget? The USGA and the Royal & Ancient feel an anchored stroke takes the skill out of the game while admitting there is no real data to support this position other than a recent spike in the number of players using the club.

The Upper Valley’s own PGA Tour star, Woodstock native Keegan Bradley, has used a belly putter from his first day on tour. Other players such as Ernie Els and Bernhard Langer used the anchored stroke to resurrect careers that suffered from too many nerves over 3-foot putts.

Recently, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem came out in support of his players, stating the PGA Tour does not support a ban. While Tiger Woods and Rory McIroy favor the ban, Finchem stated the Player Advisory Council, consisting of 16 current players voted in by their peers, does not want a ban. The council believes that if the USGA felt strongly against the anchored stroke, it should have acted in 1975 when it had the chance. In addition, 65 percent of PGA professionals working at golf facilities around the country do not support this ban. These professionals teach the game and do not wish to take the fun away from golfers who may leave the game as a result.

This could get ugly. The USGA is expected to make a final ruling soon, and the ban — if approved — would take effect in 2016. Will they go against the PGA Tour? Will the PGA Tour go against the USGA and R&A? Will golfers quit the game as a result or be banned from club events?

Which side are you on? Stay tuned.

Peter Harris is director of golf at West Lebanon’s Four-U Golf Center. His column will appear regularly on the VALLEY NEWS recreation page through the playing season.