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USGA Doing What It Usually Does — Whatever it Wants

Long and Belly Putters Have Not Changed the Character of the Game, but the USGA Still Tinkers

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COMMENTARY | The USGA and R&A's potential ban on anchoring the long and belly putter feels strangely familiar to me.

Do you remember that great moment in junior high? When your mom and dad agreed to let you go to your first girl-guy party at that strange kid's house on the other side of town? You immediately picked out which Fila T-shirt you were going to wear under your Member's Only jacket to impress the girls.

Then dad came home that Friday pretty cranky. He had a particularly rough day at work and when you mentioned it was time to go, with a growl in his voice, he said he had decided that you had to stay home.

"What? But you said I could go! What happened?"

"I changed my mind."


The folks at the USGA must have had a few bad days at work recently, because it appears after decades in the game they have changed their minds about the use of belly and long putters.

Oh, they are couching it a little differently, not banning them outright but simply how you will be allowed to hold them while making a stroke. But it looks like they intend to take away a club that has very much given older golfers or players with back issues a new lease on the game. (As well as those that suffer from the yips.)

There have been a few winners with the extended shaft putters starting with Rocco Mediate in 1990. But no one was won a major with a belly or sternum putter. They certainly haven't dominated the winner circle.

So what's all the fuss?

If you imagine that you are the kid who wanted to go to the party and the USGA is your father, the following conversation will look familiar to you. It goes a long way to showing the tremendous power wielded by the USGA.

You: I love my belly putter. My back doesn't hurt anymore. Why are you taking it away?

USGA: You can keep your belly or long putter. The putter is fine. We don't have a problem with the putter. We have a problem with the stroke. It's too much like a pendulum, and you know that isn't allowed. You are likely scoring better now and don't have to sleep on the floor with your legs on a chair after walking 18 holes. We're sorry, but that simply can't continue.

You: But if I can't anchor my putter to my midsection, it will be like trying to putt using one of those huge rakes people have in cold climates to get snow off their roof. I'll three-putt every green. I've been using my belly putter for 27 years, and you've never mentioned that it was a problem.

USGA: We've changed our mind. The integrity of the game is more important than your lower back. If you want to have fun, take up bowling. You have the build for bowling anyway. You've gotten a little stocky since you have turned 50.

You: I don't want to bowl. I want to golf. I just don't want to go back to that funky little blade I played with in junior high. I can't bend over a putt like Nicklaus used to do. I get dizzy.

USGA: You are being unreasonable. And I'm very busy right now. I heard that a 22-handicapper on a course in Tennessee just repaired a spike mark before putting. I must go penalize him. Goodbye.

This weekend, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem let it be known to Johnny Miller and the nation that the PGA Tour is not pleased with the potential ban on anchoring and may or may not honor it if it passes and makes it into the Rules of Golf as an addition to Rule 14 in 2016.

But I sincerely doubt the PGA Tour's protests will have any effect. The USGA tends to do what it wants. And it appears it wants you to putt through the spike marks left by the clumsy fellow two groups ahead of you and to also aggravate your back by stooping over that scuffed up blade putter you used at the high school conference meet in 1979.

I wonder if I should tell either governing body that I'm still using some old Robin Hood balls I bought back in college? No? OK.

Steven Stromberg owns a 4 handicap and is a two-time club champion in Minnesota. He played college golf in the third windiest city in the nation and collects and studies vintage golf equipment and memorabilia.

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