With the golf gods, common sense often goes belly up

By Rick Woodson

Rochester Business Journal

March 1, 2013

It was no surprise to me that most of the media paid little or no attention to how the PGA and the PGA Tour reacted to news that the gods of golf are about to outlaw the "long" putters players can hold against their bodies as they putt-the belly putters and broom handle putters.
The word is that the USGA and Scotland's Royal and Ancient are more than likely to rule those putters illegal beginning in 2016. Never mind that they have been available and used by some players for roughly 40 years now.
Ah, but heads turned when Keegan Bradley became the first player to belly putt his way to a major championship, the 2011 PGA Championship, and Webb Simpson belly putted his way to the 2012 U.S. Open title, followed two months later by Ernie Els doing the same to win the British Open.
Apparently both the PGA and the PGA Tour are going to ignore the ban if belly putters are ruled illegal by the USGA and R&A. And it won't be the first time that's happened. The golf gods don't allow players to "lift, clean and place" a golf ball if it is in the fairway with clumps of mud on it because of rain, etc. The tour, however, permits its players to do so.
Does that make sense? Of course it does!
The same goes for the ball-in-a-divot rule: Hit a drive 220 yards or 320 yards down the middle and the ball stops in an inch-deep hole because some clueless golfer didn't replace the divot, and you either try to dig it out or take a drop and get penalized for it? Does that make sense? Of course not!
Some other-maybe many other-rules of golf make no sense, either. How about a golfer who has to hit out of a hazard and on his back swing his club touches a leaf the size of a penny that is nowhere near the ball. Two-shot penalty; in match play, he loses the hole.
Jack Nicklaus, a pretty good golfer, said on David Feherty's Golf Channel show this week that he is somewhere in the middle of the road regarding belly putters. Then he brought up another questionable piece of equipment: the golf balls that replaced the balata-covered balls back in 1995. Nicklaus' suggestion? Go back to the ball that doesn't fly or roll as far, so golf courses don't have to be so long.
You might need a ball you can hit into orbit to play a 7,400-yard golf course, but not to play a 6,000-yard course. It's a great idea, Golden Bear, but it isn't going to happen.
Then there are all the new irons with larger "sweet spots" that most of us play with these days. And the modern drivers that allow players to adjust the club head-more open or closed as well as increase or decrease the loft. Should the golf gods give a thumbs-down to those too?
I remember watching Ben Hogan play a 423-yard par 4 on a segment of the old "Shell's Wonderful World of Golf" on YouTube. The announcer said, "Hogan hit a perfect drive down the middle, 250 yards. He has 173 yards to the green and hitting a 4-iron." I laughed out loud. Today's pros would hit a 7- or 8-iron from 173 yards.
So should the belly putter be outlawed? Given all the other changes in the great game of golf, my simple answer: No, absolutely not. Els agrees with me and Colin Montgomery does not. Monty did make a good point, though, on the PGA website: "To now go against that and say, 'My players aren't going to go by that,' then what happens when you come to USGA events or the British Open?"
They'll have to use waist-high putters and not let them touch their bodies.
There aren't that many players who use belly putters, and those who do belly-up don't make every putt. Hey, if they did, everybody would use one and a ban would be banned! You still have to read the green correctly, stroke the ball on the right line with the right speed. Even so, Bradley said he has been called a "cheater" by many fans and by even some in the media.
Most of us golf nuts prefer to see birdies rather than bogeys, and we don't care how the players make them. The golf gods do, though, so we'll see what happens.