NAPLES — So the Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the United States Golf Association, the two accepted governing bodies of golf worldwide, both have issued a proposal to ban the use of so-called ‘belly putters” beginning in 2016.
Now the PGA Tour has indicated it is against this proposal, but will not commit to disobeying it, if it were to be implemented.
Is it possible they are both wrong?
It would be if you believe that it’s time for golf to have some different rules — those for the masses, and those for elite competition; and different equipment as well, but that’s for another day.
The R&A and USGA should be doing all they can to promote golf to get more people to play it, and for those who do play it to enjoy it as much as possible.
As any golfer will tell you, getting the ball in the hole in the fewest shots possible makes for the most fun. Cartoonist Johnny Hart once asked, “The less I hit the ball, the better I am doing? So why hit it at all?”
So the R&A/USGA should not care if the local 15-handicapper uses a shovel and the belly-putting method to get the ball in the hole.
Slow play is a far bigger issue in golf than how the masses putt. If the R&A and USGA want to pass a controversial rule that affects all golfers worldwide beginning in 2016, that’s the issue they should address.
Tournament golf is a different story. If the R&A and USGA believe that “belly-putting” — or “anchoring” the putter against the body while making a stroke — gives someone an unfair advantage over conventional putting methods, then they can insist that they not be allowed to do that in all professional and R&A/USGA sanctioned amateur events — yes, they sure have waited a long time to come to this conclusion, but organizations are allowed to evolve or just change their mind. Since the PGA Tour and PGA of America agree to play the game as sanctioned by the R&A/USGA, then they need to back whatever their ruling is.
However, everyone involved needs to “grandfather” in all current pros worldwide who use the belly-putting method. If they have competed professionally in an event through 2012 using the belly putter, then they are allowed to compete that way for the rest of their career. Anyone who hasn’t must conform to the rule change in 2016. It would be unfair to have golfers have their careers/livelihoods taken away from them midstream because of a rule change.
2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley and others like him did nothing wrong by growing up using the belly-putting method. Putting is as big a part of golf as pitching is to baseball. Would it be fair if right-handed pitchers were told at some point in their pro careers they now need to throw lefty? I know that sounds exaggerated, but if you can’t make putts “conventionally,” but you can the other way, it is exactly the same thing!
If current golfers were “grandfathered” in, then everyone would avoid what may be coming — different rules at different professional tournaments. If the R&A and USGA go through with the belly-putting ban, but the PGA Tour and PGA of America do not, which they are allowed to do, then beginning in 2016, a pro could have to putt differently at the U.S. and British Opens than at the PGA.
The Masters is its own event, so it would have to pick a side; my guess is belly-putting would be allowed.
The Olympics are likely to go with whatever the R&A and USGA decide, so belly-putting would not be allowed there.
The Ryder Cup would be a mess. The PGA of America runs the U.S. part of the competition, but the European Tour, which follows rules set by R&A, handles the European side. So would belly-putting be allowed by the U.S. players but not the Euros? Or would it become a location issue like baseball and the use of the designated hitter where if the event were in the U.S. it would be allowed, but overseas it would not?
Elite golf needs uniform rules. The sport that the rest of us play needs to be flexible and faster.
The PGA Tour needs to grin and bear it.
The R&A/USGA needs a rule book that separates tournament golf from what the rest of us play.
The belly-putting technique could bring great and necessary change to golf.
Or it could bring great and unnecessary conflict.
I’m hoping for change, but my money’s on conflict.
David Moulton co-hosts “Miller and Moulton in the Afternoon” weekdays 2 to 6 p.m. on Southwest Florida’s ESPN Radio (101.5 FM Bonita/North Naples, 105.1 FM Naples/Marco Island). His freelance column appears Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.