Belly putters strike a nerve

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:48 AM ET

Golf purists don't like it.

The long putter or belly putter is anchored to the body in the execution of the putting stroke and, in the mind of traditionalists, stretches the rule that equipment must be "traditional and customary in form and make."

The benefit of the long flatstick is supposedly more stability and fewer moving parts for those who tremble over a three-footer (there's no question for some whose enjoyment of the game had been shattered by the yips, the long putter has been a salvation).

I remember, when the long putters were getting popular, Ernie Els arguing for a ban and saying something along the lines of "I believe the nerves and the skill of putting are part of the game."

The Rules of Golf have no limit on the length of a putter, only that it can't be shorter than 18 inches.

The long putter grabbed some spotlight again on the weekend when Tim Clark proved it certainly is not nerve-proof -- as Els might have feared -- as he missed a 12-foot putt for par on the 72nd hole and a seven-footer on the first playoff hole, either of which would have won him the Colonial and earned him his first PGA Tour victory.

Angel Cabrera won the Masters using a PING belly putter. Though it was 39 inches long, he stroked it in a "traditional" method without anchoring it to his body, so a player still hasn't won a major using a long or belly putter (an aside: Mark Lye was the first player to use a long putter on Tour in 1989).

Vijay Singh once went from about 100th in the putting stats to third after switching to a belly putter. Unfortunately for the big man, the magic didn't endure.

One of the latest converts to the belly putter is Brad Fritsch, the former Manotick resident who now lives near Raleigh, N.C. He started using it last week and made his first cut of the year on the Nationwide Tour.

He led the event in putts per round after two rounds and was eighth in putts per green hit in regulation.

He felt he was getting too technical with his short putter.

"I grabbed the belly putter and every putt was solid. That makes it a lot easier to judge speed," he said. "I think because it is anchored -- how do I say this? -- it takes a lot less execution."

Summing up most people's attitude when it comes to an equipment change, Fritsch said he'll keep using it as long as it works and isn't worried about what people might think.

"I know it's saved a lot of careers and I haven't heard anybody say, 'he wouldn't be out here if it wasn't for the belly putter,'" said Fritsch. "It's available to everyone, so if you think it's such an advantage, why don't you use it?"

While there have rumours off and on of the USGA and the R&A possibly putting a length limit on putters (the length of all other clubs is capped at 48 inches), there is apparently no move afoot now to ban long putters.

But if a belly or long putter is used to win a major, you can bet the debate is likely to start raging again.

HEAR AND THERE: Allen McGee of Haute Plaines looks like he's ready to pick up where he left off last year. The two-time defending OVGA City and District champ (and four-time winner with Kyle Koski of the Sun Scramble City Championship) had rounds of 71 and 73 for a 144 total to win the first Smuggler's Glen Amateur Shootout. Second was Kingston's Brad Revell, of the North Carolina State Wolfpack, after rounds of 71-75-146 on a crappy day, weather-wise...Buckingham's Olivier Legault Roy had a 78 at Deux-Montagnes to qualify for the Optimist International Junior Golf Championship in Florida July 23-Aug. 2 ... Pam Burnside and Susan Pearl teamed to win the annual Marjorie Strong tourney at Greensmere. They topped the A flight of the net tourney with a 72.5, edging Lise Hunter Plouffe and Wanda Pilon of Rivermead (73). Leanne Watt and Bonnie Brown of Lombard Glen won the B flight with a 71 over DiAnne Lafreniere and Moira Stephen (72.5) of the host club. The C flight was won by Glenda Deir and Cathy Wright of Prescott with a 78.5, just in front of Marg Gillgrass and Maureen Slade of Greensmere (79) ... The OVGA's men's B Class Field Day at Brockville was won by Al Spadaccini of the Carleton Golf and Yacht Club with a 77.


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