Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Golf might ban belly putters

Tiger Woods
How much stomach does it take to play professional golf?

That was the overriding question Tuesday at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, where Tiger Woods and other PGA Tour pros were preparing for this weekend's World Challenge, which benefits Woods' charities.

The topic is the growing popularity of belly putters, where players use long putters with grips that rest against their stomachs.

The practice has been around for years, but it has now received substantial attention because three of golf's last five major tournaments were won by players using belly putters: Keegan Bradley at the 2011 PGA Championship, Webb Simpson at the 2012 U.S. Open and Ernie Els at this year's British Open.

Their success has prompted many young golfers to use belly putters as well, and that trend is thought to be one reason why the club might be banned as early as Wednesday by the U.S. Golf Assn. and its overseas counterpart, the Royal & Ancient.

Golf's two governing bodies have scheduled a joint news conference Wednesday morning that's expected to address the issue, and any ban is expected to be implemented in two to four years so players using belly putters can adapt to shorter putters.

At his news conference Tuesday, Woods reiterated that he's opposed to belly putters or any type of so-called "anchoring" of putters against the body.

Asked if his opposition might help lead to a ban, Woods replied, "I don't know if it carried any weight or not, but I just believe that the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves."

Having one end of the putter at a fixed point, Woods said, "is something that's not in the traditions of the game. We swing all other 13 clubs, I think the putter should be the same. One of the things that I was concerned about going forward is the kids who get started in the game and [are] starting to putt with an anchoring system.".

Woods also argued against having separate sets of rules for pros and amateurs. "It's nice for amateurs to understand that they're playing by the same guidelines we are," he said.

Simpson and Bradley are playing in the World Challenge's 18-player field, and they said Tuesday that although they're not happy about a possible ban of belly putters, they don't plan to take legal action or otherwise contest it.

"I never said the word 'sue,' I never said the word 'legal action,' " Bradley said. "Somehow it got twisted around into that."

The governing boards "are doing what they think is best for the game and I respect that," Bradley said. "That doesn't mean I'm happy with the decision."

Simpson said he has already been practicing with a conventional short putter because "I expected this day to come, and so I just wanted to be ready."

Meanwhile, this will be the 14th World Challenge, which Woods has won five times, including last year. That helped propel him to a solid 2012 that included three PGA Tour victories.

But Woods — currently third in the world golf rankings, behind Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald — failed to win a major tournament this year. His last major win was the U.S. Open in 2008. So Woods still needs to win four more majors to tie Jack Nicklaus' record of 18.

Woods, who turns 37 on Dec. 30, has noted that Nicklaus won his final major, the 1986 Masters, at age 46. And when Nicklaus was Woods' current age, Nicklaus likewise had won 14 major tournaments.

Woods cited his pursuit of Nicklaus' record as one reason why he won't also play on the European Tour next year.

"I enjoy playing around the world and I still always will," Woods said, but he added that winning a major "feels incredible. It lasts with you and that's something that I would like to have happen again."

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