Belly Putters: The Rancor Over The Anchor!

11/08/2012 09:21 EST | Updated 01/07/2013 05:12 EST
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Tiger Woods of the US lines up his putt during the 'Duel at Jinsha Lake', a one-day golf challenge in Zhengzhou, central China's Henan province on October 29, 2012. World number one Rory McIlroy beat Tiger by one stroke. AFP PHOTO/GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)

While enthusiasts of "a good walk spoiled" reluctantly begin packing away their clubs for another long cold winter -- if you're flogging this morning in Southern Ontario, you're either a fan of frostbite, or you're doing so in a parka -- a long hot debate is getting even hotter in the world of golf.

For some time now, battle lines have been drawn: those who like Neil Diamond and those who don't. No, wait, that's something else altogether. It's actually, those who are vehemently in favor of long putters (a.k.a. belly putters or the anchored putter), and those who are vocally against.

Ah, The Rancor Over The Anchor.

For his part, Tiger Woods has publicly decried the long putters. Simply put, he harbors no love for the long, and, if he were to get his way, the golf gods would institute a new rule wherein the putter would have to be the shortest club in the bag. On the other side of the debate stand golfers like Aussie Adam Scott, among a multitude of others, who have taken Tiger to task.

Speaking this week at the Singapore Open, Scott -- who admittedly had some success with a short putter, but definitely found a friend in the long putter -- said: "When Tiger Woods speaks out about something it generates a lot of interest. I am not necessarily sure his views on what a putter should be are correct at all -- his view that the putter should be the shortest club in the bag has never been a rule of golf. I do not know why it should be now..."

Yes, golf fans, this is about to get ugly. Or, uglier. To the point where assorted golfers, such as American Keegan Bradley and veteran Ernie Els, have threatened legal action if any such ban is implemented. And wouldn't that look good on the game.

To the casual golfer, it's all becoming absurd. To those whose life experiences rarely include par -- for all those who regularly four-putt holes, and are forever failing to drain what really ought to be gimmes (and I proudly include myself in this mix) -- the notion that a simple change in the length of the cursed club known as a putter could actually improve one's putting prowess, and advance one's game, is beyond comprehension.

However, the pros who use the club see such a ban as an infringement on their right to earn a living. And for some (see: Tiger) who don't use the club, it's not only an big ol' embarrassment to the game, it's a tool that affords users an illegal edge. An edge? Indeed: golfers say that it makes them feel more anchored over the ball. Which steadies their putting motion and gives them confidence. Which is a commodity every golfer desires. Confidence alone does not sink 20-foot putts, but it sure helps.

Lorne Rubenstein, the gifted golf writer for The Globe and Mail (and assorted other publications) recently wrote: "You'd have to think that anchoring the shaft to one's belly does confer an advantage. Otherwise, why would so many players be using it?" Granted, in the same article, he questioned: "But if it really did make putting so easy, wouldn't ever tour golfer be using it? Players go back and forth. Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh are a couple of examples..."

Who knows? It's like one of those grand philosophical questions over which people strain small muscles in their heads (typically after a few beers): "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" Where's the forest? What kind of a tree? Is it falling on a belly putter?

Last weekend a proverbial tree fell in front of a huge audience and, yes, people heard: Guan Tianlang won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, and an exemption into the 2013 Masters, at the tender age of 14 -- all the while utilizing a belly putter. Thusly becoming what Rubenstein called "a poster boy for the anchored method."

Well, that should heat things up even more.

Alas, the penultimate word in The Rancor Over The Anchor goes to the aforementioned Mickelson: "I don't think you can take away what you've allowed players to use, practice and play with for thirty years. I think (that is) grossly unfair..."

And the last word belongs to the aforementioned Els, who told The Telegraph: "It's not just about tucking it into your belly and you start holing putts. A lot of work has to go into it to perfect your style. You still feel the nerves and you can still miss."

Finally, something to which the casual golfer can relate.