Belly Ache!

What to make of the anchored putting-style ban

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In 1924, a professional golfer named Leo Diegel started putting in the most unusual way. He bent over at an almost 90º angle, stuck the butt end of his putter in his belly and bowed his elbows out so he looked like a butterfly. His friends called his unorthodox method "Diegling." It may have looked strange, but Diegling worked. Four years after he first tried it out, Diegel won the PGA Championship at Five Farms Country Club in Baltimore. The next year, he defended his title at L.A.'s Hillcrest Country Club.

Despite his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2003, few golf fans know that Diegel is credited as the first man to anchor a putter to his body. Even fewer are familiar with Dr. Richard Parmley, the man who invented the long putter. In 1961, the San Diego resident filed a patent request for his "Body-Pivot Golf Putter." Designed to "significantly reduce the difficulty of putting," the putter received a patent in 1965. The next year, Phil Rodgers used it twice to win.

Over the next 34 years, a number of well-known pros anchored belly or long putters to their chest, sternum or stomach, a method that often revived their dormant careers. Charlie Owens won twice with his "Slim Jim," Johnny Miller captured the 1987 Pebble Beach National Pro-Am with a long putter, and Paul Azinger and Rocco Mediate both notched victories with a long putter. Despite P.J. Boatwright (then USGA executive director of rules and competitions) saying in 1989, "There are some who just don't think it is golf," the game's governing bodies looked the other way when it came to the way people used these strange blades.

Swinging [the club] freely is ultimately what golf's about... There were just too many golfers going to this stroke that we don't believe should be part of the game.
—Mike Davis, Executive Director of the USGA
Then Keegan Bradley won the 2011 PGA Championship, and everything changed. The likeable, young rookie captivated a global audience by birdieing two of the last four holes. The putting style and putters took off. Annual sales, which had languished for years, suddenly boomed. Odyssey, who makes the White Hot XG Sabertooth Bradley put into play, saw long putter sales increase from 8,000 in 2010 to 32,000 in 2011. Adam Sheldon, Brand Manager of Cleveland Golf, said his company has had a 16-fold increase in belly and long putter sales over the past couple of years.

Of course, the most visible evidence of their popularity was seen on Tour. Pros from Ernie Els to Phil Mickelson put a belly putter in play. Suddenly, it seemed like everybody was going long—and winning. In 2011 and 2012, belly and long putters were in the bags of 15 PGA Tour winners. Two out of the last four Major champions have used a belly or long putter en route to victory. Perhaps the most memorable showcase was last year's Open Championship when Els' belly putter edged Adam Scott's broomstick. In that tournament, a remarkable 27% of the field used either a belly or long putter.

As recently as April 2011, USGA Executive Director Mike Davis didn't think anchoring long and belly putters was a big trend. "It's not as if all the junior golfers out there are doing this," he told Golf Channel. "We don't see this as something that's really detrimental to the game."

But by last November, the trend had become so popular among professionals and amateurs—and so unpopular among purists like Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods—that the game's governing bodies finally took action. On November 28, 2012, they announced a proposed ban on anchoring the putter. The ban, which is all but guaranteed to pass this spring, would go into effect in January 2016 and prohibit the golfer from "hold[ing] the club or a gripping hand in contact with any part of his body." Golfers can still "hold the club or a gripping hand against a hand or forearm," however, à la Matt Kuchar.

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