In 1924, a professional golfer named Leo Diegel started putting in the most unusual way. He bent over at an almost 90__ 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, _Ê la Matt Kuchar.
Although the ban doesn’t impact any conforming equipment, manufacturers have already noticed a downturn in belly and long putter sales. "We would rather have seen this rule be dealt with when long and belly putters first showed up on the Tours around the world," says Cleveland Golf’s Sheldon. But, of course, that would have been years ago. Years. Before anyone had invented metalwoods, Surlyn-covered golf balls and hybrids.
So, a number of obvious questions remain. Like, why now? To hear Mike Davis tell it on ESPN in November, "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."
The other question being, is anchoring the putter cheating (or, at least, not part of the game)? PGA Tour pro Robert Garrigus doesn’t think it’s cheating. "[Anchoring is] never an advantage," he recently told ESPN. Adam Scott concurred in an email to Fox Sports. "There is no proof that putting with an anchored-style putter is easier, better or stops nerves. It is a different method that some people find more comfortable and others don’t. There are no facts to say that you WILL make more putts putting with an anchored putter."
Still, Golf Tips Senior Instruction Editors Jeff Ritter and Rick Sessinghaus have both seen big improvements in students who anchor. "Having the putter anchored to the body minimizes certain faults from occurring," says Sessinghaus. "Setups tend to be better, and the golfer is consistently over the ball the same way every time because the putter is anchored in the same place." Adds Ritter, "Anchoring makes producing a pendulum-style motion easier for most players." Still, both men stress that it’s not a stroke for everyone. "The first time someone tries a belly putter, it feels cumbersome and difficult to use on longer putts," says Ritter.
As for manufacturers, they have grudgingly accepted the proposed ban. Now they’re tasked with marketing putters that are easy to swing, good for your back and help steady your nerves. Sheldon recommends Cleveland’s 39-inch Almost Belly model. "It has a heavier head, which increases the MOI of the putter, and this helps with limiting the amount of rotation on off-center hits."
Anchoring makes producing a pendulum-style motion easier for most players.
And if you’ve been anchoring your putter and worry that returning to a regular stroke will bring back the yips, both Ritter and Sessinghaus have some advice.
"I would first try a method like Matt Kuchar," says Sessinghaus. "He places the grip along his left forearm and makes a one-piece motion, always keeping the putter’s grip in contact with his forearm." As the yips can be both physical and psychological, Ritter suggests developing a different motor program: "This means being willing to continually change gripping styles, putters and practice routines. Changing frequently breaks the repetitive motor pattern, giving people with the yips a chance to find their way again."
The other option for noncompeting golfers is simply to ignore the ban. After all, as everyone knows, weekend warriors don’t always play by the rules. Who knows? With this new proposal, some high-powered equipment manufacturers have stated that they’d like to see a bifurcation of the rules. These days, it seems like anything can happen, whether it makes sense or not.
You can learn more about the proposed rule change by visiting the USGA website at usga.org.
One thought on “Belly Ache!”
Mike Coo Coo Bird Davis doesn’t know anything about growing the game of golf. At a time when golf struggles to attract new young golfers, Davis has chosen to drive out existing ones. Plain foolish. Davis should concentrate on rules changes that will speed up play like getting rid of stroke and distance and replacing it with a lateral hazard rule.