Bellyaching about the belly putter

The truth, and nothing but... 

If you're not a golfer, this post likely won't interest you. But on the other hand, if you're one of the millions of mad hackers like me, and you prefer a little truth in your cup of storytelling, then you just might be. 

“Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies”, wrote playwright Oliver Goldsmith a few centuries ago. But do we ask enough questions? We may not want to admit it, but most of us secretly prefer a lie to the truth, fiction over fact, because it’s easier to stomach.

Speaking of stomachs, there’s been a lot of bellyaching about the legitimacy of belly putters. And in the middle of this maelstrom is one rather large storyteller, Mike Davis, who happens to be head of the USGA.

But first, some background. The PGA will finish its comment period February 28th on the issue of whether to ban anchored belly putters. Over time, I'd come to believe they should be banned, but then an intriguing article by Lorne Rubinstein (The anchored putter: should it be banned?) raised an important question that I’d never considered before -- is a putting stroke anchored at the belly a golf stroke or is it not?

Rubinstein doesn't actually answer the question, nor does he share with us what a "golf stroke" is, so in the interest of trying to be helpful, here is the USGA's official definition of a stroke (the non-medical kind):

A "stroke" is the forward movement of the club made with the intention of striking at and moving the ball, but if a player checks his downswing voluntarily before the clubhead reaches the ball he has not made a stroke.

Anchors away

Not a mention of anchoring, or how it could be classified as a non-stroke. Yet golf's authorities are interpreting something I'm not seeing, and saying something I'm not reading. Like this: "Golf for 600 years has been about picking up the club, gripping it with two hands and making a free swing away from the body," says Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director.

Clearly he’s contradicting the USGA’s own definition of what a stroke is. Based on the above, it seems clear that a stroke with an anchored belly putter is indeed a stroke. Yet Rubinstein tells us that "The decision that the USGA and R&A have come to that the golfer who anchors his or her putter is not making a stroke of golf.”

He goes onto say that, “Thoughtful people can argue until the triple bogeys come home about whether or not it is, but that’s what this is, or should be, about." 

So what's the big deal? A putt made with an anchored belly putter IS a golf stroke, as defined by the USGA. The matter is not up for argument or debate. And by the way, I’m a mad hacker who happens to use a regular putter, so I wish it wasn't defined that way. But there it is, and we’re going to have to live with it, until they change the definition.

What’s the point of this little rant? It’s amazing how often people tell stories that bend the truth and disregard it just to try and legitimize a flawed argument.