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Navel-Gazing: Why Golf Should Embrace Belly Putters

NPR icon by Frank Deford
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When did "issues" become such an all-purpose, often euphemistic word for anything disagreeable? We have issues now where we used to have problems, and concerns, and troubles, and hornet's nests. Like for example: The American and British big wheels who run golf have "issues" with putting.

Now understand, modern golfers have kryptonite drivers with club heads as large as prize pumpkins, and steroid balls that would not pass the drug test, even if the hapless International Cycling Union were doing the random sampling.

Golfers are slugging the dimpled rockets so far that all sorts of classic courses have had to be lengthened β€” even the sacred Old Course at St. Andrews. This is like if baseball bats and balls had been supercharged so much that Bud Selig decreed that now it had to be 100 feet instead of 90 between bases.

But never mind the bazooka transcontinental drives. No. The golf honchos have issues with the little itty-bitty part of the game called putting. If the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient were in charge of nuclear proliferation, they would handle things by legislating the size of bayonets.

The issue is long putters and what are called "belly putters," which certainly is an ugly name. But nomenclature is not the issue here. What is, is that golfers employ these belly putters by stabilizing them against their gut, their pot, their tummy, their corporation.

The golf Solomons have decreed that anchoring your putter against a substantial body part is just not proper golf. Plus, it looks wimpy. You gotta "stroke."

Now, even the best golfers β€” especially the graybeards who get what are called the "yips" on the green β€” have been monkeying around with various desperate putting styles forever. Even the great Sam Snead experimented with croquetlike putts a half-century ago. But so many unconventional putting styles were deemed legitimate because the golfers were stroking with their arms.

Presumably, you could putt with a pool cue or a balero. You just can't belly up to the ball.

Golfers have never looked as athletic as other, uh ... athletes. So why aesthetics are suddenly an issue is a mystery. Especially this is true because golf costs so much and takes so long that it's having trouble attracting new young players.

But the fact is, a great many golfers are distinguished ... by what? By their bellies. Hey, go with what you got.

It's really the equivalent of the dumb decision in 1967 when the NCAA outlawed dunking because basketball attracts tall players who used their height to dunk.

That was so stupid that it was a slam-dunk that basketball would change the rule back, which it did in 1976. Likewise, it should be a gimme for the bodies who run golf to stomach bellies.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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