A dozen years later, belly putter creator regrets its likely demise
Paul Azinger says USGA and R&A are concerned about the wrong piece of equipment
Published on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012 09:41AM EST Last updated on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012 10:05AM EST
Paul Azinger is one of those polarizing figures on Twitter. He gives as good as he gets and some of his views are not everyone’s cup of tea. For all those haters out there, here’s another reason to pile onto the Zinger - he’s reportedly responsible for igniting the belly putter craze.
Azinger was putting poorly when he went into the pro shop while at home in Florida in late 1999, grabbing putters off the rack when he came across a long putter that is anchored to the chest. Only this one belonged to someone much shorter than Azinger.
“I grabbed it, was lining it up perfect and stuck it into my belly because of the length,” Azinger said. “I hit it all over the pro shop and made everything, and then walked outside and made everything.”
Azinger checked to make sure it was legal, and he was on his way. At a mixed-team event, he says he made 13 birdies and an eagle in two days of fourballs with Se Ri Pak as his partner. Alas, they lost in a playoff to John Daly and Laura Davies. Azinger took his belly putter to Hawaii and won the Sony Open by seven shots.
But here’s the other side to this magical belly putter — he never won again. And he was quick to point out that while three of the last five major champions had a belly putter, it took 11 years before someone (Keegan Bradley) won a major.
“Then all of a sudden it’s being looked at because some guys have success doing it,” Azinger said. “You don’t see guys shooting 57, 58, 59 with the belly putter. ... It can help you — there’s no two ways about it. But it’s not helping everybody.”
The USGA and R&A are close to announcing their position on long putters that are anchored to the body. That they have pledged to make an announcement by the end of the year has most believing a ban is imminent.
If that’s the case, the guy who started it all thinks that would be a shame.
“Everybody is looking to improve their game,” Azinger told the AP’s Doug Ferguson in an interview last week. “That technique is good for some, and it didn’t work for others.”
What befuddles him is the advancements in equipment over the last 20 years, particularly with golf clubs. He referred specifically to the Great Big Bertha driver, which at the time looked enormous and had a big sweet spot. Azinger was only partially joking when he said that club now looks like a 4-wood.
“It’s OK for manufacturers to figure out game improvement,” Azinger said. “But if a player figures it out, we’re going to ban it?”
Azinger adds that the USGA and R&A are concerned about the wrong piece of equipment.
“The belly putter doesn’t guarantee you’ll putt better,” he said. “But today’s drivers will guarantee you’ll hit the ball farther.”
PLAYOFFS? Luke Donald wants the European Tour to consider recalibrating the money-list to avoid the anti-climactic finish present at this week's season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
Rory McIlroy wrapped up the money title on the European Tour nine days ago, meaning this week's showcase is simply a glorified cash grab among the top 57 players.
"The tour may want to think about adding a scenario where that doesn't happen and incorporate either a playoff system or some other way to make sure that it goes down to the wire," said Donald. "I think that would make it more exciting."
Last year, Donald finished third in the season ending Dubai event to become the first player to win the money title on both the PGA and European Tours. McIlroy followed up that feat this year with tournaments to spare.
"I remember last year I felt like I had a target on my back," the 34-year-old said. "It had more story lines and certainly it's something the European Tour should at least consider."
McIlroy agreed that while the importance of the season ending event had been diluted, he disagreed with his fellow Ryder Cup teammate that the Tour should tinker with the system.
"I think the format is good," said McIlroy. "It's a season-long race - that's the way it is."
McIlroy's reluctance might stem from the fact that he won two of the four FedEx Cup events in the United States, yet still missed out on the overall title.
"I played well during the FedEx Cup playoffs this year on the PGA Tour and felt a little hard done by, playing so well and not being able to win that," McIlroy said.
European Tour Chief Executive George O'Grady is expected to discuss possible late-season changes to the tour on Sunday but ruled out any radical changes to the format.
CHA-CHING: A victory at this week’s $8-million season-ending Dubai World Championship will allow Rory McIlroy to overtake Tiger Woods as the all-time leading money earner in a single season. Woods amassed a combined PGA and European Tour earning of $11,557,729 in 2007. A victory for McIlroy would put him $395,857 ahead of Woods.
CLUBBING IT: Rory McIlroy has yet to announce which clubs he'll have in his bag next season, despite rumors that he has already signed a multi-million dollar endorsement with Nike. Despite warnings from several current and former golf pros, McIlroy says he's not worried about ruining his swing or his form next season.
"I think all the manufacturers make great equipment nowadays and it's all very similar - a lot of them get their clubs made at the same factories. I don't think it will make any difference."
McIlroy will be playing his Titleist hardware through the end of the year but admits he's already started to get the feel of his new equipment - whomever that might be.
"I've started the process of trying a few new things," said the 23-year-old, who has already reportedly shot his first commercial with Nike. "I've tinkered about a little bit with the new ones, enough to feel comfortable going into next season."
BOOK IT: Tiger Woods has just one more event left on his 2012 golf schedule, the Tiger Woods World Challenge which he hosts at Thousand Oaks... but there is already talk about Tiger’s 2013 calendar.
While Woods is expected to begin the new golf year mid January in Abu Dhabi for the second straight year, his first domestic appearance could come a week later at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
According to San Diego’s 10news.com, sources close to both Woods and the tournament have been told to prepare for his appearance at the event, which would mark only the second time he’s played Torrey Pines since winning his last major, the 2008 U.S. Open.
In 2009, Woods missed the event while recovering from knee surgery while in 2010 the fallout from his infidelity scandal kept him away. He finished in a tie for 44th in 2011 while last year, he decided to chase appearance money at the Abu Dhabi event, which was played the same week at the Farmers Insurance tournament.
“Anyone in their right mind who is reasonably proficient with a shorter putter would be a proponent for getting rid of anchored putters. It’s an advantage for someone who struggles on the green. Managing anxiety and nerves down the stretch is an important part of golf. And I think that takes it out of your hands a little bit.” - Luke Donald
Files from Reuters and the Associated Press were used in this report