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Golf has bigger problems than the 'wimpy' belly putters


This column is also award-winning writer Frank Deford's weekly sports commentary on NPR.

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 clubheads as large as prize pumpkins and steroid balls that would not pass the drug test even if the hapless International Cycling Union was doing the random sampling. Golfers are slugging the dimpled rockets so far that all sorts of classic courses have had to be lengthened. Even the sacred Old Course at St. Andrews. This is like if baseball bats and balls had been super-charged so much that Bud Selig decreed that now it had to be a hundred feet instead of ninety 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 US Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient were in charge of nuclear proliferation they would handle things by legislating the size of bayonets.

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The issue is 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 -- especially the graybeards who get what are called the "yips" on the green -- have been monkeying around with various desperate putting styles forever. Even the great Sam Snead experimented with croquet-like 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 bolero. 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. Likewise, it should be a gimme for the bodies who run golf to stomach bellies.