Will Ernie Els Be the Last Player to Win a Major Using a Belly Putter?

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistJuly 23, 2012

LYTHAM ST ANNES, ENGLAND - JULY 22:  Ernie Els of South Africa poses with the Claret Jug after winning the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club on July 22, 2012 in Lytham St Annes, England.  (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

The year is 2025 and you’re sitting around the campfire with a bunch of old college buddies playing the latest sports trivia game.

A golf question comes up – who was the last player to win a major championship while using a belly putter?

“Hmmm,” you say. ”That’s a tough one as those things have been banned for about a decade now. I’m going to go with Ernie Els.”

Obviously no one can predict the future with any level of certainty, but the answer to the question may very well wind up being Ernie Els.

On Sunday afternoon at Royal Lythan and St. Annes, Els became the third player in the last four majors to win while using a belly putter.

Els, whose game had been fading into oblivion until he got his hands on one of those long putting contraptions earlier this year, narrowly edged out Adam Scott, who coincidentally was also heading into the land of lost putting strokes before he got his hands on a broomstick putter early in 2011, to claim the 2012 Open Championship title.

It’s becoming clear that the R&A and USGA are set to address the issue of belly putters sometime in the near future. What is unclear, however, is just how far the R&A and USGA will go in terms of banning these contraptions from the game.

Jessica Marksbury of Golf Magazine recently conducted an interview with R&A Director of Rules and Equipment Standards, David Rickman.

When asked about the use of belly putters during the interview, Rickman stated “It's certainly on the docket for the next revision. It wasn't addressed in 2012 because the re-emergence of belly putting, this great surge of use that we've seen, came very late in the process. So if you can imagine the four-year process, really the last year is essentially an admin year, where we need to do the whole practicality of printing and distributing 2.6 million copies. So this surge that we saw effectively happened too late to be included in 2012.”

Rickman also went on to say, “We wouldn't want to rush it. It would be a significant change, it would have an impact on quite a lot of people. It's quite a contentious issue, as you rightly say. Some people think it's absolutely fine, others couldn't dislike it more. So for all of those reasons, it wasn't dealt with in 2012. It is very much on the agenda now.”

“All of a sudden ... this has become a much bigger topic,” USGA Executive Director, Mike Davis, told Golf Week Magazine earlier this year.

“The USGA and R&A have been talking about this at length…I will tell you, the R&A was in Far Hills (N.J.) last week. We have an annual meeting where we talk about all kinds of issues about how we govern the game worldwide. We did talk about various equipment issues, including anchoring. Our board (USGA Executive Committee) did (talk about it) this week as well. There are no outcomes at this point. It is something we have taken a fresh look at. More players are using it, both on the elite level and the recreational level. We want to be sure that we are looking at all the angles and thinking about what is in the best interests both of the traditions of the game, the history of the game, and what we think would be good for the game.”

Now, it doesn’t take a degree in psychology to read between the lines and realize that these two men are essentially saying that there will be at least some form of restrictions placed on belly putters when the 2016 version of The Rules of Golf are published.

The Rules of Golf currently place restrictions on the minimum length for putters and the maximum length for drivers.

So, the easiest and most prudent course of action would be to simply place a maximum length restriction on putters. This will eliminate the use of belly putters while adding no more than a paragraph to the already lengthy and incredibly complex Rules of Golf.  

13 majors will still be held before belly putters are more than likely banned from professional golf in 2016. So, there’s a very good chance that another player may win a major while using a belly putter before the end of the 2015 season.

You may want to keep your eyes open over the next few years and make note of the last player to win a major while using a belly putter, because 20 years from now belly putters will likely only be seen in museums, and sports trivia games will undoubtedly contain the question “who was the last player to win a major using a long putter before they were banned from the game in 2016?”

And as of right now the answer to that question is Ernie Els.  

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