Power Rankings: Golfers Who Would Suffer from a Belly Putter Ban

Jake Mann@@mjakemannContributor IIINovember 18, 2012

Power Rankings: Golfers Who Would Suffer from a Belly Putter Ban

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    If a golfer uses a belly putter, is it giving him an unfair advantage over the competition? Should the shortest club in the bag really be the flatstick? Does anchoring a club into the body truly allow for nerves to be reduced? Most importantly, do the benefits of using a belly putter outweigh how ridiculous it looks on the greens? 

    Except for the last one, these are all relevant questions and will likely be answered by golf's governing bodies, the R&A and the USGA, in the coming months.

    Traditionalists who support a belly putter ban include Tiger Woods, Brandt Snedeker, Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer, while those who are up in arms over the possibility include most likely every PGA pro that uses the club.

    According to the PGA itself, the use of anchoring putters on Tour has skyrocketed over the past year, as twenty of the top 125 pros went with the belly at some point in 2011, versus just six in the previous year.

    Let's take an in-depth look at the situation by power ranking the golfers who would suffer the most from a belly putter ban.

1. Keegan Bradley

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    To say that Keegan Bradley is against a belly putter ban would be an understatement. The 14th-ranked player in the world won his major debut with the club at last year's PGA Championship and is 27th this year in terms of total strokes gained on the greens.

    In USA Today last month (via Golfweek), Bradley called a potential ban "unbelievable," adding that he'd consider suing the game's governing bodies if his 46-inch Odyssey White Hot XG Sabertooth was taken away from him. 

    At 26 years old, "Keegs" is one of the youngest belly putters on Tour and would undoubtedly suffer if he'd have to switch to a traditional setup.

2. Webb Simpson

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    Webb Simpson is one of the most underrated golfers on the PGA Tour. The four-year veteran has won three times in his career, with his signature victory coming at this year's US Open. Now ranked 10th in the world, Simpson had a miraculous final round to hold off Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell for his first major championship, and if the belly putter remains in play, more should come.

    This year, Simpson has dominated as a lag putter, ranking sixth on Tour outside of 25 feet and has been average enough inside five feet to finished near the top 50 in terms of strokes gained.

    These statistics indicate why a belly putter can't make a good putter great, but it can make a below-average putter good. Typically, the club is used by those who struggle with the short putts, and in Simpson's case, it hasn't zapped any of his feel further away from the hole either.

3. Adam Scott

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    Adam Scott is one of the most extreme belly putters on Tour, as the Australian anchors the shaft in his upper chest (as pictured left). While Scott had quite a run in the mid 2000s, reaching as high as third in the World Golf Rankings, he struggled with injuries in 2008 and missed 10 cuts in 2009.

    By the 2011 Masters, though, Scott's game had made a comeback, and it was almost entirely due to his switch to a long putter. In his first tournament going belly, Scott finished second at Augusta, good for his first top 10 at the major since 2002.

    In the time since, Scott's game has maintained itself well under the "bright lights," so to speak, as he has four top 10s in his last eight major tournaments.

    It's hard to forget the Aussie's collapse at this year's Open Championship in which he bogeyed each of the tournament's last four holes to lose by one stroke, but Scott has had an exemplary 2012 on the whole. He is currently the fifth-ranked golfer in the world and finished the year sixth in scoring average and 25th on the money list.

    On the greens, it's worth noting that Scott has been a bit below average inside of five feet, but his performance in this category is far better than just two years earlier. In 2010, Scott missed nearly seven percent of his "gimmes," good for 188th on Tour.

    It's no surprise that he has been one of the most outspoken golfers against a belly putter ban.

4. Ernie Els

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    "The Big Easy," as he is known among pundits, is one of the winningest golfers of all-time, recording 65 professional worldwide wins and four major championship victories in his 23-year career.

    Most of Els' success has come with the traditional short putter, but the 6'3" South African started practicing with various anchoring techniques at the 2011 Masters and won this year's Open Championship with the club.

    In 2012 as a whole, Els has finished 112th on the PGA in terms of strokes gained on the greens, which isn't too impressive, until one considers that fact that he finished in the bottom six just a year earlier. 

5. Vijay Singh

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    While Vijay Singh certainly isn't the same golfer of the mid 2000s when he was No. 1 in the world for a brief stint, the three-time major winner played solidly in 2012, finishing 51st on the money list and 28th in scoring average.

    Though he hasn't used the belly putter his entire career, Singh has turned to it lately, as his feel on the greens has diminished. He was one of the 20 worst putters on Tour this year.

    Like many of his anchor-using peers, Singh's main difficulty is putts inside of five feet. He has missed nearly five percent of all attempts from inside this distance; the Tour's elite miss less than two percent of their "gimmes."

6. Jim Furyk

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    Though he doesn't use the belly putter exclusively, Jim Furyk has used the stick in times of distress, and over the past year, distress has been plentiful.

    After using the club in the last three months of 2011 and putting up a respectable showing at the PGA Championship, Furyk switched back to the short stick in 2012 and had quite the collapse at the US Open, blowing a lead with six holes to play.

    Furyk eventually lost the tournament to Webb Simpson and has played decently in the two majors since. The golfer's putting has gotten back on track this year, as Furyk sits at second overall in terms of putts inside five feet, a monumental jump from last year's 116th-place finish in the category.

    Without the use of the belly putter as a medicinal fix, it's possible that Furyk wouldn't have been able to make such an impressive turnaround on the greens.

7. Tim Clark

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    Though he's only won one PGA Tour event in his 14-year career, Tim Clark's dependence on the belly putter cannot be overstated. The golfer began using the club as a junior in college at NC State and won ACC Player of the Year in 1997.

    In the 27 major championships Clark has played in, he has notched 10 top 20 finishes, with his best performance coming at the 2006 Masters where he finished second.

    In 2012, Clark has been an average putter on short to mid-range putts, but is making more than eight percent of his attempts from outside 25 feet, good for 14th on Tour.

8. Bill Haas

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    Though he has switched on and off the belly putter for quite some time, Bill Haas won the Tour Championship in 2011 with the long stick and has performed quite admirably this year.

    On the subject, Haas had this to say: "It just feels a little different. I don't know if it's the answer, but sometimes just being a little different it's a little more comfortable."

    This ability to be "comfortable" has boosted Haas's short game in 2012, as the golfer sits 42nd on Tour in terms of putts inside five feet, more than 50 spots higher than where he finished just two years earlier.

9. Carl Pettersson

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    While he's not a household name, Carl Pettersson has put together a respectable career on the PGA Tour, winning five tournaments and having his best major showing at the latest PGA Championship, finishing tied for third.

    Sponsored by Nike, Pettersson uses a custom built Method putter and used it quite effectively in 2012. 

    After finishing 51st on the money list in 2011, Pettersson has jumped up to 13th this year, as his on-course earnings have totaled more than $3.5 million.

    Pettersson's short range putting is exemplary, as he ranks 16th on Tour inside five feet, and ninth between five and 10 feet. As is the case with stereotypical belly putters, the golfer's lag putting is below-average, but we'd take his ability to hole short putts any day.

10. Phil Mickelson

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    Similar to Furyk and Haas, Mickelson doesn't use the belly putter in every tournament, but he has dabbled with it in the past. After struggling with his traditional blade for much of 2011, "Lefty" switched to a custom built Odyssey model for September's Deutsche Bank Championship. 

    After going 10 under over his final 36 holes at the event, Mickelson switched back to his traditional putter, but it's hard to argue with the progress that following.

    Though he finished 134th in strokes gained from putting in 2011, Phil has done a much better job on the greens this year, finishing 10th in the category. While we can only speculate on the true reason behind this turnaround, it's hard to ignore the curious timing of his decision to employ the belly putter last year.

    If he runs into similar trouble in the future, a ban would make a similar improvement a tad more difficult.