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Rubenstein: The battle of the belly is heating up Add to ...

On the matter of the debate now raging - yes, raging - over whether the powers-that-be should ban the anchored putter, let us now make the following observations.

(1)  The fact that 14-year-old Guan Tianlang won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship on the weekend while anchoring a putter to his belly, and thereby gaining an exemption into the 2013 Masters, is sure to heat up the debate even more. After all, Peter Dawson, the secretary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, and Billy Payne, the chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, attended the tournament in Bangkok, Thailand and were standing at the prize ceremony when the youngster accepted the trophy. Tianlang was holding a Masters flag in one hand. He’s been using the anchored putter since June, and said it makes him feel more stable over the ball.

(2)  Dawson and Payne were instrumental in starting the Asian Amateur, as most people call the tournament. It’s part of their mission to “grow” the game in Asia. Well, their poster teenaged champion has become a poster boy for the anchored method. Dawson and Mike Davis, the executive director of the United States Golf Association, are not fans of the anchored putter. The R&A and the USGA may soon make it illegal. They know that the youngster’s win with an anchored putter will only bring more attention to the issue of whether it should be part of the game.

(3)  This is one of those matters in which it is easy to see both sides of the story and not easy to hold a firm opinion as to what officials should do. I agree with Tom Watson that anchoring a putter to one’s chest is not, as he says, a “stroke of golf.” But is anchoring the shaft, or part of the shaft, to one’s forearm, as Bernhard Langer, most notably, has done for years, a “stroke of golf?” When is an anchor not an anchor?

(4)  Meanwhile, you’d have to think that anchoring the shaft to one’s belly does confer an advantage. Otherwise, why would so many players be using it? Keegan Bradley bellied to win the 2011 PGA Championship. Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open in June, bellying up to the ball on the greens. Ernie Els took the Open Championship in July with a belly putter. Watson put it this way during a recent teleconference to draw attention to his appearance at next month’s Australian Open in Sydney: “There are definite advantages with it because you take it back and basically the pendulum and weight of the putter will take it through the impact area. There is really no chance to jerk it too much if you keep it pretty still."

(5)  Then again, Watson said his experience anchoring the putter is limited to three putts from about 40-feet, which doesn’t qualify as a proper test. He simply thinks that jamming a club into one’s chest should not be allowed. But if it really did make putting so easy, wouldn’t every tour golfer be using it? Players do go back and forth. Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh are a couple of examples.

(6)  Els himself said this recently to James Corrigan of The Telegraph: “It’s not just about tucking it into your belly and you start holing putts. A lot of work has to go into it to perfect your style. You still feel the nerves and you can still miss.”

A 14-year-old Chinese kid who uses a belly putter will play next year’s Masters. Bradley has said he’ll do anything he can to keep the anchored putter legal. By that he means legal challenges could be in order. Els has said the same thing. Anchors away. Or anchors in. The battle of the belly is heating up. Belly up to the bar at the 19th hole, dear readers. What do you think?

RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein

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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at rube@sympatico.ca . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein

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