Meet the man, and the invention, that can bring the belly putter to your bag

Tuesday November 15th, 2011
The Belly Putt
Courtesy of Patrick Judice

Clay Judice remembers the exact moment when he realized he had to find a different way to putt. He was playing golf with his sons three years ago at a municipal course near his home in Lafayette, La., when he hit a wedge shot to within a foot. He yipped on the stroke and missed the putt. Yes, a one-footer!

"I joked to my boys, 'That was a tough putt -- it had a lot of break,'" Judice said. But it was no laughing matter. Judice had the yips, and he knew then that the yips had won.

That's when he began to experiment with belly-putting. He got results right away, even with a makeshift setup. "I stuck a screwdriver into the end of my putter," Judice recalled. "Man, it was so easy to hit the line with that thing. It kept all the angles so straight. My son saw it and said, 'Dad, that could be an invention.'"

Thus was born The Belly Putt, Judice's attempt to be part of a growing trend toward long putters. The Belly Putt is an attachment that allows any golfer to turn his own putter into a belly putter. The Belly Putt simply screws onto your regular putter, is adjustable and can add up to eight inches to a standard putter. At $39.99 (available from BellyPutt.com), it's an inexpensive and easy way to test-drive a belly putter, using the comfort of your own putter instead of dropping $200 to add yet another putter to the collection in your basement.

With a growing number of PGA Tour winners using belly putters this year, including PGA champion Keegan Bradley, interest in belly-putting has never been higher. Judice's Belly Putt kit may be in the right place at the right time.

"Once I came up with the idea, I thought, 'This makes so much sense,'" Judice said. "My target market was maybe 3 percent of golfers at that point, the very small segment who were using or would consider using belly putters. Now, the stigma of it is totally gone and my target market is maybe 50 percent. I never fathomed the golfing world would come to the realization that belly putters are acceptable."

The Belly Putt, as normally attached, is not conforming to USGA rules. Judice knew that and includes detailed instructions on how to make The Belly Putt conforming, which is a more complicated process and requires regripping the putter and the attachment.

"I knew from the beginning that if it was adjustable, it wouldn't be conforming, but I wanted to keep it easy for the average golfer to try out," Judice said. "I felt like I needed to address the conforming issue even though 95 percent of golfers don't care about that."

Judice, 60, is an engineer and long-time golfer, although his own game has had its ups and downs. He carried a 2 handicap when he was younger but got away from golf as he raised five sons. He got back into the game much later in life but when he injured his left knee, he switched to playing golf left-handed. Even though he made a pair of aces as a lefty, he's playing right-handed again now.

"My brain never accepted left-handed," Judice said. "Since I've given up tennis, now my knee feels a lot better. I'm a nut, a good athlete and I really enjoy working hard at my golf game."

With The Belly Putt, he's trying to turn his hobby into a vocation. This isn't his first venture into the golf equipment business. While he was in his 20s, he designed and sold a putter called The Offset that former PGA Tour pro Ken Still actually used for a while and Raymond Floyd endorsed. He sold about a thousand of them in the Dallas and Houston areas. "I didn't sell enough of them, I lost my ass and had to go back to work," Judice said. "I knew nothing about marketing."

In the mid-'80s, he tried again with The Strokee, a putting aid that looked like a barbell. It was a putter shaft with a blade that had a golf ball on each end. "It would tell you if you had a straight stroke through the ball," Judice said. "I showed it to Jack Nicklaus once and he said, 'Actually, I like to cut the ball on some putts.' I thought, 'Wow, the greatest golfer who ever lived had skills that most pros don't have.' I sold maybe 10,000 of those, not quite enough."

Judice applied for a Belly Putt patent last year and his patent is pending. He sold about 1,000 Belly Putts last year and another thousand the first half of this year. "Then Keegan Bradley won the PGA and I sold 400 in a week," he said. "I always knew it was a good idea. When all those guys started winning on the PGA Tour with it, that put a spotlight on it. You talk to some teaching pros now, they admit it's a good way to putt, maybe even a better way."

 

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