Burning Questions: The belly putter debate, poa annua greens and John Daly's future

Burning Questions: The belly putter debate, poa annua greens and John Daly’s future

Brendan Steele has been using a belly putter for six years.

Is it time to ban belly putters and other long putters that are anchored to the body?
With the recent success of players like Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Adam Scott and others, it sometimes seems like belly putters and other long putters make the game too easy.

The world's best players have certainly noticed their peers' success and are adopting long putters in droves. As Gary Van Sickle pointed out recently, seven of the 30 golfers who played in the 2011 Tour Championship used a belly or long putter, including Bill Haas, the eventual winner of the tournament and the 2011 FedEx Cup. Eight of the 24 Presidents Cup competitors used extended-length putters.

The game's governing bodies have also noticed, and it seems a ban on putters anchored to a player's body is at least up for discussion. At its annual meeting last week, the USGA said it and the R&A plan to "take a fresh look" at belly putters. And Tiger Woods made it very clear on Tuesday where he stands on the issue.

"I've never been a fan of it," he said at Pebble Beach. "I believe [putting] is the art of controlling the body and club and swinging the pendulum motion. I believe that's how it should be played. I'm a traditionalist when it comes to that."

Before we conclude that anchored putters make the game a cinch, however, we should take a closer look at the facts. Only one major winner, Bradley at last year's PGA Championship, has wielded a belly putter. And only one player, Scott McCarron, finished in the top 20 in the PGA Tour's newest putting stat, Strokes Gained-Putting, while using a putting style that anchored the club to his body. McCarron ranked ninth with a broomstick-style putter that he holds in his left hand and presses against his chest.

And while this trend has been sweeping the pro ranks, how many 12-handicappers in your Saturday morning game have recently switched to a belly putter and turned into Brad Faxon on the greens? Not many, I suspect.

Brendan Steele, who won last season's Valero Texas Open using the same belly putter that's been in his bag for six years, points out that it's not a magic cure for everyone, and that banning the putters would hurt the players who have worked hard to master the technique.

"I think it's interesting because you see Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk go to it and have basically zero success with it and pull it out of the bag," he said. "If you give it to somebody on the putting green who is using a short putter right now, they're not going to be able to go and putt well with it because you have to put in the work with it. It's not like anybody can go and pick one up and hole whatever they want. That's not how it works at all."

A ban on belly and long putters would also affect manufacturers. With economic uncertainty still looming over the United States and Europe, companies are not predicting a huge boost in consumer spending on golf equipment in 2012. Golf brands wouldn't be pleased to see a potential source of revenue nipped in the bud.

This is going to be a hot topic in the world of golf for the foreseeable future, especially if someone uses a putter anchored to his body to win the Masters or the U.S. Open this year. But even if the USGA and the R&A conclude that changes need to be made, it will likely be several years before any amendments to the rules would go into effect.

Until then, more and more players are going to try anchored putting styles, and more and more players are going to complain about them. Some, like Ernie Els, will do both.

"As long as it's legal," Els said last October, "I'll keep cheating like the rest of them."

Does putting on poa annua grass really make that much of a difference to the pros?
During the West Coast Swing, golfers contend with poa annua greens. Poa (pronounced PO-ah), as it's commonly called, is a type of bluegrass that tends to make balls bounce and hop, especially late in the afternoon and in damp conditions.

"Footprints seem to last a little bit longer on Poa," said CBS analyst and Golf Magazine contributor Peter Kostis. "If it gets warmer and the grass starts to grow more, then it becomes more of an issue, depending on when they rolled it."

Players who grew up on faster bent grass greens tend to die the ball into the hole, but to hold the line on Poa you have to hit the ball with some pace.

"I grew up on poa and popping the ball, getting it rolling and having it bounce a little bit here and there," said Tiger Woods, who added that while they're different from the greens he played in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago, putting on greens like those at Pebble Beach is second nature to him.

Arron Oberholser, who won the 2006 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, grew up playing in nearby San Mateo and went to San Jose State. He says his putting stroke was also “poppy” early in his career, but putting on the velvety smooth greens common on the PGA Tour refined it. He now lives in Scottsdale, but when he comes back to California he doesn't consciously change the way he putts to compensate for the greens, but he knows they can be tough.

"Poa is going to get bumpy, especially late in the day," Oberholser said. "So you don't want those 3- or 4-footers coming back down the hill."

According to Kostis, courses that feature poa greens should reward the best iron players, even more than bent grass.

"He who has the shortest putts is going to have the fewest putts," he said.

John Daly played well in Qatar last week. Could he still win a professional tournament?
Just when John Daly slips off the radar, he seems to summon a performance that makes us remember just how talented he is. Daly finished fourth last week at the Qatar Masters for his first top-5 finish in almost seven years.

Lots of fans would love to see Daly in contention on a regular basis, but I can't see it happening. If you look at his body of work over the past year, there's little to make you think that his performance in the desert was anything but a mirage.

Daly appeared in 18 PGA Tour events in 2011 and missed the cut 12 times. His only finish better than a tie for 38th was a tie for ninth at the RBC Canadian Open. He played 11 events on the European Tour and made the cut only three times.

And, in case you forgot, Daly hit seven balls into the water on the par-5 11th hole at last season's Australian Open and then walked off the course.

Safe to say that mental toughness is not the foundation of Daly's game right now, and while there's no denying his talent, I think his tournament-winning days are behind him.