Belly the new black

By Rex HoggardSeptember 1, 2011, 6:28 pm

NORTON, Mass. – Golf abhors asterisks. It’s why Bobby Jones is still the only player to have ever won the single-season Grand Slam even though half of Bobby’s haul is no longer considered part of the “impregnable quadrilateral.”

It is a truth that is at the heart of the debate du jour on the PGA Tour. Love ‘em, hate ‘em or hold ‘em, long putters are a Pandora that were let out of the rule’s box long before young Keegan Bradley rolled his way to major history.

Long before Adam Scott, Bradley and Webb Simpson won in consecutive weeks wielding something longer than standard on the putting surfaces. That’s 3-for-4 the last month on Tour for the long stick, a stunning statistic that doesn’t even include Fred Couples’ victory at the Senior Players Championship two weeks ago.

Depending on whom one asks the long putter is either the scourge or the savior of the game. Traditionalists howl, troubled souls with trembling hands rejoice.

“If it were going to be banned, it should have happened 20-plus years ago. But now that it's been legal, I don't think you can make it retroactive. … Having said that, we've been retroactive on grooves; we've outlawed the paddle grip for crying out loud,” said one left-handed, four-time major winner.

That the same southpaw set out just after dawn at TPC Boston with a belly putter in his bag only demonstrates how devilishly divisive this issue has become, and Phil Mickelson knows about divisive decisions.

“I was a little shady with it on the front (nine), a little bit better with it on the back (nine),” said Mickelson on Thursday at the Deutsche Bank Championship. “Look, I’m willing to try new things. I’ve hit two drivers, no drivers in Opens. I don’t mind trying something different.”

When asked if he planned to put the mid-length putter in play for Friday’s opening round at TPC Boston Mickelson said, “Probably.” Whether the decision is born from Lefty’s pedestrian putting this year – he ranks 87th in the new strokes-gained putting category and, more concerning, 131st on putts between 10 and 15 feet – or a desire to make a political statement about a club some Tour types say is legal only because golf’s rule makers failed to act remains to be seen.

Just last year Mickelson caused a stir when he put a legal-but-non-conforming Ping wedge into play at the Farmers Insurance Open. A week later he removed the club from his bag saying, “My point has been made.”

Whatever Mickelson’s motivations, having the game’s second-largest draw join a growing list of long-putter converts only promises to fuel an already combustible debate.

The only consensus, at least on Tour, is that whether a player uses a longer-than-standard-length putter or not there are real benefits. Where the debate begins is when the traditionalist among the play-for-pay set are asked the most esoteric of questions: Is the long putter cheating?

“If it was cheating you’d see every single person using it,” said Spencer Levin, who switched to a belly putter late last season and has become a convert. “I don’t think it is the cure-all. You still have to be good to use it. But there’s no doubt, you give a good putter a long putter and he’s only going to get better.”

While another Tour player, who asked not to be identified, pointed out a different trend saying, “Look at all the young guys using it. When you see that you know they went through a tough putting stretch in college and never went back.”

One man’s cheating is another’s second chance, and, despite the escalating debate over the long putter’s use on Tour, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is no going back.

“Once something is approved it’s difficult to go back,” said Wally Uihlein, CEO of Acushnet Company, the parent company of Titleist, FootJoy and Pinnacle. “The statistical evidence here, similar to the grooves, one of the things that no one ever measures is the guy who plays 18 holes and leaves himself on the right side of the hole for 18 consecutive holes, he’s going to have fewer putts than the guy who is on the wrong side of the hole.

“How do you do any kind of statistical analysis, long putter vs. short putter, to argue that inherently we’ve neutered the skill factor as a result of benefiting technology? I don’t know how you do that.”

The U.S. Golf Association, and by association the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, seem to agree.

“We always come back to who’s using the belly putter?” said Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director. “It tends to be two groups of players. It’s either those afflicted with yips or something else that’s not good, or people that have back problems, and you start to say, ‘Do we want to take clubs out of the hands of people who almost can’t enjoy the game anymore because they’re so mentally afflicted with the yips or something of the like, or people that are having back problems?’

“We don’t see this as something that is really detrimental to the game.”

Ultimately, however, it will be golf’s aversion to asterisks that will keep the long-putter debate theoretical. When Bradley stroked in his winning putt at Atlanta Athletic Club to become the first player to win a men’s major using a nontraditional putter the club was effectively granted lifelong tenure.

As liberating as hindsight can be, there is no going back. Not now. Not in golf.


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Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way

By Randall MellMay 27, 2018, 12:55 am

Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.

Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.

And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.

Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.

Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.


Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship


Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.

Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.

“I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told LPGA.com at the Kingsmill Championship last week.

Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.

A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.

It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.

There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.

Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.

The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.

Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.

“I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told LPGA.com last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”

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Rose hasn't visited restroom at Colonial - here's why

By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 12:20 am

In case you're unaware, it's pretty hot in Texas.

Temperatures at Colonial Country Club have approached 100 degrees this week, leaving players to battle both the golf course and potential dehydration.

With the help of his caddie Mark Fulcher, Fort Worth Invitational leader Justin Rose has been plenty hot himself, staking himself to a four-shot lead.


Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


"Yeah, Fulch has done a great job of just literally handing me water bottle after water bottle. It seems relentless, to be honest with you," Rose said Saturday.

So just how much are players sweating the heat at Colonial? Well, it doesn't sound like all that water is making it all the way through Rose.

"I haven't even seen the inside of a restroom yet, so you can't even drink quick enough out there," he shared.

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Up four, Rose knows a lead can slip away

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 11:21 pm

Up four shots heading into Sunday at the Fort Worth Invitational, Justin Rose has tied the largest 54-hole lead of his PGA Tour career.

On the previous two occasions he took a 54-hole Tour lead into the final round, he closed.

And yet, Rose knows just how quickly a lead can slip away. After all, it was Rose who erased a six-shot deficit earlier this season to overtake Dustin Johnson and win the WGC-HSBC Championship. 

"I think I was in the lead going into the final round in Turkey when I won, and I had a four-shot lead going into the final round in Indonesia in December and managed to put that one away," Rose said Saturday, thinking back to his two other victories late last year.

"I was five, six back maybe of DJ, so I've got experience the other way. ... So you can see how things can go both ways real quick. That's why there is no point in getting too far ahead of myself."


Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


Up one to start the third round Saturday, Rose extended his lead to as much as five when he birdied four of his first six holes.

He leads the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green (+12.853) and strokes gained: approach-the-green (+7.931).

Rose has won five times worldwide, including at the 2016 Rio Olympics, since his last victory in the United States, at the 2015 Zurich Classic.

With a win Sunday, he'd tie Nick Faldo for the most PGA Tour wins by an Englishman post-World War II, with nine.

But he isn't celebrating just yet.

"It is a big lead, but it's not big enough to be counting the holes away. You've got to go out and play good, you've got to go out positive, you've got to continue to make birdies and keep going forward.

"So my mindset is to not really focus on the lead, it's to focus on my game tomorrow and my performance. You know, just keep executing the way I have been. That's going to be my challenge tomorrow. Going to look forward to that mindset."

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Grillo still hunting follow-up to debut win

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 10:53 pm

Following a round of 1-under 69 Saturday, Emiliano Grillo will enter Sunday's final round at Colonial four shots behind leader Justin Rose.

Grillo is hunting his first win since he took the 2015 Safeway Open in his rookie debut as a PGA Tour member. 

The young Argentinian finished 11th in the FedExCup points race that season, contending in big events and finishing runner-up at the 2016 Barclays.

In the process, Grillo had to learn to pace himself and that it can be fruitless to chase after success week to week.

"That was a hot run in there," Grillo said Saturday, referring to his rookie year. "I played, in 2016, I played the majors very well. I played the big tournaments very well. I was in contention after two, three days in most of the big events.


Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


"I think, you know, I wanted to do better. I pushed for it. Some of the tournaments I ended up being 50th or 60th just because I wanted to play. I wanted to play well so badly. That played against me, so I learned from that. In that rookie year, I learned that."

Grillo was still plenty successful in his sophomore season, advancing to the BMW Championship last fall.

But now he's beginning to regain some of that form that made him such an immediate success on Tour. Grillo has recorded four top-10 finishes year - a T-9 at Mayakoba, a T-8 at Honda, a T-3 at Houston, and a T-9 at Wells Fargo - and will now look to outduel U.S. Open champs in Rose and Brooks Koepka on Sunday at Colonial.

"Well, he's top 10 in the world, so everything he does he does it pretty well," Grillo said of Rose. "You know, he does his own thing. Like I say, he's top 10 in the world. Nothing wrong with his game. ...

"He's in the lead on a Sunday. Doesn't matter where you're playing, he's got to go out and shoot under par. He's got 50 guys behind him trying to reach him, and I'm one of those. I've just got to go out and do what he did today on those first five or six holes and try to get him in the early holes."