Printed on: November 21, 2012

Azinger laments likely demise of belly putters

By Doug Ferguson
AP Golf Writer

NAPLES, Fla. -- If not for Paul Azinger picking up a long putter that belonged to a short man, there might not be such a fuss over belly putters.

The USGA and R&A are close to announcing their position on long putters that are anchored to the body. That they have pledged to make an announcement by the end of the year has most believing a ban is imminent.

If that's the case, the guy who started it all thinks that would be a shame.

"Everybody is looking to improve their game," Azinger said in an interview last week. "That technique is good for some, and it didn't work for others."

What befuddles him is the advancements in equipment over the last 20 years, particularly with golf clubs. He referred specifically to the Great Big Bertha driver, which at the time looked enormous and had a big sweet spot. Azinger was only partially joking when he said that club now looks like a 4-wood.

"It's OK for manufacturers to figure out game improvement," Azinger said. "But if a player figures it out, we're going to ban it?"

For the former PGA champion, it was more of a fluke.

He was putting poorly when he went into the pro shop while at home in Florida in late 1999, grabbing putters of the rack when he came across a long putter that is anchored to the chest. Only this one belonged to someone much shorter than Azinger.

"I grabbed it, was lining it up perfect and stuck it into my belly because of the length," Azinger said. "I hit it all over the pro shop and made everything, and then walked outside and made everything."

Azinger checked to make sure it was legal, and he was on his way. At the mixed-team event, he says he made 13 birdies and an eagle in two days of fourballs with Se Ri Pak as his partner. Alas, they lost in a playoff to John Daly and Laura Davies. Azinger took his belly putter to Hawaii and won the Sony Open by seven shots.

But here's the other side to this magical belly putter -- he never won again. And he was quick to point out that while three of the last five major champions had a belly putter, it took 11 years before someone (Keegan Bradley) won a major.

"Then all of a sudden it's being looked at because some guys have success doing it," Azinger said. "You don't see guys shooting 57, 58, 59 with the belly putter. ... It can help you -- there's no two ways about it. But it's not helping everybody."

In a subsequent text message, Azinger again suggested that the USGA and R&A were concerned about the wrong piece of equipment.

"The belly putter doesn't guarantee you'll putt better," he said. "But today's drivers will guarantee you'll hit the ball farther."

Around the greens

MOVING ON: Those who failed to make it out of the second stage of Q-school last week face an uncertain future if they don't have limited status as a past champion. That group includes Jamie Lovemark, who won the Nationwide Tour money title two years ago, and Hank Kuehne, who made double bogey on his last hole.

Past champions who failed to get through included a former Ryder Cup player (Chris Riley), two former Presidents Cup players (Carlos Franco and K.T. Kim), along with Cameron Beckman, Joe Durant, Jesper Parnevik and Chris Smith.

Among those moving to the final stage next week in California were Todd Hamilton, Robert Karlsson and Kevin Tway, the son of former PGA champion Bob Tway.

Perhaps the most intriguing was Si Kim of South Korea, the medalist at Bear Lake in California on the strength of a 61 in the second round.

TO THE BOOTH: Former PGA champion Rich Beem failed to make it through the second stage of Q-school last week, leaving him only limited status as a past winner for what would appear to be limited room in a short season. So what's next for the Beemer?

Perhaps a move to the broadcast booth -- in Europe.

Beem said he has been contacted by Sky Sports to do commentary for PGA Tour events that are shown in Europe, similar to what Butch Harmon does at the majors and the World Golf Championships. He says his experience is limited, though the job would come naturally to him.

"I've got the gift of gab," Beem said. "I am full of a lot of things."

Beem worked for TNT Sports at the PGA Championship in 2010 at Whistling Straits, with two days for the 3-D coverage on the par-3 11th and par-3 17th, and then Saturday and Sunday covering the marquee group.

(MOST PECULIAR) STAT OF THE WEEK: Phil Mickelson saved par nine times after hitting into the water, the most of anyone on the PGA Tour this year.