Pond Scrum: A trend they're having a hard time stomaching

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FORFAR, Scotland -- Apparently, going belly-up is a very good thing.

Well, for the guys resorting to navel intelligence in the first place, anyway.

As for our transoceanic analysts John Huggan and Steve Elling, they're not so sure that bellying up to the bar is the best thing for the game at the moment. Barring the bellying, on the other hand, might be more to their liking.

At one poignant moment last week at the PGA Tour stop in Greensboro, N.C., with images of winning rookie Keegan Bradley hoisting his belly putter overhead at the PGA Championship still fresh in their noggins, the troops were clearly searching for a tonic.

One Twitter follower reported to Elling last week that at one point at Sedgefield Country Club's practice green, there were 10 guys honing their putting stroke, and eight were using a belly or long putter.

You want some carefully considered belly-aching? Then European Tour correspondent Huggan and CBSSports.com senior writer Elling are here to lead the aural assault on the topics of oversized putters, Tiger Woods' oft-debated decision not to play in Greensboro and other timely topics as the FedEx Cup series prepares to make its first stop this week at The Barclays in Edison, N.J.

Just like many Jersey residents, these guys don't mince words, either.

With Webb Simpson's victory in North Carolina on Sunday, that's three consecutive weeks that a player using a belly or broom putter has won on the PGA Tour, including the first major championship ever won with an oversized model. Is this a sea change or just a minor swell?

Elling: I had vertigo, there were so many guys putting with the tall sticks over the weekend. In the Greensboro top dozen were Simpson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Charles Howell, Carl Pettersson, Jim Furyk and Scott McCarron. Some of these guys have been using big sticks since college, but others are more recent converts. If there was ever a stigma attached, it was blown to bits when Keegan Bradley won the PGA Championship two weeks ago with a belly model in hand.

Huggan: Dear, oh dear, oh dear. I suppose this was inevitable, but I don't have to like it. Those things have no place in golf because they allow players to hole putts without making a proper stroke. In fact, I hate them. I bet there are blazers on both sides of the Atlantic ruing the day they allowed those grotesque implements through the screening program. This is golf Steve, but not as we know it.

Elling: During the weekend broadcast, analyst Peter Kostis noted that the belly has been around since the mid-1930s, so it isn't like there hasn't been ample opportunity for the USGA or R&A to ban the thing. Those two governing bodies have been busy with other crucial, game-changing issues. Like grooves. Yeah, that's a revision that has really caused a revolution, huh?

Huggan: It's just another example of the authorities being asleep at the wheel when it comes to technology and equipment. History, I suspect, is not going to be kind to the numbskulls charged with overseeing the game over the past two decades or so.

Is the belly putter a new Tour trend or passing fad? (Getty Images)  
Is the belly putter a new Tour trend or passing fad? (Getty Images)  
 

Elling: Unlike with some issues -- like the technology inherent in $400 drivers -- this one can be fixed faster, right? There's a max length on drivers, in fact. That rule is fairly recent one, too. Hard to envision manufacturers screaming about it. Most belly putters are just normal putter heads glued to longer shafts with a funky grip affixed.

Huggan: The biggest upcoming problem is that we are soon going to be faced with a generation of players who have never putted "properly." All they are going to know is this pseudo-stroke, one that should have no place in the game.

Elling: Simpson has been putting with a belly since his freshman year at Wake Forest at age 18. You might just be right. But don't let it go to your head.

If they were going to ban the belly, they should have done it by now. Actually, the belly putter bothers me a bit more than the broom. This whole notion of "anchoring" the club against the body, the broom practitioners at least don't use their belly as a hinge point. The belly seems like it bends the spirit of the rule far more, uh, effectively.

Huggan: Indeed, money not being the biggest issue here, the game still has a chance to put things right. I mean, I'm a bit dodgy on the old 70-yarders, but no one is out there making me a wedge that can bypass my poor technique/lack of nerve on those shots. Why are putting yippers so special?

Elling: Some guys have had the yips with drivers, too. But the biggest question looms: Is it worse to ban the thing or to give players like Adam Scott, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els another lease on life? Besides, like the claw grip that was all the rage -- and is still used by a handful of players -- the belly putter aficionados haven't exactly been devout. Stewart Cink gave up on his and won a major soon thereafter. Same for Singh before his PGA Championship win at Whistling Straits. Retief Goosen, Furyk and Els have switched so many times, it's hard to keep track. Even Lee Westwood has used it, including earlier this year at the Masters.

Huggan: Nerve has to be part of the game. With those awful things, that element is all but eliminated. So, while I feel sorry for those pros who would immediately be uncompetitive at the highest level, they have to go. I bet some of those guys -- Ernie, for example -- hate themselves for having to use a crutch, one that exposes their weakness to the world.

Elling: Here's what I would do. Rather than wait around for the USGA to drink some coffee and wake up, I would institute a local rule on the major tours banning any putter beyond a prescribed length. The tours are empowered to do exactly that, but they would have to agree across the board, and any amateur competing in a pro event would have to comply. It would amount to the same bifurcation scenario as with grooves in the pro and amateur levels at the moment. There, it's fixed. Start date is January, 2012.

Elling: One last aside: Fred Couples won the 12th and final Champions Tour major of the season Sunday with a belly putter, too. I'm telling you, if Tiger Woods isn't considering it, he's crazy.

Huggan: Prescribed length is tricky, given that golfers are not all the same height. All they have to do is say that the putter has to be the shortest club in the bag. And yes, I'm only talking about the pros. Anything that keeps yipping amateurs out there on the links is fine with me. If Tiger goes belly-up, I'm giving up.

Speaking of Eldrick the Absent, should Tiger Woods have played last week in Greensboro?

Elling: There seems to be this walking-on-eggshells issue here because Woods said he had family obligations, but it should be made clear that Woods made an elective decision not to play Greensboro, the final qualifying event to make the first FedEx Cup field this week at The Barclays. He started last week in a tie for 127th in points with two others, including unknown rookie William McGirt. Well, McGirt played and he cracked the top 125. Woods didn't. And now he gets the next five weeks off. But gee, McGirt's in, thank goodness, so who needs Tee-Dub, right?

Huggan: It's clear he needs to play somewhere and soon. He can't expect to get a place on the Presidents Cup squad if he doesn't play again until the Aussie Open in November. I can't get too worked up about the FedEx thing. History isn't going to care how many of those money-grabs Tiger wins. So why should he?

Elling: Padraig Harrington had a family vacation planned for last week in the Bahamas and he played Greensboro. And he moved into the top 125 as well. Besides, the more astounding issue with Woods isn't that he didn't play, it's that he then spent part of the week pimping his video game. Last Tuesday, he filmed more computer generated footage for his 2012 video -- there's an invaluable commercial entity the world can't live without. When publicity shots of the EA Sports session were released, it just looked awful, at least to me. Here's a guy who can't be bothered to play, but he agrees to have publicity shots of a lame PR stunt released? The photos screamed aloud his indifference to the FedEx Cup and the title sponsors of the four events in the series. Whether he intended it or not, that was the implied message.

Huggan: Details, details. Once Tiger decided not to play, what does it matter what he did instead? The important thing is that he didn't play.

Elling: It matters because the implied message is that his few remaining endorsement deals matter more than the tour, rights-holders or title sponsors. Weak cheese, brother. Interesting, no, that when he mentioned at the PGA Championship that he was skipping Greensboro because of family issues, he didn't mention shooting video for EA Sports. Hmmm, Woods failing to give us the entirely honest picture? Who would have guessed?

Huggan: You're being too hard on the wee soul. Even a devoted father like Tiger can't spend every waking moment with his delightful children.

Elling: As to your earlier point, were you surprised that Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples told the media that he wants Woods to play before he gets to Australia? Couples has to pick Woods as a captain's selection the day after the Tour Championship next month, so Woods would have to commit to playing a Fall Series event. And Couples would have to pick Woods sight unseen. Interesting. It also opens another can of worms -- whether Woods deserves to play at all. "Deserves" is a tough word in golf, which claims to be the ultimate meritocracy.

Huggan: You need to get your head 'round the fact that the Presidents Cup is nothing more than an exhibition. It means little in the big scheme of things. Plus, as we already touched on, Greg Norman is surely going to have to pick Ryo Ishikawa if the young Japanese doesn't make the squad on points. Japanese television is just too lucrative. When pressure like that is being applied, it is hard to take the thing too seriously.

Elling: By the way, while Woods was sitting in an Orlando studio getting stomped last week by a 19-year-old kid at his own video game, first-time winner Webb Simpson blew past him in the world ranking. Woods has dropped 34 spots since the start of the year and is now No. 36, three spots ahead of Jason Dufner, who has zero career wins.

Huggan: Where are you ranked? I see a big match between you and Tiger sometime in 2024 at this rate.

Elling: There is no belly putter in the world good enough to fix my creaky swipe. One last point I wanna make clear before we exit this talking point. I am not ripping the guy for spending time with his kids, just pointing out a few nits worth picking. The thing with Woods here is that people seem hesitant to express an opinion because he was said to be spending time with his children. Fine. But is Woods the first divorced father in history? He has the means to hire nannies, babysitters, whatever it takes. He has the financial wherewithal to make changes happen. Unlike the masses who work 50 weeks a year, not 15.

Huggan: You are of course correct. Tiger is a very bad man and should be punished at every available opportunity.

Nobody ever listens -- there were no changes in the FedEx Cup made in 2011 -- but if you could make a tweak of your own to improve the product, what would it be?

Elling: I have a couple of them, neither of which would substantively change the tournaments themselves. First, get rid of the points. Use the yardstick by which all other successes and failures are measures -- the money list. That would clear up about 90 percent of the fan confusion. Guys in the top 125 keep their tour cards, and guys in the top 125 advance to the first round of the FedEx series. Call it the FedEx money list if you want, but boot the points. Nobody eyeballs the points all season.

Huggan: I'd get rid of it. What the PGA Tour needs is a month-long climax to the season played on really good courses. Make the venues the priority. Let the best players show us their talents on courses designed to enhance and showcase their best. Instead, we get bogged down with money and endless updates no one can keep track of. Let's get back to proper golf, I say.

Elling: Well, the biggest success of the FedEx is that it has mostly brought the best players together. Generally when covering it, I just ignore the points race and write about the tournament proper, as you'd call it. The points become an issue in the final few rounds. Then we call in a professorial sort to stand before the TV set with a blackboard to spell out the stultifying permutations, like NBC Sports did last year. Yikes.

Huggan: I'd care about all of that. I don't care -- not even a little bit -- about some convoluted playoff nonsense where even the participants have no clue what is going on.

Elling: Secondly, on potential painless fast fixes, there are far, far too many limited-field events on the PGA Tour. The illusion of exclusivity is, in fact, anything but. There are just as many good players being left out of these events as there are being included. So like with NASCAR's points race, I would continue to run full-field events, but for the purposes of the FedEx sweepstakes, only the qualifying players would collect more points. Then when a players wins, say, the BMW in Chicago, he's has beaten a full field, not just 69 other guys. Again, I have been beating this gong for four years, too. Might as well be beating my head against a wall. Fans with a full field get a complete day of golf and the tournament has much more of a buzz.

Huggan: I want to see the best players in an environment that separates them from the one-dimensional choppers that tend to prosper too often on the PGA Tour. They might also consider making at least one late-season event that forces the players to use persimmon woods and balata balls. Now that would get my attention. And expose the weaknesses of the game we currently watch week to week.

Elling: Oh, I like it. Make them all play with a standardized set of hickory shafted clubs? On an old, 6,000-yard venue like from front tees at Pinehurst.

Huggan: Tell me who won the FedEx every year since it started. Quick now. I have no clue. And I don't care that I have no clue. In fact, I'm proud of the fact that I have no clue.

Elling: Tiger twice, Vijay and Furyk.

Huggan: You sad, sad man.

Elling: This ain't bragging, but Steve Stricker is the lone player to have appeared in all 16 FedEx Cup events and I am the lone writer to have covered them all. Call me crazy. No, really. Go ahead. I deserve it.

Huggan: You have my sympathy. Are any men in white coats following you around?

Elling: No, but I am sure the company bean-counters are wondering why I am spending all this money when football season is about 10 minutes away.

While we're talking about the Presidents Cup and all, the Solheim Cup team was finalized last night on the West Coast. Any surprises?

Elling: Well, U.S. captain Rosie Jones didn't have much to choose from in firepower. Her two picks, Vicky Hurst and rookie Ryann O'Toole, have no victories between them. And I thought having Jeff Overton and Rickie Fowler -- the first two players ever to make a U.S. Ryder Cup team without a victory -- was a stretch. Brittany Lang has zero LPGA wins in her five seasons, either. So that's three players on the schneid. Christina Kim has no wins in six years. At least Natalie Gulbis wasn't picked. Hey, she uses a belly putter, no?

Huggan: The American side doesn't look that good to me. I mean, one player got in without recording a single point in 2011. Another is 51 years old! And one of the picks used to be married to John McEnroe right?

Elling: Hurst has been a disappointment, frankly. She has six top-10 finishes in three full seasons of LPGA play after a stellar junior career in Florida. Stacy Lewis and Brittany Lincicome are the only American who have won this year on the LPGA, which is rather shocking to those who have not been watching ... for the past few seasons, I guess.

Stacy Lewis is just one of two Americans on the Solheim Cup team who have won this year. (Getty Images)  
Stacy Lewis is just one of two Americans on the Solheim Cup team who have won this year. (Getty Images)  
 

Elling: McEnroe? Huh, eh, what?

Huggan: No wait, that was Tatum O'Neal. All those Irish women sound the same to me. Especially those I've barely heard of. Was that noise I heard Rosie Jones' nails scraping the bottom of the barrel?

Huggan: To be at least semi-serious, the U.S. squad looks top heavy. The best players are really good. And I love that Juli Inkster is still keen enough to get out there and play. But the bottom half of the side looks pretty weak. But my biggest disappointment is that the awful Christina Kim -- she of the no qualifying points -- made the side. I hope her antics get the stony silence they deserve from a hopefully discerning Irish crowd.

Elling: Facts are, I am not sure a U.S. team could beat South Korea in a straight-up match right now, and the Koreans are having an off year, too. But if there's a women's event to watch, this is probably it. Hopefully, Kim won't hurt anybody out there.

Huggan: You are, of course, correct. The Koreans would kick butt on both sides of the Atlantic. The European squad isn't quite there yet. But Laura Davies, who is way past her best, will be there again for Europe. I'm betting Paula Creamer is already licking her lips in anticipation of another 7-and-6 singles win there.

Elling: Inkster is 51. In fact, she is older than we are. We require carbon dating.

Huggan: I am 51, old boy.

Elling: Facts, facts, facts. Always with the freaking facts.

Elling: I'll watch just to see what Sandra Gal is wearing, and to see if feisty Suzann Pettersen drops another F-bomb on live, national television. Hey, at least we know she cares, right? That's one of the all-time Solheim highlights, along with when Annika Sorenstam got zapped for playing out of turn. If that happened in a Ryder, we'd still be writing about it.

Huggan: Oh yes. Suzann is up there as one of my all-time heroes. The best part was that she had no clue what she had just said, live on national television.

Elling: Yeah, it was great. She went all Steve Williams when they stuck a microphone in her face a minute after the match had ended and she blurted out an unfettered answer. Come to think of it, that's one great thing about the long putter used by Adam Scott. It makes for a heavier bag for our mate Stevie to tote.

Huggan: There have actually been a few unsavory incidents in the Solheim. My own "favorite" was witnessing some incredibly bad sportswomanship from Dottie Pepper at the Greenbrier. When Davies missed a short putt, Pepper -- her opponent -- yelled out "yes!" Unbelievable. Pepper should have been taken out of play immediately.

Elling: Dottie did that? Not the same hyper-animated Dottie that a few years later called the U.S. Solheim team "choking dogs" on TV by accident, when nobody knew the microphone was on? Hey, that same spontaneity makes her a terrific analyst.

Huggan: She isn't terrific in my book. For that incident alone she should have been run out of the game.

Elling: As a guy who appreciated unvarnished honesty from broadcasters, I cannot disagree strongly enough. Pepper pulls no punches. And picks a peck of pickled peppers. Say that three times fast.

Huggan: Bottom line is that, sadly, the Solheim Cup isn't going to showcase the very best in women's golf. If this one fails to live up to expectations, it may be time to take a look at getting the Asian players involved.

Huggan: I like honesty, but hate what Pepper did.

Elling: Three-way tilt vs. Asia -- losers play in the off-year for a chance to face the winner?

Huggan: Something along those lines. The biggest events need the very best players. Obviously.

Elling: For a moment there, I thought you were going to use a word like ... Olympics.

Huggan: Golf is in the Olympics? Wow. You'll be telling me next that there are three majors every year in the one country.

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