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The Maltby Reporter 2.1 (7/23/2007)
The Belly putter was the hot subject during this year’s British Open because Sergio Garcia recently switched to it and led the Open during the first three days, eventually coming in second to Padraig Harrington. The announcers and sports writers talked a lot about belly putting and all this certainly sparked the minds of many golfers to possibly consider giving this type putter and this putting style a try.
With Sergio Garcia playing a belly putter in the recent British Open Championship, we will probably see a renewed interest in this putting style.
Listening to the announcers you could draw different conclusions as to its effectiveness regarding the best way to putt.
Paul Azinger was a heavy proponent of belly putting expounding on its positives but not mentioning any possible cautions. Nick Faldo was less enthusiastic and more balanced in discussing this style putting and did a pretty good job of keeping things in perspective. I decided that a timely discussion here about belly putters could bring out some facts to help avoid the common problems or overlooked items that golfers can make when switching over to this type of putting.
Belly putting was very popular for a few years and especially so when it found its way in greater numbers into many tour players’ bags in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. It seemed to fade from popularity faster than many of the modern putter fads with the exception of the long putter which dropped in popularity in similar fashion. Vijay Singh has putted with a belly putter probably as long as anyone on tour, but he goes back to a conventional putter from time to time seemingly switching when he starts to putt badly. Always keep in mind that any putter, any putting style and any putting grip that gets the ball into the hole in the fewest strokes for you is the best way to go. So, if you want to give this a try, here are some things to consider.
The specifications on belly putters that each manufacturer developed varied greatly in the beginning and then they kind of settled into a smaller range of specifications that seemed to work for the majority of golfers, according to them. Remember, they want to build stock or standard putters to put on the rack as a one size fits all approach. This really does not work with any golf club and especially so with belly putters. What I have found is that if you are going to play the best with a belly putting style, you will need to be exactly fit to the belly putter you will be using. Specifically, the most important custom fit specifications need to be the length, lie angle and head weight. The loft should be the same as all putters which is 3º to 5º or better yet 3 ½º to 4 ½º. The head design that works best for most belly putter golfers is one that is center shafted and this is the one I recommend, although there are some good successes with end shafted putters.
Belly Putter Length It is imperative that the golfer get the length exactly correct on a belly putter. The reason is that the butt end of the grip is anchored in your belly button and this dictates how far over you will bend at the waist and also how close your eyes are to being directly over the ball. Many golfers, including some touring professionals that I have seen using the belly putter have disregarded this important golfer set-up position making it very difficult to have good success at using it. I specifically refer to the eyes being close to over the top of the ball. If a belly putter is too long for the golfer, the golfer’s eyes move more inside of the ball as the putter’s length is increased. Think about this; if a golfer’s eyes are not directly or very close to directly over the ball, the golfer needs to add in one more variable to aim the putt. That variable is an angle calculation (the golfer’s best guess) that requires a great deal of skill and practice to get right. When your eyes are over the ball you are looking (aiming) down the intended line of the putt and there is nothing else to consider (other than the break). However, when your eyes are inside the ball (toward your body) you are looking at the hole which is one line projected from your eyes to the hole, and the ball is on another line projected to the hole or the break. You need to determine where to hit the putt for proper direction (aim) based on the angle of the two lines (the balls target line and your sight line). Way too complicated for me and I don’t think you want to figure this out also. This was actually one of the bigger problems with the long putter when the golfer had the putter head quite a ways out from his body and not set up in the more desirable vertical pendulum stroke with the eyes more over the ball. Short players in particular had the biggest problems with the long putter because they tended to buy putters that were much too long for them.
When belly putters first came out, many of them were also simply too long for most golfers. The length range for belly putters generally falls between 39” and 43” with a few exceptions for very short or very tall golfers. I am 5’ 8” and fit into a perfect 39” length. This is more a result of my 29” inseam which is shorter than most adult males that are 5’ 8” tall. So, I need the shorter length to get my eyes over the ball. I bring this up because I cannot and no one else can come up with an accurate chart or table to fit belly putters to the correct length. It simply would not work, so do not use one if you find it.
Here’s how to properly fit belly putter length; it is the easiest with an adjustable belly length fitting putter. The one I developed is obviously great (no modesty here, sic.) and is found hanging on the Maltby Dynamic Putter Fitting display in every Golf Galaxy store. It is located on the putting green as you enter the store. With the adjustable length belly putter, you can actually hit putts, vary the putter’s length and hit more putts until you are comfortable with the proper posture position and eye position to stroke it smoothly. The belly putting stroke is always a slightly inside path on the back swing (face opens slightly), to face square at impact to slightly inside (face closed slightly) on the follow through. This natural arc with the face opening, to square at impact and closing causes what the television announcers and pros refer to as “releasing” the putter at impact. This so-called releasing action requires that the golfer must also be accelerating the putter head into impact and not decelerating it. The “releasing” term is more of a golfer perceived action of proper impact relating more to a square hit, solid feel than being able to quantify a measurable stroke characteristic.
Belly Putter Lie Angle Now that the length has been determined, it is easy for the putter fitter to set the correct lie angle, if required, by bending the putter head or shaft so that the putter’s sole is parallel with the ground during the stroke. Remember, proper lie angle is important to proper directional control of the putt. If the toe of the putter is up in the air at impact you will have a tendency to pull the putt and conversely if the toe is down at impact, the tendency will be to push the putt. Why have any of these bad variables in your putter when it is so easy to eliminate them?
Belly Putter Head Weights Belly putters use heavier heads than conventional putters. The belly putter will not work very well with a conventionally weighted putter head. If this is the putter head that you intend to use, get ready to do some serious lead taping to increase the head weight significantly. The range for belly putter head weights generally falls between 370 and 450 grams. I have found that around 400 to 425 grams works the best but this is not set in stone as some golfers prefer to go a little heavier. Very few golfers prefer to go much lighter than this in my experience. For reference, conventional putters are around 320 to 360 grams. Long putters are generally over 500 grams.
I know it seems strange that these longer length putters use heavier and not lighter head weights than conventional length putters, but it can be explained. I really do not want to get too technical here (it’s already technical enough) but basically a longer putter that uses the grip end as an anchoring point to the body has completely different impact characteristics than a non-anchored grip end. Regarding conventional putting, the non anchored grip end moves side to side on the back swing and follow through when using the modern pendulum putting stroke causing the putter to basically pivot around the golfer’s shoulders or higher up, if they do not break their wrists during the stroke. The belly putter and the long putter pivot around the grip end, again, which is anchored to a fixed body point. The fact that the hands are hanging low, close to their normal under the shoulder’s position and the golfer is using a fixed pivot (usually belly button or chin) requires a heavier head weight to get the best impact characteristics that are comparable to the force exerted on the golf ball with a conventional putter.
During the British Open telecast, Paul Azinger kept explaining that a golfer using a conventional putter properly, as compared to a golfer belly putting, would also have the grip end of their putter always pointed to the belly button during the entire stroke. This is simply not true. The grip end on a conventional putting stroke as already mentioned moves backward and forward or, first pointing to the right of the belly button on the back stroke and then pointing to the left of the belly button on the follow-through. The putter does not pivot around the theoretically extended grip end where it would intersect the golfer’s belly button on a conventional putting stroke as Mr. Azinger suggests.
Center Shafted Vs. End Shafted Putter Heads Either head type can be used but I prefer (and the majority of good players and professionals prefer) the center shafted head for belly putters. Belly putters do not look right with double bend offset putter shafts. They set up to the ball and look the best when the shaft is straight and the putter head is center shafted. I do prefer the higher moment of inertia center shafted heads that have a little more size to them than conventional putter head shapes, but not overly large.
Putting Tips or Some Things to Think About I am not an expert on using belly putters because I tried them numerous times and they simply do not work for me. This leaves me out of the deep experience group for expertise on using them. However, I have worked with good players and tour professionals, so once again, I have my opinions. Here goes; first, I have found that the proper ball position is about 2” forward of the bottom of your putting arc. This is usually slightly (let’s say up to 4”) rearward of a conventional putter ball position. There are a few reasons for this with the most prevalent being the fact that with a fixed grip position, the putters dynamic loft will increase too much at impact if the ball is positioned off the left heel (right handed golfer). Secondly, when you anchor the putters grip end into your belly button, the belly button cannot move, even the slightest bit during the stroke. You check this by making a few actual practice putts while looking down directly at your belly button and nothing else. Make sure it is perfectly stationary. If you start putting badly with a belly putter, this is the first thing you should check. The second thing you should check is to see if your posture has changed and your eyes are no longer over the ball as they should be. Finally, when you are using a belly putter, you basically do not want any body part to move except for your arms in a pendulum motion. Relax, practice holding the putter somewhat loosely with opposing palms of your hands square to the target and stroke the ball with a natural back and forth arc. Do not try and manufacture a square to square stroke which requires the golfer to manipulate their wrists (roll the face more closed) on the back swing and follow through (roll the face more open) to keep the putter head always square to the intended line. There are some golfers who still use this type stroke when conventional putting, but when belly putting, it definitely will not work.
Finally, belly putting can really help some people putt better, but I would not consider it the putting style of the future as conventional putting still works the best for most golfers. Look at belly putting more as the flavor of the month because of all the press it is currently getting. Yes, it can work for some golfers in the long term, and as I said earlier, if it gets the ball in the hole for you, go for it. Today, more than ever we see putting strokes, putting grips and putters themselves that are really different and there is no doubt that more golfers than ever are benefiting from these choices and finding out what works best for them. I will always contend that putting is part skill, part science and the elusive so-called indefinable “art of putting”; but in the end, it always comes down to maintaining a golfer’s confidence to the highest level possible to putt the best.
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