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More telling are raw numbers.

There were six players using longer putters in 2009 and 2010 at The Barclays, the opening playoff event for the top 125 players. This year, the number of long putters jumped to 20.

One of them was Jim Furyk, who is having one of his worst years. Since getting a few pointers from Bradley _ three weeks before Bradley won the PGA _ he has put himself in position to advance to the Tour Championship.

“Ten years ago, no one ever went to the belly putter unless they couldn’t putt,” Furyk said. “So I didn’t really think of it as unfair. I thought of it as desperation, if that makes sense. For me, it was still desperation, but I’ve seen some guys that have gone to it where they are decent putters, but they think it’s a better way.”

The debate is whether such putters should be banned because, some would argue, anchoring them to the belly or the chest eliminates the skill. The USGA has shown little interest in ruling against them, and some believe it’s too late now.

Azinger thinks the argument is hollow.

“Everyone wants to act like it’s foolproof,” he said. “It’s been around for 11 years. Now somebody does something and it blows up. You’ve still got to make putts under pressure to win. Ernie Els has jacked so many short putts with a belly putter, and I didn’t hear anyone complaining about them.”

Azinger still doesn’t know what made him try it at his home club in Florida toward the end of 1999. There was a longer putter that had been made for someone much shorter than him. For some reason, he stuck the end of the putter into his belly button.

“I was making stuff all over the pro shop,” Azinger said.

He switched the putter head to one he liked. He changed the lie and angle. He moved the ball back in his stance and put more weight on his right leg to make him feel anchored.

“I was instantly better,” Azinger said. “Paul Runyan watched me putting in 2000 and said it was the best single-lever action putting stroke he’d ever seen. To this day, I don’t know what that means. But when I grabbed that thing, I became a better putter. And I was back in the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup and in the top 20 in the world.”

Still, the belly and long putters raise one question: If it’s so good, why isn’t everyone using it?

The PGA Tour’s most reliable statistic for putting is called “strokes gained.” The top 12 players on the list use a conventional putter. The more traditional statistic is average putts per round. None of the top 12 players on that list use a long putter, either.

Steve Stricker is No. 1 in “strokes gained” and No. 3 in putts per round.

So why isn’t he using one?

Story Continues →