Will Lawsuits Fly if Belly Putter is Banned?

Keegan Bradley became the latest player to suggest that he may sue golf's powers-that-be if the USGA and Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews - the game's two main ruling bodies - ban the use of belly putters or putters which are anchored to the body.

Bradley, the Vermont native who became the first player in history to win a major title with a belly putter when he took the 2011 PGA Championship, has been joined in the litigation chorus by Tim Clark, who won the 2010 Players Championship. Four-time major champion Ernie Els, who has long asserted that the club is legal, has also hinted at legal action, as has Webb Simpson.

"I'm going to do whatever I have to do to protect myself and the other players on (the PGA) Tour," Bradley told Golfweek's Alex Miceli in China, where Bradley is set to play in this week's WGC-HSBC Champions tournament. "I look at it as a whole, as us all together. I don't look at it as much about myself. I think that for them to ban this after we've done what we've done is unbelievable."

Els won his most recent major title, the 2012 British Open, using a belly putter. Though he didn't say he'd be pursuing a lawsuit individually, golf's "Big Easy" told Golfweek, "(The USGA and R&A are) going to have a couple of legal issues coming their way."

Added Els, "It's going to be a bit of an issue now. I've been against it, but since I've been using it, it still takes a lot of practice, and you have to perfect your own way of putting with this belly."

In addition to Bradley and Els, Simpson used a belly putter to win the U.S. Open this year. Two of the past three Players champions - Clark and Matt Kuchar - and 2011 FedEx Cup champion Bill Haas used long or belly putters as well.

One of the main reasons for banning the long putters is that some - including rules officials and players, including such luminaries as Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus - believe there's an inherent advantage and more control when anchoring a club to the body.

But folks like Bradley, Els, Simpson and Clark feel their hard-earned titles will be denigrated if such putters are prohibited.

The two governing bodies are expected to meet in the next few weeks and perhaps come to a decision prior to the start of the 2013 season on the various world tours, although it's more probable that a formal vote won't take place until next March. The decision might also take into account the current rules cycle, which runs through December 2015.

Simpson said he's already started practicing with a regular putter in preparation for a rules change. But that doesn't mean he'll be agreeing with such a decision. "I'm friends with a lot of the R&A and the USGA guys and I know they are trying to do it for the betterment of the game," Simpson said. "But I don't think it's a good decision.

"If you look at the stats, last year there was no one in the top 20 of the 'strokes gained' category who anchored a putter," the North Carolinian added. "So you have to throw out the argument of 'it's an advantage' right there. There's a bunch of arguments going around but I haven't heard a good one yet."