Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Belly Putters and My Thanks to Entrepreneur Charlie Owens

With Keegan Bradley’s recent victory at the PGA Championship, “belly putters” (or “long putters”) have been a hot topic of discussion amongst the golfing set. This label is attached to almost any putter that is held by anchoring one end at the player’s chest, belly, navel, etc.

Even though the USGA refused to ban the belly putter, it works so well for many golfers that some pros are calling for it to be banned by the USGA and the R&A, which administer the rules of golf.

If this works so well, who invented it and did he or she make any money with the invention?

Evidently the late Paul Runyan first came up with the idea while playing in the 1936 Belmont Open in Boston. He anchored the end of his putter to his belly in an attempt to stabilize himself in the strong wind. In a 1966 article that he wrote for Golf Digest, he said that “an advantage I hadn’t expected is that this system minimizes the adverse effect of nervous tension.” In other words, it helps with the “yips!” This is like finding the Holy Grail for putters!

Enter Charlie Owens, who was the first to popularize the belly putter by winning two Senior PGA events with his 50-inch “broomstick” model in 1986. As is the case with many entrepreneurs, necessity was the mother of invention. In a 2007 interview with Golf Digest, he admitted that he “…had the yips so bad that [he] would freeze up on a two-footer.” He experimented by welding two shafts together, using various weighted putter heads, and even designing a brass putter head which was custom-machined from a brass bar. The result was a 3.5 pound putter that he named the “Slim Jim.”

After some success with Slim Jim, Owens made a deal with Matzie Golf for the commercialization of his design. Owens didn’t protect his invention because he didn’t think it would catch on. But Matzie still makes and sells a number of belly putters, and every major manufacturer of golf clubs has joined the trend.

Owens is in his early 80s and lives in Tampa, Florida. He says that he’d just like a little credit where credit is due. So, here’s to you, Charlie Owens! Thanks for your creation and your entrepreneurial spirit. It won’t bring world peace but it just might cure the yips. So, try it and thank Charlie.

1 comment :

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