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What with oversize golf balls, the waterproof sweaters and
llamas as caddies--not to mention the $135 greens fees--the well
is running dry on ways to exploit the golf boom. Now comes the
best idea since the Senior tour.

It's called the World Putting Championship, and like all good
ideas, it's remarkably simple. The format allows any amateur who
wants to enter (that means you and me) to pit himself against
all comers, including touring pros, in a straight, no-handicap
test of putting, all for an initial entry fee of $15.

The competition, which begins May 24, will be broken into two
brackets. Amateurs start with an 18-hole putting championship
that can be held by any public or private club including driving
ranges and off-course golf organizations. Individual winners
move on to regional and state championships to be putted over 27

The professional bracket will have representatives from the PGA,
LPGA, Senior, Nike and foreign tours (1996 putting stats
leaders, the winners of the four majors, leaders on the alltime
money list and sponsors' selections have automatic berths in the
finals), as well as club pros. The 72-hole finals, to be
televised sometime in November, will be contested by the amateur
and club-pro regional champions and the tour professionals. The
champion, if a pro, will win $250,000. An amateur will have to
settle for $500 in merchandise and the title of best putter on

The event is the brainchild of short-game guru Dave Pelz, who
has created what appears to be the most democratic competition
in golf history, one that is in perfect harmony with a
significant shift in the way golf is perceived. For perhaps the
first time it is O.K. to be a good putter. No longer does a
player have to apologize for being proficient on greens and
beating players who hit the ball farther. Good putters have long
been picked on. When light-hitting Walter J. Travis won the 1904
British Amateur by holing out from everywhere, the R&A reacted
by banning his center-shafted Schenectady putter for 43 years.
The bias against good putters flourished when the game was
dominated by the American triumvirate of Sam Snead, Byron Nelson
and Ben Hogan, all of whom were superb from tee to green but--at
least according to them--never brilliant with the flat stick.
The ethos that portrays putting as more a nonathletic knack than
a measure of talent has lasted for decades. "Putting isn't
golf," Chi Chi Rodriguez, another top shot maker who struggled
around the hole, once said. "Greens should be treated almost the
same as water hazards. Land on them, then add two strokes to
your score." Added Gary Player, "Nobody wants to be called a
lucky, one-putting s.o.b., and nobody thinks he is."

Such thinking did harm to the reputations of putting wizards
like Billy Casper, Bobby Locke, Dave Stockton and Andy North,
all multiple major-championship winners who have never gotten
their due. Even Tom Watson, with eight majors, was
underappreciated in his prime because so much of his success was
due to his exceptional putting.

In the last few years, however, putting has become recognized as
an honorable and considerable skill. Loren Roberts is a quiet,
unassuming fellow whose pure stroke has earned him the jaunty
nickname Boss of the Moss. Corey Pavin's hard-edged ability to
make big putts under pressure is the chief reason he is
considered America's top player over the more heavily armed Fred
Couples and Davis Love III. After Nick Faldo, the game's most
passionate seeker of the perfect golf swing, won this year's
Masters, he was proud to tell Ben Crenshaw, "I putted like you."
Pelz's short-game schools are filled, and the public is buying
$200 computer-milled putters with instructions that urge owners
to periodically swab the heads with baby oil.

For all the analyzing these days of swing mechanics, equipment
and the mental game, the handicap of the average golfer has
stayed put. Meanwhile, it remains a fact that touring pros make
only 50% of their putts from six feet and expend fully 43% of
their strokes on putts. It's no accident that most top players
have altered their practice regimens to spend at least a third
of their time on putting. What golfers are finally facing, and
what the World Putting Championship will underscore, is that
putting is about that most difficult part of any endeavor:
closing the deal. The golfer who does that consistently--even
though he's only rolling a ball into a hole--is someone special.

COLOR PHOTO: JACQUELINE DUVOISIN North's '85 Open win can be traced to his putting. [Andy North putting]