Tour players will play by rules, albeit grudgingly
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Photos: Players that use belly/long putters
Here is a photo gallery of the PGA Tour, LPGA and Champions Tour players that use belly and long putters.
- Yes, I would favor a ban on anchoring a golf club 51%
- No, I would not favor a ban on anchoring a golf club 45%
- Doesn't matter, I will use an anchored club anyway 3%
2586 total votes.
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – As tournaments melted away and days turned into weeks and weeks into months, the rhetoric piled up and the debate intensified, until one thing became abundantly clear about this anchoring business.
It sure was difficult to figure out what was going on, even to those who are somewhat involved.
As recently as Tuesday on the practice range at Sherwood Country Club in preparation for this week's Tiger Woods World Challenge, Nick Watney was hitting balls under the watchful eye of caddie Chad Reynolds when the anchoring topic came up. Reynolds expressed dismay, arguing that the stroke has been given the OK for years, so you can’t just up and ban it.
Watney listened, then shook his head.
“I think they should ban it,” he said.
Teammates, the two of them, united in their golf cause, yet Watney and Reynolds don’t share common ground on this hot-button issue.
Elsewhere Tuesday, Adam Scott was on the other side of the globe, calling from his native Australia, explaining how in previous weeks he had spoken with the commissioners of the PGA Tour and European Tour and also with R&A representatives. Clearly in favor of these long putters and the way in which players are wielding them, seeing as how well he has adapted to the broomstick model, Scott had offered his testimony for the defense and had come away encouraged.
Scott said he thought his technique of bending over and letting the top of the putter shaft rest in his left hand, which he kept tight to his chest, would be allowed, because the club never actually touched his body. He felt this way based on what officials had said to him, but at the same time, what they said about Matt Kuchar’s technique – whereby he let the handle to his long putter run up against the inside of his left forearm – would not be judged as conforming.
So what happens? Somewhere in Australia, Scott has been greeted with the news that the opposite is true: USGA and R&A rulesmakers have deemed Scott’s technique unacceptable, and so, too, those belly-putters-anchored-into-the-gut favored by Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley, yet Kuchar’s style is OK.
“Kuchar’s is OK? That’s as anchored as the other styles,” said one player here at the World Challenge. He shook his head. “I just don’t get it.”
But guess what? It doesn’t matter anymore whether players “get it” or not, because after seemingly endless dialogue, a decision has been made. Now, the question is, what are the players going to do about it?
No surprise that they see things differently.
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Two questions immediately come to the forefront:
One, given that “anchoring” will be banned when the Rules of Golf are amended in 2016, should you stop doing it now to avoid being looked upon with a disconcerting eye?
Two, are there grounds here for a lawsuit, and would any players go in that direction?
As for when to switch, Scott insists he will be like his colleagues. “Guys are still going to putt the way that is best for their games,” he said. Right now, for the Aussie it’s the broomstick style, so you’ll see him in 2013 – and probably in '14 and '15, too – as you saw him in 2012.
“I’m not going to go rushing out there to conform to a rule that won’t be in effect until 2016,” he said.
Bradley feels similarly.
“I don’t know for sure, but I’ll use my style of putting until then,” he said. “And you know, when that time does come closer, I'll start to mess around. But as of the time right now, I'm still focused on the belly putter.”
Simpson has a different mind-set. Having heard rumors for months, he said he has prepared mentally and practiced with the conventional putter, with which he feels comfortable. “I’m not worried. I expected the day to come. I basically said I'm ready to implement the short putter at any time now.”
Not this week at the World Challenge, but how about in the 2013 opener at Kapalua?
“I’m just going to take it one step at a time until my comfort level gets better and better. If I feel ready by Hyundai (Tournament of Champions at Kapalua), I’ll be putting with a short putter, and if I don’t feel ready for two years, I’ll wait. I’m just going to go when I feel most comfortable.”
On the legal front, they are in agreement; it's not a prudent course of action.
“I don’t think that’s the way this needs to be handled,” Scott said. “I think we should respect the governing bodies and accept that they’re doing it for the good of the game. The game is bigger than all of us; the game isn’t just a bunch of us who don’t like a rule.”
Simpson said he might feel differently if he wanted “to use a belly putter that bad,” but a lawsuit doesn’t tickle his fancy. “Whether I want to get on the team with the other guys that are (against it), I don’t know yet.”
As for Bradley, his predicament is dicier, because reports out of the HSBC Champions in China indicated he would sue and get involved in a lawsuit. But a few weeks later, here at the World Challenge, Bradley insists he is not of that mind-set.
“I'm obviously not happy with the ruling, but I respect the USGA, and especially Mike Davis," Bradley said. "They make the rules, and I'll adjust appropriately. But I'm going to accept the challenge and hopefully do well when they do ban it.”
Scott, like Bradley, disagrees with the decision, and Simpson makes three. Though they employ an unconventional putter in different fashion, they are in harmony with their displeasure, even though they know their success has perhaps prompted this move. Bradley in 2011 became the first to win a major (the PGA) with a belly putter, and Simpson belly-putted his way to the 2012 U.S. Open title. Scott nearly won the 2011 Masters and 2012 Open Championship and has played perhaps his best golf during the past two seasons. It’s as if their performances – coupled with Carl Pettersson’s fine play and Ernie Els’ belly-putter win at last summer’s Open Championship – awoke rulesmakers and made them change their minds. For years they had allowed longer putters and anchoring, but now that guys were doing well with it? Well, that changes things.
Players don’t agree with that thinking. They've noted that the best putters, statistically, still do it the conventional way.
“Is this the problem in the game of golf? Is it even a problem?” Scott said. “I think it’s a good and convenient distraction from the real issue.”
He was referring to the lengths to which players hit a golf ball at the pro level, and Simpson agreed with Scott: There is a problem elsewhere in the game, not with long putters anchored to the body.
“In 1985 if you drove it 280, you'd be the longest guy on Tour; now if you drive it 280, you'd be the shortest guy on Tour," said Simpson. "I think there's a lot of other things: Golf ball, hybrids, there's a lot of other things that have caused bigger impacts on the game than a belly putter. That's my stance on it.”
During their discussions with USGA and R&A officials, players asked what sort of statistical data were used to back their case. They didn’t hear any, but what they heard was, “young kids are using it more and more.”
Said Scott: “Once (the long putter) was an alternative; now, young kids are learning with it and figuring it out as they get into the game. But still, the fact is, there is no proof it makes putting easier.”
Simpson, who picked up a belly putter as a collegiate player and loved it right away, also has heard officials cite that fear. “They see a lot of younger guys using it. I personally don’t see what that’s a huge negative. But, you know, they have reasons for what they do, and I respect that.
“I’m not going to be one of those guys who says this is a terrible decision. I’m just saying, ‘To make a change this big, show me the facts.’ "
They never really did get those facts, just the memo that they’ve got to change their ways.
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