KAPALUA, Hawaii – You could say that the end is near. Tim Clark chooses to see that a new beginning will soon be here.
The anchored putting stroke – the method he adopted about 17 years ago – will be banned once 2015 ends? Clark shrugs.
“Whatever you end up doing, it still comes down to confidence,” Clark said.
A month clear of his 39th birthday, Clark is in the field at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions for the second time in his 14-year PGA Tour career. He is here on the strength of his win at last summer’s RBC Canadian Open, a victory that is owed not at all to his putting style, but to an interminable competitive spirit.
“He’s a proper competitor, that one,” Geoff Ogilvy said the other day, pointing to Clark in the dining area at the Plantation Course. “He is competitive. He’s impressive when he gets down the stretch.”
Told of Ogilvy’s comment, Clark smiled. Yes, he takes it as it was intended, as a massive dose of praise, because the interpretation is understood. In this age of ho-hum 320-yard drives and athletic power, Clark accepts his golf talents as they are and has never seen a challenge he didn’t embrace.
“I probably am the shortest hitter out here,” he said nonchalantly. “I guess you might think the odds are stacked against a guy like me who doesn’t hit the ball that far, but I know there are parts of my game that are better than anyone else’s. Put me at 220 yards, even if I’m hitting a hybrid, some guy is hitting 6-iron, I’d play him all day from that distance.”
Such is the competitive spirit that has enabled Clark to survive in the big leagues and push past $22 million in career earnings. Along the way, he has amassed an even larger pile of respect.
Reportedly, that respect increased exponentially at a PGA Tour players’ meeting in early 2013 when Clark made a speech in support of the anchored putting method. Though many of his colleagues were against the method and supported efforts by the U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient to ban it, they conceded that Clark made great arguments and presented sound thinking as to why it should not be enforced. True, Clark very much wanted to keep a method of putting that has been with him since his college days. True, too, that the method is helpful given the medical issue he has with his left arm. But Clark insists he was mostly bothered by “the short-sightedness” of governing bodies, that he was standing up “for golfers in general.”
In an era when golf needs more players, the South African didn’t see this as the wise time to drive golfers away.
Alas, in May of 2013, the fight came to an end. Clark and notable colleagues such as Adam Scott, Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley were on the losing side. Their method was good through the final day of 2015, but would not be allowed going forward.
There was talk of Clark possibly securing a lawyer and chasing the issue into court, maybe asking for a medical exemption. Born with an inability to supinate his left arm, Clark always found it “awkward” to use the short putter, so while at N.C. State in 1997, he took a long putter and practiced for hours and hours.
The move to ban the method obviously hit home with Clark, but what ate at him was this: “It’s what (golfers have been able to do) the last 30 years. Why now? They should have done it years ago (if it was wrong).”
He doesn’t deny that the controversy weighed him down in 2013 and into 2014. “I eventually said I had to stop worrying about it.”
The fight was over and Clark insists he’s not in the market to prolong things.
“The problem with that,” he said of suggestions he should pursue and cite a medical exemption, “is that you don’t want to be the only one.”
There’s also this: If you’ve seen Clark play even one hole since he joined the PGA Tour in 2002, you know every inch his 5-foot-7-inch frame is built upon fearlessness. Playing without the anchored style isn’t daunting at all.
He said he would incorporate a “longish putter” and that he would adopt a similar style, one that was not anchored. Just as he figures out how to compete against guys who rip it 30 or 40 yards past him, Clark will solve the putting style challenge. He’s in a good place, no matter what, because “it comes down to confidence” and in that regard, he’s in ample supply.