Notes: Veterans Watson, O'Meara weigh in on anchoring

Tom Watson

Tom Watson

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10:00:02 AM ET. 04/20/2014




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Mark O’Meara remembers his last U.S. Open, the 2008 affair at Torrey Pines, and striking up a conversation with a former president of the USGA. At one point, they got around to discussing the long putter, which didn’t so much bother O’Meara, though he was concerned about the club being anchored to the body.

“It becomes almost a teaching aid,” suggested the two-time major champion, and so he put it to the USGA guy. “How come you haven’t done anything?”

O’Meara said the official pretty much said anchoring the putter had always bothered USGA types and purists, but because they hadn’t done anything about it for years, “It’s probably too late now,” he told O’Meara.

The 1998 Masters and Open Championship winner scoffed at that. “Rules are always evolving,” he told the official. But O’Meara came away from the conversation thinking the USGA had not done anything because “no one ever wants to admit they let something slip by.”

That’s exactly what the USGA and R&A did, of course. They fell asleep at the wheel and not only gave golfers everywhere the OK to use a long putter but also to anchor it to their bellies, to their chests, to their chins, to wherever and whatever. Heck, as recently as a year ago Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA, while not in love with the long putter or anchoring, certainly wasn’t leading the charge to rid the world of either.

What was it he said of the long putter? “There’s no evidence it’s a game-changer.”

Apparently, however, the act of anchoring the putter to one’s body does fall into the category of “game-changer,” because by 2016, the next publishing of the Rules of Golf, the stroke is expected to be banned. Davis and his counterpart with the R&A, Peter Dawson, took 45 minutes to announce the proposed rule last Wednesday and at last look, the firestorm was still raging within the world of golf.

Even a staunch anti-anchorer such as Tom Watson has mixed emotions. From Down Under, where he’s preparing for this week's Australian Open, he said he agrees with banning the technique but seems sympathetic to golfers who have been allowed to do it and for whom it has made the game easier.

Feelings are strong on both sides, and there’s perhaps no convincing those committed to their viewpoints.

It’s been nearly a week since the proposal was announced, and here’s what bothers me: At no point in their presentation did Davis or Dawson stand up and say that the USGA and R&A must take ownership of this mess, that they never should have let it get this far, that they owed apologies to players on both sides of the issue.

From this seat, it always has felt fundamentally wrong to anchor a golf club.

But golf leaders being anchored to arrogance also is bothersome.

• • •

MAKE ROOM NEXT TO THE WANAMAKER, ROOMIE: While he was busy finishing second at Tiger Woods’ World Challenge, Keegan Bradley discovered he wasn’t the only golfer in his house playing well. His high school teammate, longtime friend and current roommate Jon Curran found a pretty groove on something called the Golfslinger.com Tour.

The former Vanderbilt star notched his first professional victory Nov. 26, then posted win No. 2 three days later. This past Monday, Curran added a T-3, solid results that perhaps have eased the pain of not making it to the final stage of PGA Tour Q-School.

• • •

NICE THOUGHT BUT . . . More than two months after the Ryder Cup, players still are facing questions about the epic encounter at Medinah. For Bradley, it means being asked about his singles match against the nearly tardy Rory McIlroy.

“I knew he was running late,” Bradley said. “(But) I was so nervous that I couldn’t worry about that.”

Talking to reporters at the World Challenge in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Bradley indicated the match was going to go on, that “I wasn’t going to disqualify the kid.” There were media members who suggested similarly, that perhaps the match would have been moved back in the lineup to accommodate McIlroy.

But we’ll mention again that according to Kerry Haigh, the managing director of championships for the PGA of America, if McIlroy had been more than five minutes late, he would have been disqualified and the Americans awarded a point. The decision wasn’t Bradley’s to make.

• • •

HOPEFULLY, WOMEN AND CHILDREN COULDN’T HEAR THE SHOUTING: Here’s all you need to know about the crazy turnaround that was this year’s Ryder Cup: When they were down four points Saturday night, the Euros were feeling festive; yet at Friday’s conclusion, they were behind by just two points and being toasted by captain Jose Maria Olazabal.

“Rightly so,” Ian Poulter said, though teammate Graeme McDowell wasn’t so sure.

“We got an absolute drilling from Jose,” McDowell said.

Arguably one of the game’s great gentlemen, Olazabal goes about his golf business with a determined focus, yet in a quiet and dignified manner. His legacy in the Ryder Cup cemented as an individual, Olazabal is qualified to pass judgment on what he sees, and his assessment Friday was delivered in loud fashion.

“The gist of it was, he didn’t feel like we were playing as a team. He didn’t pick out any individuals, but he wanted to see us shoulder-to-shoulder a bit more. We were flat,” McDowell said.

Though history perhaps will judge Olazabal’s outburst favorably, McDowell thinks it had a negative impact. Down 5-3 after Friday, the Euros lost three of four foursomes Saturday morning and had the worst of it in the first two four-ball matches Saturday afternoon. An 11-5 deficit seemed a distinct possibility, which would make the match all but over.

However, Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald beat Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker, and then Poulter performed his magic act, slamming home five straight birdies to steal a point from Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson. At 10-6, there was hope, and Olazabal was far more calm.

• • •

THE MAN HAS A POINT: McDowell played alongside Bradley in the World Challenge and was witness to the now infamous charge of “cheater” that was hurled from the gallery. “After every shot (the fan) was ‘Yabba dabba doing,’ and it was just stupid,” McDowell said.

Granted, fans heckle pro athletes in nearly every sport, but the glory of golf is how up close and personal we are allowed to get. For such a privilege we are asked just one thing: act civilized. Sadly, too many are abusing the privilege.

“I’m kind of fed up with all this ‘mashed potatoes’ and all this rubbish that the crowds are kind of enjoying shouting right now,” McDowell said.

• • •

LET’S NOT GET CARRIED AWAY: OK, McIlroy is the toast of the golf world and for good reason. A five-win season, one of them a major, and money titles on both sides of the pond. Great stuff. But are our memories that short that we can’t remember a time when such achievements were routine for a certain former No. 1?

Webb Simpson was heaping praise on McIlroy, understandably so, and he mentioned how the kid from Northern Ireland piled up 596.99 world-ranking points in 2012 and the next guy, Woods, had just 369.87.

“To be ahead by that big of a margin is unbelievable,” offered Simpson.

Maybe not, because try this on for size: In 2000, Woods gained a whopping 948.22 world-ranking points and the next best was Ernie Els at 452.33.

If McIlroy’s current lead of 4.59 in the crucial points average category seems massive, here’s another blast from the past that puts that in perspective: After he won the Masters in 2001, Woods’ points average of 31.20 was a mind-boggling 18.37 ahead of No. 2 Phil Mickelson.

• • •

CLARIFYING HIS ALLEGIANCES: Steve Stricker is proud of his Wisconsin roots; it’s where he lives and where he gladly spends his winters. But he often has to explain to folks his pro sports loyalties. In baseball, it’s the Cubs, and in football, “I’m a Bears fan. I root for the Packers when they’re not playing the Bears.”

The teams are presently tied at 8-4 in the NFC North, though Green Bay has the tiebreaker with a head-to-head victory earlier in the season. There will be a re-match in two weeks, a day when Stricker, of course, will not be rooting for the Packers.

You can count Stricker firmly in the corner of sometimes embattled Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.

“I’m a Cutler fan,” Stricker said. “The way he comes across on TV, I guess a lot of people don’t care for him (but) I think he’s great for the team.”

• • •

NUMBERS TELL THE STORY: The recent DP World Tour Championship in Dubai had a quality winner in McIroy. No question. But the depth of field in Europe’s climactic tour championship didn’t quite match up with the PGA Tour’s finale at East Lake GC back in September.

For the sake of comparison, only nine of the top 25 in the world order teed it up in Dubai, while there were 22 of 25 playing in Atlanta.

Given that the Tour Championship field at East Lake was limited to just 30 and the finale in Dubai was a whopping 60, it’s further testimony as to where the overall strength truly lies on the global front.

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