Pettersson and Bradley intend to fight anchoring ban
DONGGUAN, China – In this hamlet on the southern China coast, Keegan Bradley and Carl Pettersson drew a line in the sand with implications that could be felt all the way to Far Hills, N.J., and St. Andrews, Scotland.
Bradley and Pettersson said they intend to fight a proposed ban by the U.S. Golf Association and R&A, the game's rulesmakers, on the "anchoring" stroke associated with long putters. They said their opposition would include legal action, if necessary, to protect the game from those who, ironically, have that very responsibility.
In characterizing the likely ban on anchoring as drastic, Bradley said he needed to speak out or be steamrolled by the USGA and R&A.
“I've kind of kept my mouth shut on this for a while, but I think it's time that people hear our side of it," Bradley said on the eve of the HSBC Champions here. "The last thing I want to do is speak out and attract a bunch of attention, but I just think they've got to do what's right for the players, as well. There's a chunk of us that have been doing this and put hours and hours of work in, and it would be a shame to take that away from us.”
The perception of the anchoring stroke used with the belly and long putters is that it's a panacea for players struggling on the greens. However, players who have spent hours trying to perfect their craft offer a different view.
Pettersson, 35, who has used a long putter for 16 years, most of that time on the PGA Tour, where he has won five times, got his start with the long putter as an amateur.
“It's a different way of putting,” Pettersson said. “You have to work on it. It's a different technique, and I think pace was a big difference; the thing I don't like is when people say it's a lot easier to putt with a long putter, because it really might not be. You've got to put the time and effort in and develop a stroke. It's just a different way of putting.”
Adam Scott won six times on the PGA Tour, including a Players Championship, with a short putter. After increasing frustration on the greens, the Australian switched to a long putter and has added two more Tour titles since 2010.
“It's different from person to person,” Scott said. “It felt awkward for a day, or not even that long. Then you get a feel for it, and you can either adapt to it or you can't, and that will vary from person to person.”
Like Bradley and Pettersson, Scott is concerned with the governing bodies' stance against anchoring. But his biggest issue is what, if any, criteria were used by golf's overseers. All three players have voiced concern that no one from the R&A or USGA has approached them to discuss anchoring, nor have they seen or heard what the criteria would be used in making the decision.
“I don't think it's as clear‑cut, that it's better on short putts or better on long putts than the short or long putter when you balance them off,” Scott said. “It's not; it's just putting. It's the same thing. You have to read the green, and you have to hit it at the right speed.”
Phil Mickelson, one of the game's best putters, dabbled with the belly putter later in his career when he struggled on the greens, but he ultimately returned to the short stick.
Mickelson agrees in theory with Scott that good putting requires solid fundamentals, anchoring or not.
“To make a putt, you have to read it correctly; you have to start the ball on the correct line, and you have to hit it with the right speed,” Mickelson said. “And I've found that starting the ball on the right line was much easier with the belly putter, but I still had to read it right, and I still had to get the right speed.”
Yet Mickelson, like many who are interested in the game, is concerned about what a ban might do to the game as a whole, not just the professional game.
“I look at the guys on the Champions Tour; I think that it's saved a lot of careers,” Mickelson said. “I look at a number of my friends who are amateurs who wouldn't play the game out of embarrassment or frustration, their inability to make short putts, and I think that the belly putter has meant a lot to a lot of people who still enjoy the game. I just think that the USGA should be promoting the game and should not be going back on their past decisions.”
This is not the first time the governing bodies have made a decision and then tried to retrace their steps, the most recent being the ban on large-volume, U-shaped grooves. At least with the grooves decision, golf's stewards could produce statistical evidence.
In a recent presentation to the PGA Tour Policy Board, USGA managing director Mike Davis said that any rules change would not be because of a competitive advantage with the stroke and would be made to address the perception about how the game should be played.
Put another way, there is no empirical or statistical evidence to prove that a player using the anchoring stroke and a long putter has an advantage over a player using a traditional-length putter. The USGA just doesn’t like the way it looks.
Scott pondered the thought that looks were the reason for the potential anchoring ban and then wondered out loud.
“It's a good thing to think about if they're worried about putting is I've noticed they haven't changed any of the greens at St. Andrews for long putters, yet we're teeing off behind the wall on a couple of holes. I think we've got our priorities a little out of shape at the moment.”