Scott McCarron carries himself with the jovial manner of a man for whom life has never been better. He is settling into a new home in North Carolina with his new(ish) wife Jenny, and is fresh off a season on the PGA Tour Champions in which he won four tournaments and more than $2.6 million.
That helps explain the 52-year-old’s relaxed disposition last week at a promotional event in Florida for the Boca Raton Championship, which was the first of his 2017 victories, sealed with a dramatic eagle on the final hole. His goals are no less ambitious for the 2018 season, which begins with this week’s Diamond Resorts Invitational in Orlando.
“[Bernhard] Langer is setting the bar awfully high on our Tour,” McCarron said. “I’m practicing hard. I’m working out. I’m doing all the things I feel I have to do to give myself the opportunity.”
Last year McCarron and Langer combined for 11 wins, five second-places, 30 top-10s and more than $6.3 million in prize money. Theirs were dominating performances. The only man over age 50 who put pressure on them was Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, who in July was sharply critical of the “appalling” enforcement of the USGA’s recently adopted rule against anchoring the putter. The rule’s wording basing penalties on a player’s “intent” to anchor was a “get out of jail” card, Chamblee claimed.
Both McCarron and Langer use long putters held close to their sternum. Both insist they don’t anchor, and tour officials agree. They finished first and second in putting average on tour last year, giving fellow competitors 6.3 million reasons to stew.
The furor still rankles McCarron.
“Brandel and I have been friends for a long time,” he says. “I’ve worked in the TV business. I know you say things sometimes you aren’t really sure about. And he usually does his homework. He’s very diligent. This time he missed the boat.”
If Chamblee did “miss the boat” with his comments, he has plenty of company on the dock. Rancor over the anchoring rule, and the success McCarron and Langer have enjoyed with their method, has shaken the senior set.
“It’s a huge issue,” says Tom Pernice Jr., a five-time winner on the PGA Tour Champions. “A lot of players aren’t going to say anything about it to the press. It’s not fair. If you’re playing for a living, there’s a skill level in putting and that is being able to control the fulcrum point.”
Pernice insists that a putter does not have to be touching the sternum to aid the stroke: “It’s close enough that he has a reference for his fulcrum point, OK? That’s close enough,” he says. “That hand, it cannot be touching when he starts, but at some point in the stroke it can rub up against his shirt and that’s within the rule. In my opinion that’s enough of a reference to be able to control the fulcrum point.”
Never known as a wallflower when it comes to having his say, Pernice has been a vocal critic of the USGA’s wording of the rule.
“Bernhard Langer is a man of integrity. He’s not going to cheat. It’s not going to happen. But by the way the rule is written he’s right on the edge,” he says. “For a guy 60 years of age to set an all-time PGA record for putts per green in regulation sure is kind of coincidental. But Langer did it with a long putter. And right behind him is Scott McCarron.”
Langer’s putting stats did not go unnoticed by Adam Scott, whose balky flat stick has long been evidence that one can’t have everything in life. Scott announced plans to adopt the German veteran’s method on the PGA Tour this year.
Pernice confirmed that he has shared his opinion with McCarron “more than once.”
“He has been cleared by officials based on how the USGA wrote the rule,” Pernice says flatly. “They’ve told him it’s OK, so why would he worry about what I think? Or Freddie Couples? Or Tommy Armour? It doesn’t matter.“
McCarron knows how rules interpretations can inflame emotions. Eight years ago he publicly accused Phil Mickelson of “cheating” over a wedge he put in play at Torrey Pines, then quickly apologized. If he is unsettled by the tension surrounding him and Langer on tour, he wasn’t showing it in Boca Raton. Rather, he was ebullient about his game, particularly his putting. “I feel better now not anchored than I ever did anchored,” he said earnestly. “If they changed the rule, I still would not anchor.” Gwk