When Keegan Bradley won the 2011 PGA championship using the long anchor putter suddenly that drew all the attention from officials of the Royal & Ancient, golf’s ruling body.
Then less than a year later Webb Simpson won the 2012 U.S. Open – also using an anchor putter. That could not be tolerated.
Those two guys were 25 and 26 years old, respectively, when they won their majors. It’s one thing for the Champions Tour folks to use those things. It’s one thing for a PGA Tour member to win the Wyndham Classic with one. But a major? Something needed to be done.
It was revealed this week that officials from the R&A and the USGA, America’s governing body, will be meeting over the next two weeks to discuss how a potential ban on the anchoring of clubs would be implemented. Banning them is under serious consideration.
“They’ve been using them for years and years. I don’t why it’s an issue now,” said Bernhard Langer when he came through Seattle this summer for the Boeing Classic. He has been using the long putter for a couple decades.
“The putter has been out for 35 years. If it’s unfair, why did they allow it for 35 years? Why would they ban it now, because two guys have won a major? Is that the problem?”
Understandably, it is a popular club for the older set susceptible to the yips. Many of the Champions Tour competitors use the long putter, as do many of the 20-somethings on Tour. They don’t want one of their most effective tools in their golf bags to be taken away. You putt for dough and when paychecks are at stake they react.
Bradley is not going to accept a ban without a fight. He told Golfweek’s Alex Miceli this week that he would consider a lawsuit if a anchor putter ban is authorized.
“I’m going to do whatever I have to do to protect myself and the other players on (the PGA) Tour,” Bradley said. “I look at it as a whole, as us all together. I don’t look at it as much about myself. I think that for them to ban this after we’ve done what we’ve done is unbelievable.”
Mark Calcavecchia, who joined the Champions Tour a couple years ago and still plays on the regular tour, told me last August, “I don’t see how they can ban them, I really don’t. There’s too many
strikes against that. If it was that easy, everybody would be using them. You’ve still got to read it, you’ve still got to hit it with the right speed and control your nerves and all that other stuff.
“It can throw a wrench into a lot of guy’s games, I know that. I can’t even imagine. Webb Simpson said he’s practicing with a short one, but Keegan Bradley, he putts amazing with that thing, the belly putter. Adam Scott has gotten better with the long one. Carl Pettersson, I’ve known him
for a long time. When I first started playing with him, he made everything. I don’t think he’s putted with a short putter since he was a kid. It might definitely affect some people.”
The argument is not against the long putter itself but how it’s anchored, resting against a golfer’s chest to steady his nerves and avoid excess movement. The long putter likely would be acceptable, for those weighing a ban, as long as the golfer holds it away from the body.
That’s going to be a sticky issue as well. We might need slow-motion instant video replays and officials upstairs in the booth to determine if the putter touched the chest. Maybe his competitor can throw a red protest flag to request a replay for any putt longer than 12 feet.
Long-time broadcaster and Hall of Fame golf analyst Peter Allis, arguing for a ban, said nerves are part of the game. They affect different golfers of different ages and in different circumstances. Nerves, he said, should remain a natural part of the game and not be artificially eliminated by use of the anchor putter.
“Are you telling me that Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson are nervous wrecks at 25 years old?,” Fred Couples, a belly-putter used, told me at the Boeing Classic two months ago. “In my opinion, Bernhard Langer is one of the best putters out here. He has worked harder than most people because he uses a different style putter, and it took him a while to do it and now he has been able to get that down just like he has a cut bunker shot.
“I get the fact. I think Bernhard would say yeah, nerves take over once in a while. But I don’t think for the guys on the regular Tour that nerves take over and they have to go to a belly putter? I find that astonishing.”
Then he went off.
“Are there guys nervous putting? Sure, there are. I get nervous trying to win the British Open. I wasn’t nervous on the 12th hole the first day of the British Open. If that was the case, then I should use a regular putter and Sunday go to a belly putter because my nerves aren’t as good. So guys are doing this because they think it helps them putt better.
“But for someone to sit here and say Bernhard Langer can stand up here on the 18th hole and hit this fairway with out-of-bounds left and water on the right with nervous hands, but he can’t putt? Everyone’s trying to do something to get better, in my opinion. They may outlaw it. I think it’s great whatever they do. But I think it’s a shame for a guy like Keegan Bradley, I don’t know if he’s ever used a short putter, to say, ‘son, I know you don’t have the yips, you can go use a short putter.’ But he’s never even carried one. Just like a lot of them have never used a wooden driver. They come on, they’ve had metal drivers. They have no idea how hard it used to be to hit a wooden driver. But that’s part of the game.”
Calcavecchia said personally he doesn’t have a problem with a ban, since he doesn’t use one now. He did try one for a while in 2008 and said, “I had some good stretches with it. I do think it’s an advantage from inside six or seven feet, but I never made any 20- or 30-footers with it.
“I also had kind of a special deal where, because my belly is so close to the ground, my belly putter is pretty short, so when I had a 30- or 40-footer, I’d just pull it out of my belly and just putt with it like my regular claw like a long regular putter. That’s kind of what I did with that.”
Couples said that instead of banning the long putter, what he considers unfair is golfers who put a line around the ball.
“I think that’s as big a problem,” he said. “People that put that straight line on there and they get a putt from six feet. They know it’s two inches off to the left and they line their putter up with the line and they stroke it on that line and it goes into the middle of the hole. To me, I think that also takes a little skill away from the game.
“But I’m not protecting myself because I use a belly putter. Personally, whatever they think is right for the game is good for me. But I’ve always had a problem putting a line on the ball. I can’t lay my 7-iron down at my feet to hit a shot to the green. Why can you line your ball up and aim it where you want it to go? I just don’t think that’s really part of golf…I don’t know why that’s legal.”
Even if the Royal & Ancients decide to ban the anchor putter, it won’t be implemented until the end of the rules cycle in December 2015.