Bradley, Clark become faces of Tour's ban opposition

By Doug FergusonFebruary 25, 2013, 11:35 pm

MARANA, Ariz. – Bruce Lietzke would have noticed a banana inside the cover of his long putter.

One of the famous stories about Lietzke, a 13-time winner on the PGA Tour, is that he never touched a club when he wasn't on Tour. His caddie didn't believe him, so at the end of the 1984 season, he put a banana inside the head cover of Lietzke's driver before zipping up the travel bag. Some 15 weeks later at the Bob Hope Classic, the caddie excitedly unzipped the travel bag.

The stench should have been the first clue.

''Sure enough, he pulled off that head cover and the banana ... it was not yellow,'' Lietzke said Monday. ''It was black, nasty, fungus. He said he'd never doubt me again.''

Lietzke confessed to breaking his own rules when it came to the broom-handled putter that he picked up at the Phoenix Open in 1991 and used the rest of his career. Even in his down time, he would tinker with the length of the putter and practice with it. And he wonders what the conversation would have been like today if that 1991 PGA Championship had turned out differently.

Lietzke was the runner-up at Crooked Stick behind a big-hitting rookie named John Daly. Imagine if Lietzke had won that major.

Would the USGA have banned the putter he anchored against his chest?

''I think so,'' Lietzke said. ''Judging by their reaction to major successes, I guess they were just waiting for this to happen. The USGA should have made a statement then. If I had won the PGA Championship, they might have tried to outlaw it. And if you look back on it, most people would have gone along with it.''

That was one of the arguments PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem put forth Sunday when he said the Tour was against the proposed rule that would ban the anchored stroke primarily used for long putters and belly putters.

Without any empirical evidence that an anchored stroke is easier, why ban it?

And after all these years, why now?

The faces in this discussion – and that's all it is right now – are Keegan Bradley and Tim Clark, for vastly different reasons.

It was Bradley's win at the PGA Championship that prompted serious talk about the future of anchored strokes. Bradley now is lumped in with three of the last five major champions using a belly putter, but he was the catalyst.

European Tour chief executive George O'Grady said the conversations between golf's administrators and the governing bodies about the future of the long putters began last year at The Masters.

That was before Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open and Ernie Els won the British Open, which ramped up the attention.

As for Clark?

It was his dignified speech at Torrey Pines that led even the staunch opponents of long putters to look at them differently. More than one person in the room that night has described his presentation as a game-changer.

That much was reflected in the overwhelming support from the Player Advisory Council and player-directors on the tour's policy board that the PGA Tour should oppose the USGA on this rule.

The tricky part is figuring out where this will lead.

The PGA Tour sent the USGA a letter last week spelling out its opposition to Rule 14-1(b), and the PGA of America and its 27,000 club pros are also against the ban.

One reason Finchem decided to speak about the letter – a small distraction during the final of the Match Play Championship – was his concern that the discussion was being portrayed as a showdown. Right now, it's a matter of opinion.

If it becomes a showdown, high noon is not until the USGA and R&A decide whether to go ahead with the rule. And that decision won't come until the spring.

It's a polarizing topic. If not, the governing bodies would not have offered a 90-day comment period that ends on Thursday. They simply would have announced a new rule and been done with it.

For now, the Tour has not said it will go against the USGA. It has only said it disagrees with the USGA.

Finchem chose not to show his hand when he brushed off questions about whether the Tour would ever allow an anchored stroke even if the governing bodies adopt a rule that bans it starting in 2016.

But he has made it clear on at least three occasions that while slightly different rules could work for the PGA Tour, this rule would not be one of them.

This is not where golf needs to go. The buzz word coming out of the USGA annual meeting earlier this month was not ''bifurcation'' but ''unification.''

Go anywhere in the world and golf effectively is played by the same set of rules. This is something that should never change.

The USGA and R&A know they don't have evidence to show that using an anchored stroke is easier. Frankly, they don't need any evidence. This is not about equipment, rather a new rule that attempts to define the golf stroke as the club swinging freely.

The mistake by the USGA was waiting until someone won a major before acting – or believing that winning a major should even make a difference.

The majors are the biggest events to win. They define careers. But if the belly putter was an issue when Simpson won the U.S. Open, why wasn't it an issue when he won the Deutsche Bank Championship? Did the putter work differently at Olympic?

Lietzke can think of several occasions when nerves made him miss with his long putter. And if the belly putter is the cure, don't just look at Ernie Els kissing that claret jug last summer at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Look at those two putts Els badly missed on the last few holes of the Match Play Championship to lose in the opening round.

If the USGA decides that a ban on anchored strokes is best for the game, the PGA Tour should go along with it.

And if the USGA was serious about that 90-day comment period, the hope is that it was serious about listening.

Why?

And why now?

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. 

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.