Survey says ... Long putter use down on Tour

By Jason SobelMarch 5, 2013, 2:52 pm

It remains to be seen whether the joint proposal of the U.S. Golf Association and R&A to ban anchored putting will go into effect or whether PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem will get his wish based on a recent recommendation that the proposal be overturned – or whether the game devolves into some sort of bifurcated anarchy with neither party slowing down in their high-stakes game of chicken.

What we have learned is that professionals at the most elite level have already started policing themselves. recently obtained data from the Darrell Survey, which tracks equipment use at every PGA Tour event. While the data only allows for “belly/mid-size” or “long” putters rather than showing exactly how competitors are using these clubs – essentially, whether they are anchoring – it provides enough of a sample size that we can glean some pretty useful information.

And so far the data is telling us that the number of these putters being used on a weekly basis is down from last year. Overwhelmingly down.

Anchored putting: Check out more articles and video

Through the first seven events on this year’s PGA Tour schedule, longer putters were put into play 94 times. That represents a 46 percent decline from 2012, when 175 long putters were implemented during those same seven events.

Broken down, the data shows a decrease at each event: Hyundai Tournament of Champions (from seven to five); Sony Open (24 to 21); Humana Challenge (30 to 18); Farmers Insurance Open (31 to 13); Waste Management Phoenix Open (25 to 11); AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (25 to 10); and Northern Trust Open (33 to 16).

Though the numbers remained largely the same at the Hawaii-based events, there was a dramatic change once the PGA Tour reached California, with double-digit differentials between each of the last two years.

To what do we owe the monumental contrast? It wouldn’t be a reach to draw the conclusion that enough players were simply scared off by the impending ban that they have switched to a more standard putter since last season’s West Coast swing. Whether burdened by the notion of not being able to finish what they started with these clubs or unnerved by the assertion of those, such as Keegan Bradley, who say they’ve been referred to as “cheaters,” there’s been a massive statistical shift that goes beyond any public perception.

Of course, it is also due in part to the fact that many of the players who were competing with the long putters previously – from Mark Anderson to Michael Bradley to Kyle Reifers – are no longer competing full-time on the PGA Tour, which should add further fuel to the already blazing fire that contends the equipment in question doesn’t offer any sort of competitive advantage.

Since this anchored putting debate reared its ugly head – or perhaps more appropriately, its ugly butt end – arguments in places as varied as the ivory towers of the game’s caretakers to local 19th hole establishments have centered on whether the maneuver makes it easier to get the ball into the hole.

The USGA and R&A have maintained that their proposal is about defining the stroke rather than reacting to it providing any advantage, even though three major champions in the past two years have anchored. Meanwhile, that hasn’t stopped important figures on either side of the fence from maintaining that there’s data to enhance their respective arguments.

Finchem, who with the blessings of the policy board and player advisory council recently recommended that the proposal be discontinued, says, “We do not have any data that indicates there is a competitive advantage among players to an anchoring method.”

Conversely, 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, citing a conversation with USGA executive director Mike Davis, claims, “They're convinced the research has shown that under pressure on a Sunday afternoon the long putter just kind of takes one extraneous movement out of the putting stroke.”

Then there’s many like Tiger Woods, who represents the majority when he admits, “I don't know if there's any statistical data on it.”

Using the survey numbers, we can uncover some data to shine a light on this.

According to the company’s putter statistics, only two players in the top 20 in this year’s strokes gained – putting category, the most relevant way of tracking proficient putting, have used longer putters. One is Brian Stuard, who anchors his belly putter. The other is Matt Kuchar, who uses a longer model, but only places the grip against his forearm, a style which will remain legal even if the current proposal holds form.

Let’s further extrapolate the numbers over this season’s first seven tournaments. Of those 94 players who used longer putters, 58 made the cut (61.7 percent, which is slightly higher than the average of those who employed standard putters) and they accounted for nine top-10 finishes (9.6 percent, which is again slightly higher than average).

However, much of that success occurred in Hawaii, which includes one no-cut event. Of the five West Coast stroke-play events in the Lower 48, the 68 instances of longer putters tallied just three top-10s.

In fact, in some events those using a longer putter almost appeared at a disadvantage, at least according to their final results. At Torrey Pines, of the 13 players none finished better than T-27; two weeks later at Pebble Beach, only four of 10 made the cut and only one was inside the top 25.

What does it all mean? When we analyze the data over the first two months of this season, it feels like the rage and ire toward the anchored putting debate is much ado about nothing.

Yes, the game’s governing bodies still must determine whether an anchored putt should be defined as a legal stroke, but any notion that this is greatly affecting the game at its uppermost level has so far been summarily dismissed by the statistics.

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Watch: Tiger's Sunday birdies at the Honda

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 25, 2018, 6:40 pm

One day after he left a barrage of birdie opportunities out on the golf course, Tiger Woods worked his way into red figures early on Sunday.

Seven off the pace to start the day, Woods found the first fairway, hit the first green and rolled in a 20-footer for his firist birdie of the day.

After narrowly missing a 10-footer for what would have been another circle at the par-5 third, Woods came right back at the fourth, flying an approach from 148 yards to 9 feet and finishing the job.

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New-look Korda wins after serious jaw surgery

By Will GrayFebruary 25, 2018, 6:31 pm

If the pictures of Jessica Korda from the Honda LPGA Thailand cause you to do a double-take, you're not alone.

Korda's world-class talent was on full display this week in Asia, where she won by four shots, but so too was her new-look face. The 24-year-old underwent serious jaw surgery in December, a final attempt to address a significant overbite that led to ailments ranging from facial cramping to headaches to sleep apnea.

The procedure was intense. Doctors first broke her nose, then broke her jaw in five different places - three on the top, and two on the bottom. She now has 27 screws in her face, and the physical result still requires some adjustment for a woman who now has five career LPGA wins.

"I look at pictures of myself and I don't feel like I look like that person," Korda told Golfweek. "I don't know who that is. And then I look at pictures of my old self and that doesn't look like me either."

Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

The Dec. 7 surgery left Korda unable to eat, with her mother reportedly feeding her through a syringe for "weeks." Korda's facial structure before the surgery was such that she was only using 20 percent of her teeth when chewing food.

But despite returning to practice only six weeks ago and still dealing with lingering numbness in her face, Korda promptly dusted a world-class field in her first start back. She shot 25 under for the week, highlighted by a second-round 62, leaving the likes of Lexi Thompson and Ariya Jutanugarn in her wake.

After a difficult winter, Korda's look may have changed but her game clearly remains unaffected.

"Coming in after surgery, I didn't know what to expect," Korda told reporters. "Obviously when I look at myself, I still don't feel like I look like myself yet. That will come. I'm just very, very happy. All the hard work I was putting in in the off-season when I could has paid off rather quickly."

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 25, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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Hahn jabs USGA over possible ball rollback

By Will GrayFebruary 25, 2018, 4:43 pm

As debate continues to heat up over possible sweeping changes to the golf ball amid distance concerns, PGA Tour pro James Hahn chimed in to question the merits of a potential rollback.

The ball and distance debate gained traction earlier this week when Jack Nicklaus offered that the ball should be rolled back to the approximate distances achieved in 1995, and he put blame for the current situation squarely at the feet of Titleist. That drew a response from former Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein, who put the onus back on the governing bodies.

It's an issue that will likely be discussed for months to come, but Hahn took to Twitter to throw a jab toward the USGA and play devil's advocate on some key arguments related to a possible rollback:

Hahn, who has two career PGA Tour wins and lost in a playoff last month at the Sony Open, ranks 55th on Tour this season in driving distance with an average of 301.2 yards off the tee.