ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Thursday at gloomy Sea Island Resort was pulled straight from Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’ famous verse:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
This week’s RSM Classic is the swansong for anchored putting on the PGA Tour with next year’s ban looming, and David Hearn appears to have plucked a page from Thomas’ poem with an opening-round 64 that left him tied for second place and in the hunt for his first Tour title.
This week’s stop isn’t Hearn’s last on Tour, but it will be the last time the Canadian will be allowed to anchor his signature broom-handled putter in competition.
“I obviously prefer to putt the way I am right now, but I am just going to enjoy it this week,” said Hearn, who plans to try a cross-handed grip when he changes to a non-anchored putter. “It's the last week I will be putting with it. I putted last weekend actually with a short one in Mexico and felt fine.”
The move back to something familiar paid off on Thursday, with Hearn rolling in putts from 17 feet (No. 10 and 14), 14 feet (No. 3) and 10 feet (No. 8) to match his lowest round of the young 2015-16 season.
Hearn, like most players who currently anchor, voiced a familiar refrain on Thursday – when it’s time to change he’ll figure it out.
“Obviously I put a lot of thought into it. Fortunately for me I putted on Tour when I first got on in ’05 with a short putter. It's something I have done at a high level,” Hearn said. “I'm confident in my transition, but only time will tell.”
Tim Clark faces the same unknown after a particularly difficult year on the greens.
“It’s been so much on my mind,” Clark said following a first-round 1-under 69 on the Seaside layout that included 31 putts. “My putting has been really bad no matter what I used this year. Once it’s done I can just move on and stick with it. I’ve been stuck between two minds.”
Following surgery on his left elbow that forced him to miss 22 weeks of competition, the South African switched to a non-anchored putter when he returned at the Travelers Championship.
It was an experiment that lasted just one tournament before he switched back to the broom-handle model he’s been using since he was in college due to a congenital problem with his arms in which he can't supinate his wrists.
“It’s been 20 years, figured I’d give it another few weeks,” said Clark, who plans to try the “Matt Kuchar” method of putting next year with the end of the putter grip pressed into his forearm. “It’s not like I’m going from belly putter to a normal putter, I’m going to be using a completely different way of putting. That’s going to be the hard part of next year.”
If either Hearn or Clark needed a paradigm of putting hope on an overcast day they could have taken a peek at Adam Scott’s Round 1 card at the Australian Masters.
Scott carded a 7-under 64 in what he called “stress-free golf” with a non-anchored putter after a rocky transition away from an anchored model. After a rough week at the Presidents Cup last month, he saw progress with the new putter at the Japan Open (T-7) and CIMB Classic (second), and needed just 28 putts on Thursday in Melbourne.
“I didn't putt well at all this year with the long putter,” Scott said. “My stats were horrible and it was a very frustrating year, so the change has actually been quite refreshing for me.”
While Scott’s transition has been anything but “stress free,” and a few good starts against relatively weaker fields is hardly a definitive statement, he does provide those facing a similar overhaul a reason to be optimistic heading into next season and a new era of non-anchoring.
Until then Hearn and Clark have 54 holes to make the most of anchoring, which the R&A and U.S. Golf Association announced they were banning in 2013.
“For now I'm just going to enjoy it this week and see if I can make a few putts and take the anchored putter out on top,” Hearn said.
Dylan Thomas couldn’t have said it any better.