Manufacturers working around proposed anchor ban

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2013, 9:32 pm

WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – As best anyone can tell, the PGA Tour’s first players’ meeting of 2013 on Tuesday at Torrey Pines featured plenty of questions about the proposed ban on anchored putters and precious few answers.

As commissioner Tim Finchem figured on Wednesday when asked if the circuit would deviate from either the impending mandate or the timeline for implementation (2016), “damned if you do, damned if you don't to some extent.”

Got that?

Yet while Tuesday’s confab delivered little by way of facts, comments leading up to the meeting did seem to solidify the U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient Golf Club’s resolve to put an end to anchoring.

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With little time left in the 90-day comment period (Feb. 28) before the rule is finalized USGA executive director Mike Davis told the Associated Press that the association has received “very good feedback,” but nothing that has caused the rule makers to feel as though they missed something in writing the rule.

In short, change is afoot, a reality that many manufacturers at the PGA Merchandise Show’s Demo Day on Wednesday found to be an inconvenient truth.

“Tell me what is broken?” implored Jim Grundberg, a managing partner with the SeeMore Putter Company. “I understand coming to the decision 20 or 30 years ago, but there are so many ways that people swing I don’t understand why they would do this now.”

To be clear, Grundberg and the other dozen or so putter manufacturers working the sprawling 360-degree practice tee at Orange County National have a dog in this fight, but not as much as one might think.

Jim Barfield, the vice president of tour operations for Rife, estimated the long-putter portion of their market had grown to about 20 percent before news started to leak last year that the USGA and R&A had the longer-than-standard-length models in their crosshairs.

“Now it’s dropped to about 5 percent,” Barfield said.

Yet the basic tenets of supply and demand would suggest that if Joe Three-putt isn’t buying a belly putter he will just find his putting answers with some new form of technology.

The folks at Odyssey Golf are already preparing for LAA – Life After Anchoring – with the new “Arm Lock” shaft that features a 43-inch shaft and an additional 7 degrees of loft so players can anchor the end of the club into the forearm Matt Kuchar style, a method that would be allowed under the proposed anchoring rule.

“The extra loft allows for 4 degrees of forward press and you end up with the traditional 3 degrees of normal loft,” said Odyssey rep Chuck McCollough, who noted that consumers have already started to shun belly and broom-handle putters at retail.

That, however, will do little to blunt the impact the proposed ban will have in other corners of the game. While some, quite possibly the USGA and R&A, view anchoring as a crutch, Barfield sees the belly and broom-handle putter as more than simply a cure for the yips.

“I played professionally in the 1990s and lost my feel for putting. It wasn’t the yips, just the feel,” said Barfield, who is Rife’s Champions Tour rep. “In ’93 I made a long putter and I was able to play a couple more years. All it did is allow me to practice more which gives you better feel and more confidence.”

Barfield has seen the transition firsthand on the over-50 circuit, from Bernhard Langer to Fred Couples, and without the long putter he fears many of these Champions Tour legends will opt for retirement over irrelevance.

Davis has stressed that the proposed ban is in reaction to the growing popularity of the long putter at the grassroots level and not victories at three of the last five majors by players using longer-than-standard-length putters, but Grundberg contends there is no data that suggests long putters are a magic bullet.

“The guys who have had success with it were because they worked at it, but that happens with guys who use short putters,” Grundberg said. “It wasn’t the anchoring part, it was hope. ‘Hey, this could help.’”

Grundberg, like Finchem, also sees the potential collateral damage the ban could have on some players like Webb Simpson (2012 U.S. Open), Keegan Bradley (2011 PGA Championship) and Ernie Els (2012 British Open). Unlike baseball, golf doesn’t do asterisks, but the inevitable and utterly unfair reaction will be that these players won using equipment that was later deemed nonconforming.

“It’s not steroids, but it’s the same sort of thing,” Grundberg said.

The general feeling among major manufacturers is that the proposed ban wouldn’t be worth fighting. Unlike high-margin items like drivers and golf balls, long putters make up a small portion of the golf market. Yet for those whose life’s work has been building a better putter, the rule closes a crucial door that for many made the game possible.

“You are not only penalizing the guys who are doing it today you are penalizing everyone who may want to use it in the future,” Barfield said.

As Barfield surveys a rack dotted with assorted long putters he shrugs, “Guess we’ll convert them to the Kuchar style (of forearm anchoring),” he shrugs.

The rules may be changing, but the quest has not.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.