Newsmaker of the Year: No. 8: Long putters

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2011, 12:00 pm

[Editor's note: Click here for the Top 10 Newsmakers selection process and article release dates.]

It is a measure of the long putter’s dubious place in the game that when asked if he would ever succumb to the unconventional charms of a non-standard length implement Gary Woodland, an old heart in a power-forward’s body, shrugged, “God, I hope not.”

There is no doubt that 2011 was the year of the long putter, but trying to separate the historical fact from the hysteria has become as slippery as a downhill 5-footer at Augusta National.

Like politics and the BCS, there is no middle ground in the long-putter debate. Converts cling to the simple notion that golf’s rules makers have dubbed long putters legal, while critics usually stop just short of the “C” word (cheating) and contend the U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews should be penalized two strokes for letting the long putter cloud the competitive waters.

Adam Scott didn’t start the long-putter movement on Tour, but the Australian’s switch at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and subsequent runner-up finish at the Masters qualified him as an original person of interest.

Curiosity turned to concern in August when players using long putters won tournaments on two different tours in four consecutive weeks. In order, Scott won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Keegan Bradley became the first player to win a major with a non-standard length putter at the PGA, Webb Simpson won the Wyndham Championship and Fred Couples claimed his first over-50 major with a long putter at the Senior Players Championship.

A week later Phil Mickelson stunned the status quo when he quietly converted to a long putter at the Deutsche Bank Championship, an experiment that had ended by the time he arrived in Australia for November’s Presidents Cup but a telling sign nonetheless.

All total Simpson came up just short in his drive to win the FedEx Cup – losing to Bill Haas, another long-putter convert, in a dramatic finish at East Lake – and money title, and Bradley would collect the Rookie-of-the-Year Award to go with his two PGA Tour titles. It was all enough to make some wonder aloud if long putters, more so than supercharged golf balls and oversized drivers, were the real threat to the purity of the game.

“You're going to see junior sets sold in golf shops with an option of a belly putter or a short putter soon, which is disappointing,” Geoff Ogilvy said. “It's another step away from the game that's been played for 300 years. . . . But to me golf is two or three woods, irons, a wedge and a putter (and) the putter is the shortest thing in your bag. . . . I don't know, that's the ultimate romantic in me.”

Although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the long putter’s growing influence in the game, the most telling sign of its importance could be found on the money list, the ultimate arbiter of success and failure. Eight of the top 25 players on the season-ending money list used a long putter in competition at some point in 2011, including No. 2 Simpson, No. 7 Haas and No. 11 Scott.

As the gulf between converts and critics expands the only certainty is that 2011 was the year of the long putter.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.