Ex-anchorers trying to keep their heads above water

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2015, 8:19 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – The army of anchorers has all but disbanded.

The belly and broom have essentially gone belly up with the Jan. 1 ban still eight months away.

All that’s left are three major winners relearning how to play with a putter that isn’t pressed against their sternum or stomach.

To the casual fan, this wouldn’t seem like a huge deal – they’re PGA Tour players! – but the early returns have suggested otherwise:

• Adam Scott snapped a streak of 45 consecutive made cuts after a cover-your-eyes week in Tampa.

• Keegan Bradley ranked 29th last year in putting. So far this season, he’s 148th.

• Webb Simpson has never ranked worse than 58th on the greens (including 34th a year ago). Today, he’s 92nd.


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This (way-too-early) data from the marquee names would imply that anchoring helps, that the transition is more significant than originally thought, and that’s bad news with the start of major season now only 21 days away.

Indeed, the new normal is an uncomfortable one for the former anchorers, which is why rounds such as Thursday’s at Bay Hill can represent a significant step. All three players shot 69 or better in the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“Every round that we play is so big for us,” Bradley said, “because it’s another round under our belt that we haven’t had. This is new for all of us.”

For his many gifts, Scott has never been a particularly strong putter, with or without the broomstick. Only three times since 2004 has he been ranked inside the top 100 in putting.

When he switched to the broom-handled putter in spring 2011, the most notable difference was not that he consistently poured in more birdie putts, but that his poor putting days weren’t as bad. That led to him racking up six top-five finishes in majors since 2011, the most of any player over that span.

After messing around with the short putter during a long offseason, Scott started auspiciously over the first two rounds at Doral. He faded over the weekend (T-4) and had a rough two days in Tampa, leading to his first early exit in 45 events. Entering this week, he had missed 17 times inside 10 feet over his last four rounds and lost a whopping 7.9 strokes to the field. Worse, he admitted that he wasn’t “married” to the short stick, meaning he was still flirting with the idea of switching back. Indecisiveness typically doesn’t play well at Augusta.

Scott appears to have settled on a unique approach in which he uses a conventional grip for longer putts on slower greens, and the claw grip for putts from inside, say, 30 feet.

The longest birdie putt he made Thursday was an 8-foot, 11-inch putt on No. 9, his final hole of the day. Three of his four birdies during an opening 68 were from inside 3 feet. That’s not uncommon this week on a course that has slower, bumpier and spottier greens than usual.

“[The greens] are not exactly what I was hoping for to test my stroke at the moment,” Scott conceded.

Bradley, meanwhile, switched to the shorter putter at the World Challenge event in December, and after a high finish there he declared it was one of the “biggest tournaments of my career.” Hyperbolic, perhaps, but it only underscores how fragile a player’s confidence can be on the greens.

Four months later, Bradley described his putting performance as “kind of boring, middle of the road,” which is also one way to describe his results – only one top-15 in six 2015 starts.

Bradley has transitioned from a 46 1/4-inch putter to one that is about 39 inches – still longer than a conventional short putter – but has a long, thick grip that is similar to his belly model. His new putter is more upright, which puts his eyes more directly over the ball.

“It’s very awkward, very different,” he said of the switch. “I’ve given up thousands of rounds, thousands of hours to these guys out here, so I’m gaining some of those back as we speak.”

Simpson is starting from square one, too. Earlier this year he snapped his belly putter – the same club that helped him win the 2012 U.S. Open – over his knee so he wouldn’t be tempted to use it again.

At times this season he probably wished he had some superglue, because in 15 tournament rounds he is 92nd on Tour in putting. He lost nearly 1.5 strokes on the greens on Thursday, too, even during an opening 69.

“I’m having some good days, some bad days, similar to the belly putter,” he shrugged.

For the past year and a half, the anchoring brigade said it would wait as long as possible before changing – you know, to make hay while they could. Yet today, it’s rare to see a long putter on the PGA Tour, and the ban doesn’t take effect until the first day of 2016.

“Waiting until the last minute, it was a situation where it was almost like I was forced into doing something, like it was my last resort,” Simpson said.

In a few years we’ll know how much anchoring truly mattered. For now, there’s only one option: Adapt.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.