THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – If golf’s purists support a ban on anchored putting, we can only imagine the admonishment sportswriters of yesteryear would place upon today’s generation of web-surfing simpletons whose memories can be employed for less noble pursuits than fact-checking.
Well, much like those golfers who will continue jabbing the butt end of a putter into their midsections for the next three years, I’ll keep using Google until the day our governing bodies rule the process is against the long-standing traditions of the craft. Also like them, our application of search engines is only an advantage if we know how to use them, though doing so can result in a certain reliance on them as a crutch – and yes, that correlation works for golfers using anchored putters and sportswriters using Google. Observers should consider both parties victims of their own success.
In gravely stereotypical fashion, I performed a Google search for that five-word phrase and found a stunning array of results to match. Microsoft. Coyotes. Democrats. The Spanish national soccer team. Bobby Fischer. Neanderthals. Vaccinations. Groupon.
There was nothing curious about the timing of Wednesday morning’s joint announcement by the USGA and R&A that they have proposed a rules change to place a ban on all anchored putters beginning on Jan. 1, 2016. After close to three decades of golfers employing this style on various levels with varying degrees of prosperity without any sort of proposal, three of the last five major championships have been won by players who anchored themselves on the greens before anchoring themselves to the winner’s circle.
To their credit, the game’s governing bodies attempted to quash any notion that recent success led to the direct downfall of the anchored putter. Early in the news conference, R&A chief executive Peter Dawson proclaimed, “I think we have to make it very clear that this proposed rule change is not directly performance-related,” then followed just seconds later by reiterating, “I emphasize the reason for proceeding with this rule change is not performance-related.”
Dawson may not mince words, but he also isn’t being completely honest with himself, if not the rest of us. No, the ban on anchored putters doesn’t come as a direct corollary of three players winning majors, but as part of the domino effect witnessed in the wake of such triumphs.
Allow Bradley to explain in this thoughtful analogy:
“Growing up, when we watched Tiger [Woods], we all wanted to be like Tiger, so everyone that I knew had to have a Nike hat. That was Tiger's thing. And you saw everybody on the golf course with it. You still do,” he said. “I think it's totally natural to see a bunch more belly putters and long putters in the younger game because they're seeing all of us do it. … Just like when I was a younger kid and I had to have a Tiger Woods hat, they want to try the belly putter. They didn't see me last year at this tournament come in almost dead last. I couldn't make anything. But you see on Sunday the putts going in, and I think that's totally natural. You see a lot of the younger generation doing what they see on TV.”
Therein lies the main theme for these players: Victims of their own success.
If Bradley doesn’t win the 2011 PGA Championship while brandishing a belly putter, fewer pro shops and retail outlets start carrying them. If fewer pro shops and retail outlets start carrying them, fewer young players start using them. If fewer young players start using them, then maybe a kid like 14-year-old Tianlang Guan never picks one up and putts his way into golf’s record books by qualifying for the Masters before entering high school.
If this sounds like a never-ending cycle of regression, congratulations: You see eye-to-eye with the USGA and R&A. Without directly addressing the younger generation of golfers on Wednesday, officials were clearly unnerved by reports at some recent junior tournaments that said nearly half of all competitors were anchoring putters.
And so a decision had to be made. Either continue allowing this style at all levels or force a cruel termination in the aftermath of so much fruition. The caretakers of the game opted for the latter and while they staunchly oppose the inference that their decision culminated from those major championship victories, there’s zero doubt that these performances helped force their hand and speed up the timeline of action.
It’s unrealistic to speak in hypotheticals, but we still have to wonder: If Bradley hadn’t sunk an improbable 35-footer on the penultimate hole of last year’s PGA Championship, if Simpson hadn’t coolly knocked in his devilish par attempt on the final hole of the U.S. Open, if Els hadn’t banged in a birdie bid at the Open Championship that he believed was for second place, would Wednesday’s announcement had taken place?
In an ironic paradox, those three players championed the cause for anchored putters while also unintentionally championing the cause to have them banned.
It is the very definition of becoming victims of their own success.