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Anchoring issue all about the majors

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“No one has ever won a major using one of these things (anchored putter). We don’t see this as something that is detrimental to the game.” – Mike Davis, U.S. Golf Association executive director, April 21, 2011.

When someone says, “It’s not about the money,” it’s always about the money.

Similarly, when officials from the USGA and R&A say the proposed ban on anchoring has nothing to do with the fact that three of the last five major championships have been won by players wielding anchored implements, it feels like the proposal has everything to do with recent history.

In Davis’ defense, when he told the “Morning Drive” crew in the spring of 2011 that he didn’t see anchoring as “detrimental to the game,” Keegan Bradley was a little-known PGA Tour rookie, Webb Simpson was still a great fall away from superstar status and Ernie Els had recently told reporters that using a long putter was akin to cheating.


Anchored-putter debate: Articles, videos and photos


In the months that followed, Bradley stunned the golf world at Atlanta Athletic Club (2011 PGA Championship), Simpson emerged from golf’s version of Survivor Island at The Olympic Club (2012 U.S. Open) and Els outlasted the field at Royal Lytham (2012 British Open). All with long putters.

One hundred and twenty-nine days after Els hoisted his second claret jug, Davis and R&A chief executive Peter Dawson announced the proposed change to Rule 14-1b

“This is not a major-championship issue. This has been about the upsurge in general usage,” Davis said last fall when asked if the proposed rule change was reactionary. “We are looking to the future of the game and saying that we don’t think golf should be played this way.”

Those who have watched anchoring go from a non-story to a detriment in less than two years, however, contend golf would never have arrived at this anchoring crossroads had Bradley, Simpson and Els not shattered the Grand Slam barrier using anchored strokes.

“It would not have been a big deal. I don't think they would have considered it,” Els said. “Major championships are what the history of the game is all about, and obviously they don't want any more belly-putter players winning major championships, I don't believe. That's the real issue.”

The USGA and R&A’s lack of statistical data to support their claim that an anchored stroke is not a legal stroke also leads many play-for-pay types to contend this is a cosmetic change driven by perception.

It’s why the game’s rule makers did not make the proposed change to the Rules of Golf an equipment adjustment, and contend this is about the future of the game, not the past.

But for Tour types observing the proceedings from 30,000 feet, the argument that this change is for the good of the game, not a reaction to recent events, doesn’t withstand scrutiny.

Tim Clark, who has used a long putter for 15 years, called the proposed ban “unjust,” and Adam Scott, a more recent convert, said the move was “subjective” and akin to “changing the rules mid-round.”

Brendan Steele became a standard bearer for the long putter movement on Tour in 2011 when he won the Texas Open using an anchored putter at 28 years old, and watched the argument slowly build against long putters.

“There wasn’t a stigma attached to it when guys who were older went to it or guys that were really bad putters went it, but they didn’t like it when guys who were younger went to it just because it was a better way to putt,” said Steele, who converted to a long putter in 2006. “You don’t let it go when a few guys are doing it and then, if somebody wins a major, ‘no way that’s a huge problem.’”

As the USGA and R&A inch closer to a conclusion – the 90-day comment period ended on Feb. 28 and officials say they will make a final decision later this spring – most Tour players have resigned themselves to the inevitability of the ban. Just don’t expect them to buy into the reasoning the rule makers have given for the proposed ban.

“That’s been my issue with this all along. Just stand up there and say it,” Steele said. “‘We don’t like that guys that are 26 years old are winning majors with it. It was OK when our buddies around the club picked it up at 60, but not at the highest level.’ At least then I’d respect it a little more.”

For Els & Co., when the USGA and R&A say it’s not about the majors, it’s always about the majors.