Mike Davis paused on his way to the first tee at Royal Lytham & St. Annes to consider a question that had been consuming him for months.
Davis, the executive director of the U.S. Golf Association who was moonlighting as a walking official at this year’s Open Championship, was all too familiar with the drumbeat both for and against the act of anchoring during the swing, more specifically the putting stroke, and considered his answer carefully.
“In the last year and a half things have changed,” Davis explained. “There are a lot more recreational players going to (the long putter). There are instructors that are telling golfers this is a better way to putt, there are a lot more juniors using it and this wasn’t happening before.”
Little more than 24 hours later, Ernie Els hoisted the claret jug for the second time in his Hall of Fame career to become the third player in the last four major championships to win a Grand Slam title using a long putter. It is considered by some the metaphorical final nail in the anchoring coffin.
Davis has continued to stress that the USGA and Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews’ decision to ban anchoring – an announcement that wouldn’t come for another four months – was based on the increased use at the grassroots level, but for those who adhere to the simple cause-and-effect nature of things, this move was all about Els & Co.
The USGA and R&A’s plan became more transparent at October’s McGladrey Classic when Davis outlined the proposal to the PGA Tour’s Policy Board. It was at the posh Sea Island (Ga.) Resort that the theoretical officially became a thorn in the Tour’s side.
At the time the Tour stressed to Davis that whatever move they made, and it was evident the powers that be planned to ban anchoring, they needed to act quickly.
“As I told Mike Davis we will have 10 guys who are vehemently against you and 10 guys who are vehemently for you and the rest are going to go play,” said Davis Love III at Sea Island, one of four player directors on the Policy Board. “The only thing I would be concerned about is if they make this rule but it’s not going to go into effect until 2016. It’s just going to drag on. I hope when they do it they just cut it off and do it. We’d rather not talk about it for three years and let it be a distraction.”
Love’s company line proved painfully prophetic at Tiger Woods’ World Challenge in November when a fan called Keegan Bradley, the first player to win a major championship anchoring a putter at last year’s PGA Championship, a “cheater.”
“I had a guy yesterday telling me to send my application in to Burger King for 2016,” Bradley said at Sherwood Country Club.
For the Tour, that kind of heckling is the “broken arrow” scenario, an ugly reality that awaits any player who is unlucky enough to win an event before the ban goes into effect in January 2016.
It also creates a scheduling issue for the circuit, which will transition to a split-calendar season next year which means officials would need to implement the rule early for the 2015-16 season, late for the 2016-17 calendar or perhaps not at all, although that doesn’t seem likely given the Tour’s aversion to rule bifurcation.
There was also an undercurrent among Tour players who use long putters that they could challenge the new rule legally, although that movement seemed to lose momentum in the days following the Nov. 28 announcement.
“Honestly, in my heart, for me to seek legal action . . . if I get to a point where I want to use a belly putter that bad, whether I want to get on the team with the guys that are or not, I don't know yet,” said Webb Simpson, who won the U.S. Open using a belly putter. “I don't know. Bottom line is I'm ready. I'm not worried.”
Neither did the USGA and R&A – which outlined the new rule in a media blitz that featured detailed explanations and examples of what type of strokes would be banned – seem overly concerned when they unveiled the proposed new rule which will not be finalized until next spring.
“Anchored strokes threaten to supplant traditional strokes, which with all their frailties are integral to the long-standing character of our sport,” said R&A chief executive Peter Dawson. “Our objective is to preserve the skill and challenge, which is such a key element of the game of golf.”
As Davis explained in July, this wasn’t about what happens at the game’s highest level so much as it was a course adjustment to stem a tide that was beginning to surge from the grassroots level. The rest of the debate, however, will surely focus on the top of the pyramid.
Newsmaker of the Year schedule
No. 4: Dec. 23
No. 3: Dec. 26
No. 2: Dec. 28
No. 1: Dec. 31