CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Padraig Harrington shot an opening-round 80 at the Wells Fargo Championship on Thursday, so you can excuse him for looking quizzically at a few reporters who were waiting to speak with him afterward.
Then he figured it out. It wasn’t about the score. It was about the club.
At a time when many players are moving away from anchored putting because of the proposed ban by the USGA and R&A, Harrington placed a belly putter in his bag for the first time in competition.
“I took it out last week,” he explained. “Mechanically, everything I do with my putting stroke is better with the belly putter than without it.”
Makes sense, sure. But here’s the rub: Harrington is fundamentally against anchored putting being legal.
“I don't support the belly putter,” he said. “I think it's bad for the game of golf.”
Wait … what?
That’s like a vegetarian munching on a cheeseburger. Or a nudist wearing a few extra layers of clothes.
It recalls a comment from Ernie Els two years ago: “As long as it’s legal, I’ll keep cheating like the rest of them.”
So there was Harrington, jabbing the butt end of that putter into his midsection and whacking away 32 times during the round, each putt tinged with a hint of irony.
“The R&A support the rules of golf, and it's well within the rules,” maintained Harrington, who serves as an ambassador to the R&A. “If I hit it into the middle of the trees and I'm stuck behind it and I'm in trouble and I get free relief off the cart path, I'm going to take it. There is no doubt.”
Ironically enough, Harrington’s comments mirror those of other players this week when speaking about the hot-button issue of drug testing. Now that Vijay Singh has been acquitted of any wrongdoing after taking deer-antler spray, many have claimed they’ll look into using the substance, which can now be seen as a legalized form of gaining a competitive advantage.
Of course, his score – which left him in dead last place after the morning wave was complete – could live as Exhibit A as to how anchored putting doesn’t provide any advantage at all.
“I had picked up the belly putter in the past and have always hated it, but when I put it on the analysis, everything came out better,” he explained. “So that encouraged me to get over the ‘I don't like the feel of this’ because I accelerate better, and I do so many things better with it.
“Before it was a feel thing. Now I'm saying, well, I can get through the feel thing. If it's going to be a better putting stroke, why not?”
Harrington compares it to the rule that outlawed square grooves three years ago.
“It's the exact same situation as the grooves,” he said. “It's not for the good of some individuals, but for the good of the game, absolutely. For the majority, I believe, yeah, anchoring shouldn't be there. It doesn't look good.
“As much as the grooves cost me dearly, not having the box grooves, I know nobody wants to talk about that now. Six months after they were gone, nobody talked about it. It will be the same with the putter. Once it's banned, six months later everybody will move on.”
That may be true, but the proposed ban wouldn’t take place until Jan. 1, 2016. Harrington will be 44 at that point. He figures if he can get the most out of that time during his prime years, he’s going to take that opportunity – whether he agrees with it or not.
“You know, 3 1/2 years is a long time of golf,” said the three-time major champion. “[That’s] 15 majors. I could have Jack [Nicklaus’] record by the end.”
His math may have been off – there are only 11 majors between now and the first day of 2016 – but Harrington’s point was taken. He’d rather “cheat” with an anchored putter than cheat himself out of more major titles.
When a reporter laughed out loud at the prospect of him sweeping every major between now then, Harrington responded in mock disdain.
“You don't have to laugh so deep from your belly,” he said.
If the new putter eventually works wonders for Harrington, he’ll be the one enjoying all the belly laughs in the end.