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Clock ticking as anchoring ban looms in 2016

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Along with a new calendar and the PGA Tour’s annual fortnight in Hawaii, the New Year always brings a slate of resolutions that are as varied as golf swings.

Phil Mickelson wants to lose 20 pounds and add a U.S. Open title, Tiger Woods wants to add 5 pounds and lose his orthopedic surgeon’s phone number; while Nick Price wants to lose six team matches from this year’s Presidents Cup and add a few countries to the International side, say England and Northern Ireland.

Other resolutions, however, are much more esoteric.

When Tim Clark tees off on Friday for Round 1 of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions he, along with a number of his Tour frat brothers, will officially be on the clock.

The U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient’s ban on anchoring is no longer some distant bridge that will need to be burned at a later date.

Change is coming and it’s time to embrace that reality.

Some, like Keegan Bradley who became the first player to win a major (2011 PGA Championship) using an anchored putter, have already begun the process.

“I’m trying to work my way into it,” said Bradley at December’s Hero World Challenge where he sported a non-anchored putter. “It feels comfortable, actually.”

Others, like Adam Scott, don’t appear to be in any real hurry to convert, but that will change as the Jan. 1, 2016, deadline approaches.

Dave Stockton Sr., who has become one of the Tour’s preeminent putting gurus, said the transition will be easier than many think, particularly among some of the game’s most high-profile players.

“In my era the long putters were the guys who couldn’t putt worth a lick, it didn’t matter what they used,” Stockton said in December. “But these days you have good athletes and it’s a totally different deal. That’s why I think they can use anything.”

Stockton expects many of those who currently anchor will either transition to the Matt Kuchar method of putting, which features a longer-than-normal shaft that is anchored (but legal under the new rule) in the forearm, or a combination of counter-balanced putters with oversized grips.

While the Kuchar method, which was developed with input from Stockton, has been successful for some, the mechanics of the stroke have made it difficult for others.

“I’ve had three or four guys try the Kuchar method, but there are a bunch of funky angles, you have to have 6 or 7 degrees of loft and it’s just weird,” said Scott Hamilton, who has emerged as one of the circuit’s top putting coaches. “I’ve got one in my putting studio but you have to get the perfect putter for you.”

Most experts agree the most difficult transitions will be for players who currently use broom-handle putters.

“Counter-balance putters will be the best option. You can float it (the end of the putter). You don’t have to have it anchored to you,” Stockton said. “Someone like Bernhard (Langer) is going to have a tough time because it’s up here (near his chin).”

Like Langer, Scott also uses a broom-handle putter, although he played with a standard-length model for much of his early career, which might explain why he was among a vocal minority who opposed the ban.

For Scott, the world’s third-ranked player, the answer to next January’s ban may be measured in fraction of inches.

“Guys like Adam Scott just won’t anchor, just hold it off their chest. They just have to figure out how to hold that thing off their body and putt,” Hamilton said.

Others may not face such an easy transition. Clark has used a belly putter since he joined the Tour in 2001 because of a condition that doesn’t allow him to supinate his forearms.

While players like Kevin Stadler have concocted unorthodox options to meet the impending change.

“His choice is if he’s not going to use an anchored putter he’s going to use a left-handed putter,” said Stockton, who has been working with Stadler to find a putting solution since last spring. “I’ve convinced him he can putt right-handed fine, but we’ll see.”

It is worth pointing out much of the concern seems historically misplaced. While the individual professional will surely endure his share of anxiety as he makes the transition, if similar rule changes are any indication the ban will do little to stem the Tour’s scoring onslaught.

The USGA and R&A dialed back the grooves in clubs in 2010 in an attempt to “reduce spin on shots played from the rough by highly skilled golfers . . . this should result in an increase in the importance of driving accuracy.”

Those who currently anchor should be encouraged by the fact that the overall driving accuracy average on Tour has decreased over the last five years and yet the scoring average (71.18 compared to the average over the previous five years of 71.38) has dropped. 

Maybe the best New Year’s resolution for those who currently anchor should be to worry less.