Whether or not one agrees with the USGA’s and R&A’s decision to ban a player from anchoring his or her putter, one unfortunate consequence is likely to develop: Golfers who follow the game closely will gradually start to see players who have won tournaments while anchoring as less deserving than those who have won putting conventionally – non-anchored, that is.
The players themselves are concerned about this, and you have to feel for them. Keegan Bradley, the 2011 PGA Championship winner, and one of the game’s top players, spoke about the matter with Golfweek’s Alex Miceli.
“I feel like the USGA has really put an X on our back and really shined a light on us, and I don’t know if that’s exactly fair,” Bradley, an anchorman, said.
If “X” will mark the spot on Bradley’s, and other players’ backs, it doesn’t help their call for understanding when an elite player such as Ernie Els refers to anchoring as “cheating.” Els won this year’s Open Championship while anchoring. He has acknowledged the difficulties he was having on the greens, went to the anchoring method, and won that Open – his fourth major championship and his first anchoring.
“I will keep cheating like the rest of them,” Els said. He added, “But I’m for it. Ban it.”
Els wouldn’t use such strong language if he felt that anchoring didn’t help calm a player’s nerves and smooth out the stroke. Does this mean his win in last July’s Open should have an asterisk beside it? No. But the notion will come to pass in golf-watchers’ minds, although never in the record books. Anchoring was legal when Els won the Open last summer, and it will be legal until Jan. 1, 2016, should the USGA and R&A go ahead this coming spring and make the ruling official after a period of comment that is already steaming ahead.
It’s interesting, meanwhile, to realize that some players who have used anchoring have acknowledged feeling uncomfortable with doing so. Stewart Cink told the New York Times recently that he felt conflicted, presumably because he knew he was benefiting from a method that perhaps should not be part of golf.
Johnny Miller, a phenomenal ball-striker who suffered from the yips and who tried a variety of putting methods to allay his anxiety, said this to the New York Times about going away from anchoring: “I was glad to be away from the long putter, because I had developed just a hint of guilt, maybe in the back of my mind.”
It’s not surprising that some players would feel as Miller and Cink did. It will be interesting to see how players who anchor will proceed, given that the USGA and R&A have put their stamp of disapproval on the method. There’s no doubt about how the ruling bodies feel. They agree with Tom Watson, who said, “I know this is not a stroke of golf. I know that. That’s not golf.”
This brings the discussion back to Bradley, a golfer who feels like a marked man.
“When we started putting with it (the anchored putter, that is), they were legal, and they still are,” Bradley said. “It’s a sticky situation, and I hope people can see through that.”
Some will, but many won’t. That’s the unfortunate but unavoidable consequence of the USGA’s and R&A’s proposed ban. Truly, for players who anchor, the ruling is grueling.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein