Honda Classic: Proposed ban on long putters drives wedge between players

 

PALM BEACH GARDENS — Keegan Bradley has every right to be upset.

 

For two reasons.

 

No. 1: He isn't a cheater, and those who label him so — merely because he uses a belly putter that is still legal under the Rules of Golf — are as wrongheaded as those who say anchoring the club against the body doesn't make putting easier.

 

No. 2: The guardians of the game, the United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, finally seem intent on making it illegal for a player to anchor a club, essentially rendering the longer putters useless.

 

"It's been pretty difficult, especially lately," Bradley said Tuesday at PGA National, where he is preparing for this week's Honda Classic. "I'm being called a cheater more than ever by fans, by some writers. ... It's really tough.

 

"I can't imagine how people can say that to me or to anybody out here. It's been really difficult and I'm sick of it. I'm ready to be over it."

 

But he knows that's not going to happen.

 

Not anytime soon.

 

The USGA and R&A announced Nov. 28 the proposed rule change to ban anchoring the club and opened a 90-day comment period during which they would entertain input from the PGA Tour, PGA of America and others throughout the golf community. That period ends Thursday.

 

The two governing bodies say they will consider arguments on both sides of the controversy before making a final decision, which is expected to come this spring. If the ban is approved, it would take effect Jan. 1, 2016.

 

Already, the PGA Tour, which represents the world's best golfers, and PGA of America, which represents 27,000 club pros across the U.S., have opposed the ban.

 

"We hold the USGA in highest regard as a key part of the game of golf," Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Sunday. "We don't attempt to denigrate that position in any way whatsoever. It's just on this issue, we think if they were to move forward, they would be making a mistake."

 

He added: "I think the essential thread that went through the thinking of the players ... was that in the absence of data or any basis to conclude that there is a competitive advantage to be gained by using anchoring, and given the amount of time that anchoring has been in the game, that there is no overriding reason to go down that road."

 

Yet, several of the Tour's marquee names, including Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, support the ban — though when asked about it Tuesday, McIlroy seemed to back off his "Fully agree with the anchoring ban" tweet in November.

 

"We all need to be on one side or the other," the world's top-ranked golfer said.

 

But they aren't.

 

Reports from England say the European Tour is set to side with the USGA and R&A, if the ban becomes golf law. And we're still waiting to hear from the gentlemen in the green jackets at Augusta National, home of the most important tournament in the game.

 

"It's a mess," Bradley said. "It's going to be a mess."

 

It was Bradley's victory at the 2011 PGA Championship that began a curious run during which three of five majors were won by players who anchored the butt ends of their long putters into their midsections to stabilize their strokes.

 

The USGA and R&A — they're proposing to outlaw the technique, not the clubs — say the belly-putter method goes against the spirit of the long-accepted definition of a golf stroke as the swinging of the entire club at the ball. Thus, the amended rule would state: "In making a stroke, the player must not anchor the club, either directly or by use of an anchor point."

 

Should this change have been made 25 years ago? Yes.

 

Should the USGA and R&A back down now because they waited too long to correct this loophole in the rules? No.

 

As my mother taught me: It's never too late to do the right thing.

 

Tour players opposed to the ban say there's no statistical proof that anchoring provides a competitive advantage. Maybe they're right. But that doesn't mean it doesn't help.

 

If anchoring didn't make putting easier, then why do it?

 

Fact is, anchoring the club against their bodies helps golfers on nerve-wracking putts, steadies their hands, cures the yips. It gives shaky putters one less thing to worry about, because it eliminates one more part of the stroke that could go wrong. It's provides an unfair edge.

 

That's what the rules makers want to address.

 

What happens if the ban is enacted in 2016? Will the PGA Tour go its own way and play by its own set of rules? And what happens at the U.S. Open and British Open, run by the USGA and R&A?

 

What will The Masters do?

 

"It's an interesting dynamic," said Bradley, who lives nearby in Jupiter. "I know the USGA is looking out to protect the game and do what's best for the game, but I think they need to sit back and listen to what some of these big organizations are saying."

 

Problem is, these big organizations are saying my mom was wrong — that it is too late to do the right thing, that we should continue to ignore a flawed rule, that they might even go their own way if

they can't bully the USGA and R&A to get what they want.

 

And if they do that?

 

If the USGA and R&A ban anchoring and the PGA Tour bucks history and doesn't?

 

Then Bradley has no right to bellyache.

 

Then it's cheating.

 

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