By Jim McCabe, Golfweek
As rumors swirl that his favored putting technique soon will be banned by the USGA and the R&A, Keegan Bradley isn’t so concerned with how he’ll perform in the future.
He’s equipped with talent and self-confidence.
He is, however, fearful that what he did in the past – victories in a major and a World Golf Championship – might be affixed with the mythical asterisk, indicating he won with a belly putter anchored to his body.
“They’re some of our greatest memories,” Bradley said, his voice tailing off. “I think that’s really sad.”
Sadness is only one of many emotions bubbling to the surface as players brace for a decision by the governing bodies. Many, such as Stewart Cink, are confused. “I don’t think there is a real reason to ban it, because it’s not for everybody,” he said.
Others, such as Rocco Mediate, are frustrated. “Anytime somebody does something great with something non-traditional, people lose their mind,” he said.
Still others, such as former USGA executive director David Fay, warn of the chaos that could ensue, should the professional tours not go along with an anticipated rules change against anchoring the putter to the body.
“This is going to be such an impactful change, assuming they make it,” Fay said. “But (if the tours) do not go along with this, that would be a Dumpster fire.”
At the Tour Championship in September, commissioner Tim Finchem treaded lightly around the subject, not sounding like he was in favor of a rules change that could upset some of the players for whom he works.
“It should be done carefully, reviewed fully and discussed thoroughly,” he said.
Yet, it smacks of being a done deal. Just one month later, USGA executive director Mike Davis pitched an anchoring ban to Finchem’s players at Sea Island, Ga., seeking their support. He’d better have it, Fay said.
“If the tours did not clearly express their unwavering support, I think the rulesmakers would pause,” Fay said. “If the leading professional organizations were to ignore this rule (and allow anchoring in their tournaments), that would mean it would be in effect at the U.S. Open, British Open and presumably the Masters, but everywhere else you’d have people all over the landscape with the most important club in the bag.”
Said Ben Crane, who uses a conventional putter: “I know it’s a possibility that the PGA Tour might not go with the USGA decision. That would be weird. There’s just no good answer right now, because we do have a lot of guys who have been using it for a long time.”
That’s why Davis Love III cautioned Davis at Sea Island.
“I would be concerned if I was them, because you’ve got a bunch of guys who are going to want to fight it. Not the Tour but the players individually.”
Said Bradley: “I think there’s more for us to do than people realize.”
Carl Pettersson, who, like Bradley anchors the belly putter, has suggested players could seek legal action. Love, who used a belly putter without anchoring it in The McGladrey Classic, doesn’t pretend to know what the legal stance might be, but “the logical argument is, ‘Why did you let it go so long if it’s so bad?’ ”
That hits at a misconception that rankles Bradley. There is nothing in the Rules of Golf about anchoring a club to the body, and there’s nothing about limiting the length of a putter. Bradley was inside the clubhouse at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., when a 1930s photo caught his attention. “It’s of a guy in a coat and tie using a belly putter,” he said. “I took a picture of it with my phone.”
The photo’s significance is clear. Players will contend that the anchoring technique is within the rules, that it has been available for years and that USGA and R&A officials were never bothered by it until Bradley won the 2011 PGA, Webb Simpson the 2012 U.S. Open and Ernie Els the 2012 Open Championship.
“Some of the younger guys have fared well with (anchoring), so now they want to penalize us,” said a player who anchors and thinks the USGA and R&A are being shallow. “They weren’t talking about
this before they started doing well.”
Those who anchor (Bradley, Simpson, Pettersson and Adam Scott being the most prominent) and those who have tried it and shelved it (Cink and Bill Haas come to mind) agree on one thing: It’s no magic bullet.
“They make it sound like you just pick up the belly putter, (anchor it), and you’re automatically a better putter,” Bradley said. “It doesn’t work that way. I’d say 85 percent of the people I talk to tell me, ‘I tried the belly putter and I did worse with it.’ It’s like anything else: You need to practice with it.”
– Sean Martin, Alex Miceli and Adam Schupak contributed