NEWS ITEM -- The United States Golf Association this week announced a ban on the so-called anchored putter. No longer will golfers be allowed to stuff the end of an over-sized, elongated putter against their bodies to help control the club when they try to drop a 20-footer to win a green jacket at Augusta National or a five-bucks Nassau at the local public nine-hole track.
The controversial decision comes at the end of months -- make that years -- of debate. The new rule, 14-1b, banning the anchored putting stroke, goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2016. This is a significant change, a restructuring of the game, a return to the past. Howls have been heard from various constituencies, mainly from users of the long putter.
This is not one of those howls. Definitely not.
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Never have liked those long putters. Never did. Never did. The aesthetic never was good. The long putter never seemed like a true part of golf. Was more like a gimmick, a device, a contraption that should be sold on late-night television to cure disease and dementia, to slice and dice, to clean the kitchen floor in an instant and to make overweight baby boomers lose pounds and inches without even raising a sweat.
"How much does this long putter cost?" a salesman's voice in my head always said when I saw someone like Paul Azinger or Ernie Els or Keegan Bradley use the thing to some big-time tournament success. "Not $300. Not $200. Not $100. For $59.95, plus shipping and handling, you can own this miracle club. But wait! If you order right now, we will send you a second long putter absolutely free. And not only that…."
Nobody in the real golf world ever used one.
Did you ever see anyone use one?
I have a friend who works for a famous golf magazine, plays a lot of golf. He said he never has played with anyone who used a long putter. He said he never has seen anyone use one. I don't play as much golf as he does, but I do play some. I have never seen anyone use a long putter in real life, either.
(Come to think of it, I bought a new putter just this year. Went to one of those mega-warehouses, one of those golf stores where they have driving range bays and putting carpets and about a billion different clubs to consider. The happy man in the sales vest showed me putters. The choices were countless. I tried a half dozen on the carpet. No long putter was offered. No long putter was tried. Don't remember even seeing one.)
The images I have of the anchored club thus come from the television screen. The first guys I remember using it were the old-timers on the Champions tour. Orville Moody stands out. Remember Orville, the Sarge? Went to the long putter when he turned 50 and joined the seniors in 1984. Bad putting had been his bugaboo on the PGA tour, where he was a miracle winner of the U.S. Open in 1969, but never had won another event. Now he won three of his first five senior tournaments, won 11 in all before he retired.
His success was noticed on that senior tour. If it worked for him, why wouldn't it work for somebody else? The long putter, or its somewhat shorter cousin, the belly putter, became the magic cure for yips and tremors, one of the major problems of older golfers. If the curious size, the ungainly putting style, made people think of mustard plasters and metal walkers and the idea that maybe a set of Depends was underneath those snappy sans-a-belt slacks, so be it. Results were results. Results were worth the loss of golf dignity. Ask a bunch of senior players through the years. Ask Bernhard Langer today, ask Fred Couples.
If the club had stayed on the Champions Tour, a concession to age like shorter tees, golf carts and large bottles of Just For Men hair coloring, perhaps the debate about its legality never would have developed. Old guys! Big putters! Of course! The transition to the PGA tour, first in fits and starts, an Azinger here, a Rocco Mediate there, guys scuffling on the edges of the money list, followed by the long-putter explosion in recent years, brought the use of the club under further examination.
Starting when Bradley won the PGA championship in 2011, 25 years old, a kid from nowhere, the value of the anchored putter has jumped immeasurably. Bill Haas won the Tour Championship at the end of that season, the fifth win for someone with an anchored putter in seven weeks on the tour. Matt Kuchar then won the Players early in 2012. Webb Simpson then won the U.S. Open. Ernie Els won the British Open. Then Australian Adam Scott won the Masters this year, the fourth player in the past six majors to win with an anchored putter.
The sudden thought was that the long putter was the better putter.
Was this the future of golf?
Nobody could accuse any of these players of cheating, because they weren't, but they looked like they were cheating. The winners of the major tournaments of golf didn't look like the golfers at the local country club or municipal layout. They used a different club, a different stroke, from the rest of the golf world. They seemed like finders of loopholes, readers of fine print, cutters of corners.
"Now I can see why they want to make this one illegal," old-timer Lee Trevino, never a user of a belly putter during his long career, told the Golf Channel this week after he tried one at a Legends of Golf event. "It's like cheating. I swear to God. This is the easiest thing I've ever seen to putt with, that belly putter."
In November, the USGA announced its plan to ban the anchored putting stroke. After extended study, much debate, especially from commissioner Tim Finchem of the PGA, it announced this week that the ban would go into effect. The putter is meant to be swung away from the body, same as the other clubs in the bag. The gimmick is a gimmick no more. No doubt there will be lawsuits and more arguments in the future, more to follow on this story until January of 2016, but good so far for the USGA.
Never have liked those long putters.