Champions Tour players brace for 'anchored' putting ban
With his long putter in tow, Bernhard Langer rolled in some birdies during Wednesday's pro-am round at Fox Chapel Golf Club.
That's nothing new for the two-time Masters champion.
Yet Langer and a number of others on the Champions Tour already are bracing for the likely day that their anchored putting technique becomes illegal.
“Bernhard has used a long putter for a long time now,” said Jeff Opheim, a tour representative for Callaway, “but I've been giving him some short putters now because he's pretty sure that it's going to be banned. All of the guys are going to get ready for the ban.”
The USGA and its European equivalent, R&A, voted last month to ban the anchored approach in 2016, a move that will keep players from holding the putter's grip end against their bodies. The players can continue to use the extra-long clubs, but they can't create a pivot point with anything but their hands.
Opheim, who travels with the Champions Tour, said about 18 percent of tour players use a long putter.
“The guys that use it won't transition now,” Opheim said. “They'll wait until they have to go to it, but they'll be ready.”
The USGA rule change, which the PGA Tour seems poised to enforce, has brought mixed reactions, with eight-time major winner Tom Watson among those who've supported the ban. Anchoring a putter against the stomach or chest, they say, allows players to unfairly steady their arms for tense putts.
The technique drew added scrutiny when Keenan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Ernie Els and Adam Scott used long putters to win major titles on the PGA Tour. Once coveted by mostly older players, it's trendiness grew among a younger crowd.
“I think it should be banned in major competition, no question,” said Tom Pernice Jr., who will use a traditional putter at this week's Constellation Senior Players Championship. “I think it takes away part of the skill level.”
But Pernice doesn't believe the PGA will wait until 2016.
“I think the tour will probably make it illegal starting October of this year when the FedEx (Cup) '14 season starts,” he said.
Some question why the USGA has targeted putters when other changes in technology also have altered the game maybe even more drastically.
“For most of us, it feels like they're trying to put out a fire, but they're aiming the fire extinguisher at the smoke,” said Nick Price. “They're not getting to the core of the problem, which is the ball, the driver and all those other issues.”
Price has carried a belly putter for the past two years. Gary Hallberg switched to the long putter four years ago and doesn't believe it should be banned.
“They're trying to figure out ways to slow things down with the game,” Hallberg said. “If they wanted to do that, they should get a ball that spins more, where you have to make a shallower approach to the ball. Back in the day, if you had a wooden club and were steep, you couldn't hit a good drive. So the swings were more shallow and took smaller divots. There are other ways to slow it down. I don't think the long putter is a significant thing.”
The question, though, remains whether the anchored technique provides a true advantage. Price still prefers the shorter stick but has found the longer club to be more forgiving.
“I don't practice as much as I used to,” he said. “I think my stroke is a little more consistent with it.”
Hallberg believes there's only one clear advantage for his 48-inch putter.
“It's the longest club in my bag, so when I get a drop, I could take my putter out and (measure) two club lengths,” he said with a laugh. “That's a benefit for the long putter. But with any putter, you have to work hard with it.”
Opheim had a few dozen Odyssey putters resting near the practice putting green for tour players to try, including new belly-style models that have a counterweight in the very end of the handle. In theory, the heavy handle works the same as contact with the stomach.
“I'm at the end of my career, but other guys are going to have to make some kind of plans to change,” said Price, adding that the rule change could hurt amateurs most. “It will be interesting to see what kind of innovations come out next.”