Julie Jacobson / Associated Press

Webb Simpson - We just can't have a Masters winner use a long putter

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Making the Rounds: Governing bodies on collision course over anchored putting

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6C
Last Modified: Wednesday, Apr. 10, 2013 - 11:59 am

The debate over the future of the anchored putting stroke is nearing 72nd-hole drama, with the United States Golf Association prepared to ban the technique.

The PGA Tour, whose members play the game at the highest level, and the PGA of America, golf's most important advocate for players of all abilities, formally oppose a ban.

If the USGA goes ahead, it will be ridiculed for making a decision without solid evidence that long and belly putters anchored to the body are an advantage for the game's top players. And for making illegal something that heightens the enjoyment and prolongs the ability to play the game for many.

If the USGA backs down, an increasingly silent majority will feel let down that it kowtowed to political correctness at the expense of protecting the spirit of the game – that clubs are meant to be swung freely.

You could make the case that, in golf, a decision as to how players are allowed to wield a putter has more impact than one involving performance-enhancing drugs.

When many golfers see young, athletic players such as Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson with the end of their putter jammed into their midsection as they putt, it looks wrong to them. That's not golf, they say.

Then those same golfers pick up a long putter in a pro shop. Most need about 10 seconds to realize they would putt just as well with a sledgehammer and are left to wonder what all the fuss is about.

Lee Trevino once was asked why professionals always use tees on par-3s. He answered, "Because we play for money." Since today's pros play for a lot more than in Trevino's day, it seems if anchoring the putter was such an advantage, everyone would be doing it – spirit of the game be damned.

Tom Stine of Golf Datatech, the industry's leading market research company, estimated Tuesday that 6 percent to 10 percent of American players of all abilities use a long or belly putter. That percentage is up significantly since Bradley, Simpson and Ernie Els used them to win major titles in the past two years.

The ensuing controversy, however, has left consumers in a holding pattern, Stine said. In December, the sales of all putters were at an all-time low from the previous month since sales started being tracked in 1997.

"There's clearly a confusion about what's going to be legal or illegal, and it has stifled purchases," Stine said.

If the USGA goes one way and the PGA Tour another, anchored putters could be allowed in some events but not others. That seems to bother a lot of people.

Longtime pro Paul Goydos is on the tour's policy board. He has said more time and input are needed, and that in the meantime the USGA should back away from the issue, especially since the anchored putting stroke has been used for decades.

"I would vote for the status quo," Goydos said. "Not only is the cat out of the bag, it's had kittens."

Dry weather, firm greens

Spring greens aerification started Monday with Sunset Whitney the first area course subjected to the necessary evil. Haggin Oaks, Morgan Creek and Plumas Lake will bite the bullet next week.

Superintendents said that while a dry, cold and windy February prompted them to atypically water their courses over the past two weeks, weather had no bearing on their schedule to punch greens, which are ultra-fast and firm throughout the region.

"Windy and cold just sucks the water out of the ground," said Cherry Island's Kurtis Wolford. "We have other means to maintain greens."

During 20 years working in the Sacramento Valley, Wolford said he's had to water in February before but noted, "I can't recall it being so cold and dry for such an extended period."

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