Putting ban not a big hit with some

The other shoe fell early this week with regard to the ban on anchoring putters when the PGA Tour and the PGA of America said they'd abide by the impending rule change.

The reaction by some golfers was not surprising.

Bob Davidson was near-visceral. He anchors a long putter to his chest.

John Watson was disappointed. He'd already gone back to a standard putter a month earlier, but the latest news aggravated the wound.

Fred Homsy doesn't even use a long putter, but he, like the other two, plays regularly in the popular senior group on Wednesdays at Stone Ridge Golf Club, and he doesn't think a segment of his cohorts should be penalized.

The U.S. Golf Association and the R&A, golf's governing bodies, adopted Rule 14-1b in May, and it will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2016, when a new four-year period for changes kicks in.

The rule affects those who anchor a long putter to their chest or belly while making a stroke. It's been a hot topic since the proposal was made last year, and news that the PGA groups would go along stoked embers.

Davidson said the long putter "saved my life" in the 10 years or so since the Medford golfer went to it.

He had the yips — involuntary spasms while putting — so bad, it cost him a half-dozen strokes a round, he said.

"A foot and a half, 2 feet, it just eliminated that," Davidson of anchoring his putter. "You get over that short putt, get all lined up, take the putter back, and all of a sudden you're jerking it left."

He found a cure in the long putter, so when one of the 82-year-old's heroes, Arnold Palmer, was adamant in support of the ban, Davidson kicked him to the curb. Jack Nicklaus and others were less forceful in their defense of the ban, but they still missed the mark, said Davidson.

"Hell, those guys don't know what the average player does," he said. "They haven't got a clue. It saved me. I don't know what I'll do if I have to go back to the short one. I'll try it."

"If I can't do it, then I'll probably quit," he added, "and I'm getting to the age where I don't want to quit because it's one of the few things I've got left."

Watson made the change back to a standard putter because "I may as well try to stay with what they want."

The Tiller resident cited a painful back as reason for originally switching to a long putter.

"It's so difficult to practice putting and not have your back hurt," said Watson, 64. "With a long putter, you can practice an extremely long time without back pain and fatigue."

Homsy, of Central Point, believes bad backs are the reason most people try the long putters, and he's fine with it.

"Let 'em use it," he said. "If they want to use it and it feels good, I don't have a problem if they want to anchor it. I've watched it and I've played with them and I putt about the same as they do. I don't really care."

The Stone Ridge players don't think there will be a mass exodus from the game because of the rule, but they don't understand the ban, either.

Most people play the game for enjoyment and camaraderie, said Watson.

"I think people are making the decisions without real evidence," he said. "It's an emotional thing."

Others were left scratching their heads, too.

Golf participation in the U.S. has been in decline since 2003, when more than 30 million played, according to research commissioned by the National Golf Foundation. Efforts should be made to attract new players and keep existing ones rather than taking away something that enhances the experience for so many.

As Watson said, there's nothing to suggest anchored putters, which have been around in some form for decades, provide an advantage.

Yes, four of the past six major champions won with the anchor technique. But in statistics from the 2012 season on the PGA Tour, the highest anchorer in the "Strokes Gained Putting" category was Carl Petterssen at No. 21, followed by Keegan Bradley at No. 27.

Tim Finchem, commissioner of the PGA Tour, acknowledged said absence of evidence when he made this week's announcement.

Some believe the traditional governing bodies are getting rid of it because it just doesn't look right. The same thing was said about Sam Snead when he used a long putter and a croquet-type stroke before that silly looking method was banned in 1968.

Joe Dey, then head of the USGA, said in a Sports Illustrated article that was recounted by Golf.com, "The game of golf was becoming bizarre. It was some other game, part croquet, part shuffleboard, and part the posture of Mohammedan prayer."

Anchoring and long putters weren't doomed then.

In 1983, Charlie Owens welded two shafts together and made a long device for anchoring. He called it the Slim Jim and won two senior events with it in 1986.

Rocco Mediate was the first PGA Tour winner with a long putter, taking the 1991 Doral-Ryder Open.

Paul Azinger created the belly putter in 2000 and promptly captured the Sony Open in Hawaii.

A common notion is that the ban should apply to professional and high-level amateur events, leaving the vast majority of the country's players to go about their business.

Golf's overseers insist on having everyone play under the same rules, even though there are stark differences in how, where and what the pros play versus what most of us do.

The USGA, in a release that followed the PGA announcement, said, "The game benefits from having a single set of rules worldwide, applicable at all levels of play. "¦"

Vince Domenzain, director of golf at Centennial Golf Club, likes that the PGA encouraged the governing bodies to consider moving the deadline back for amateurs.

"I don't believe they should penalize the amateurs just because we're trying to keep it fun and really trying to keep people in the game," he said.

"If it's an issue in the major events and tour events, then definitely have it. But as far as the everyday player, let them have their fun and maybe extend it out another two, three, four years so they can really figure out what they want to do."

Whenever it does go into effect, there will be little choice but to follow along.

Have a local golf story idea? Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com


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