PGA Tour pros react to belly putter debate

2013-02-26T18:00:00Z PGA Tour pros react to belly putter debateMcClatchy Tribune News Service Herald-Review.com
February 26, 2013 6:00 pm  • 

ATLANTA - Few things in golf can cause as much disagreement as the debate on the anchored putter.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said over the weekend that his group disagrees with the stance taken by the game's rulemakers, the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Club, who said recently that anchored putters shouldn't be allowed in golf.

By anchoring a putter, a part of the club is pressed against the body. Doing so theoretically provides an advantage compared to the traditional free-swinging style of putting because the hands don't have to support the club while at the same time guiding the swing. The USGA and R&A have discussed banning that anchored style, made famous by Webb Simpson in winning last year's U.S. Open and Keegan Bradley in winning the 2011 PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, by 2016.

The PGA Tour's disagreement follows similar opinions already expressed by the PGA of America.

A small sampling of players are split on the issues, which involve the use of the putter as well as who decides the rules of golf.

Former Georgia Tech greats Cameron Tringale and Roberto Castro said they agree with the theory of the ban, but they support the PGA Tour's decision.

"Do I think they (players who use one) are cheating? No," Castro said. "Do I think they are taking advantage? I don't know." Troy Matteson, who used a belly putter competitively a few years ago before switching back, said there is no evidence that shows the anchored style puts the ball into the hole any easier than the traditional style.

"If it was really the way to putt, you'd see everybody using it," the former Tech standout said, pointing out that Phil Mickelson tried a long putter for a short time before discarding it. Former Masters champ Zach Johnson tweeted a similar sentiment Monday.

The players declined to speculate on what will happen if the USGA, which runs the U.S. Open, and the R&A, which runs the British Open, follow through on the ban. Would the affected players skip two of the season's majors rather than switch for a week - or permanently - to a traditional putter? Will Augusta National stick with the "rules of golf" and also ban the anchored style in the Masters? Matteson said the players were briefed on the USGA's decision before the tournament at Torrey Pines in January. He said it was evident that were some issues to be ironed out, including the difference between anchoring a putter (deemed potentially unacceptable) and bracing a putter up the left forearm (acceptable). The latter is the style used by Matt Kuchar, which he used in winning the Match Play Championship on Sunday.

That was one of several reasons that he believes the PGA Tour decided to go against the USGA and R&A.

"It's not surprising that the Tour is taking the stance they are taking," Matteson said. "It's a very logical stance. They put a lot of thought into it. You either have to ban them all, or don't do anything." Other reasons included the image of players like Bradley and Simpson, who have used that style of putter for years.

"A lot of it comes down to being labeled as cheaters, or not playing in accordance with the rules," Matteson said.

"The players that had been doing it a long time were still getting portrayed in a negative light." Tringale believes that anchoring a putter, which frees the hands from holding the club, does provide an advantage, even if there aren't yet stats to prove the belief. Castro said the nature of the game is to freely control the club without it being anchored.

"One of the biggest parts of golf at this level is dealing with the nerves and dealing with that pressure when your hands are shaking," said Tringale, who is No. 83 in putts per round (29.14) this year.

Matteson used a belly putter two years ago at Torrey Pines and tied for ninth-place at the course. He credited the putter with helping him achieve that score.

He followed by missing the cut in three of his next four tournaments, illustrating why he thinks anchored putters don't provide an advantage.

"Sometimes it seemed as easy as can be," said Matteson, who is No. 42 in putts per round (28.64) on the PGA Tour this year. "Other times it was like you can't get it into the hole no matter what you do."

Like Matteson, Stewart Cink has used both putters. He has been among the leaders in putts-per-greens in regulations using the anchored putter as well as the traditional putter.

He said until there's evidence that shows the anchored putter works better, it shouldn't be banned, calling attempts to do so "unfounded." However, he said that the PGA Tour should follow the rules of golf as set forth by the governing bodies.

"If the USGA goes forward with the ban, I think the Tour should ban it," he said. "I hope the USGA and R&A reconsider."

Copyright 2015 Herald-Review.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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