Keegan Bradley is not happy about an impending rules change that would take the putter out of his hands — and mid-section.
The first PGA Tour golfer to win a major championship with a belly putter said prior to this week’s HSBC Champions event in China that he would fight an anticipated edict from the USGA and R&A that would ban the way players anchor belly and other sticks against their bodies. Bradley, who has said in the past he would have no problem switching to a putter of a more conventional size, now says he will go to great lengths to keep his lengthy Odyssey White Hot XG Sabertooth in his bag.
“I’m going to do whatever I have to do to protect myself and the other players on tour,” the New England native told The Telegraph on Wednesday. “Everybody on tour who uses an unconventional putter has a big say in this. I hear the USGA and the R&A have talked to a lot of players about this. Well, they’ve never approached me. They should get our side before they make any drastic decision — which I think they already have.”
Anchoring has become a front-burner issue since USGA executive director Mike Davis briefed the PGA Tour’s policy board on the proposed proscription earlier this month. Observers believe that golf’s legislators will hand down a ruling by the end of the year that will ban the stroke rather than the equipment. Since such a prohibition would come in the form of a rules change, players would have four years — until 2016 — to make the adjustment.
British Open champion Ernie Els, who was opposed to anchoring before he did a Mitt Romney 180 and flip-flopped to the other side of the issue (and won the Open Championship wielding a belly bat), warned about potential litigation if the game’s governors tried to wrest the clubs from the guts and breastbones of Bradley, U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, and a host of other tour players.
“I believe they [the R&A and USGA] are going to have a couple of legal issues coming their way,” Els said to The Telegraph. “We are talking about people’s livelihoods.”
Bradley has tinkered with a shorter putter but obviously prefers the longer model that in the past was the club of choice for older players desperate to overcome the yips. The 2011 Rookie of the Year and other younger golfers have been using the belly and chest models for years.
“To say they will ban this after we’ve won majors is unbelievable,” Bradley said. “It’s the way we’ve practiced and made our living. Some players have put in 15 to 20 years of practice and all of a sudden they’re going to make up a rule. That’s harsh.”
Whatever the decision, it will not put a halt to the years of heated discussion between those who believe anchoring does or does not provide competitive advantages to those who practice it. Simpson pointed out that no tour player in last year’s top 20 of strokes gained-putting (the statistic the PGA Tour uses to measure putting prowess) anchored a putter.
“So the argument of, `It’s an advantage,’ you have to throw that out there,” Simpson told reporters ahead of the recent PGA Grand Slam of Golf.
“There’s a bunch of arguments going around but I haven’t heard a good one yet.”
Els, for his part, argued that long putters were no mystical elixir for golfers struggling with their short games.
“It’s not just about tucking it into your belly and you start holing putts,” he said. “A lot of work has to go into it to perfect your style. You still feel the nerves and you can still miss.”
Els also suggested that he and other members of the belly brigade might be able to exert enough influence to convince the rules-makers from turning anchoring into a protracted legal battle.
“This can become something they have to address again,” he said. “With all the pressure from players and media maybe they can further consider the issue.”
Should the USGA and R&A go to the mat, however, it would not be unprecedented. Ping’s suit against the USGA’s grooves rule dragged on for years before the parties agreed to a settlement.
Emily Kay is a regular contributor to New England Golf Monthly. You may follow Kay on Twitter @golfexaminer