Martin Dempster: Anchoring should have been banned 30 years ago

Keegan Bradley is not cheating by using a long putter
Keegan Bradley is not cheating by using a long putter
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AN ODDBALL with the closest thing we’ve ever seen in golf to an obsessive compulsive disorder, maybe.

But please don’t be fooled into thinking Keegan Bradley is a cheat, as one idiotic spectator implied during Tiger Woods’ end-of-season soiree in California at the weekend.

For the first time in his career, Bradley found himself heckled, the spectator in question clearly suggesting the American was breaking golf’s rules by using a belly putter, as he did to splendid effect to win the USPGA Championship last year.

The unfortunate incident came in the wake of last week’s joint-announcement by the game’s two rulemakers, the R&A and the USGA, about their proposal to ban anchoring as part of a putting stroke, leaving Bradley, among others, with a major headache.

He’s no cheat, though. That the option of using a belly or long putter has been available to him to this point in his career isn’t his fault. And, if he wants to keep using one until the day before the proposed ban comes into effect, at the beginning of 2016, then he is entitled to do so.

The action being taken now by the R&A and USGA, however, is a classic case of trying to lock the stable door after the horse has bolted. It staggered me when Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director, said anchoring had been “around in golf for 30 years”.

It left me feeling angry when he then admitted the R&A and USGA were “not keen on anchoring” from the start but, at that time, “did not feel that a Rules change was necessary”.

What has made them change their opinion is that, whereas players once turned to long or belly putters when they felt there was no other option open to them, having lost all confidence with a 
traditional “flat stick”, the likes of Bradley and Webb Simpson, a fellow major winner in 
recent times, have been 
encouraged to wield them at an early age.

It is probably right to assume the R&A and USGA had already made up their minds but, when 14-year-old Chinese Guan Tianlang won the recent Asian Amateur with a belly putter in his bag, thus earning a place in the record books next spring when he becomes the youngest-ever competitor in the US Masters, that was surely the final nail in the coffin. While that well-coined saying “drive for show, putt for dough” will always prove correct, players like Bradley and Simpson – Tianlang, too – should be able to either adapt their styles using the putters they have now, as the implements themselves are not going to be banned, or become comfortable with a traditional model in their hands by 
knuckling down to some hard graft.

While it is 30 years too late, the proposed action is, indeed, correct for the “good of the game” and, viewing things purely from a Scottish perspective, I can see little to back up the PGA of America’s belief that banning the use of anchoring will have an effect on “people’s enjoyment of golf and the overall growth of the game”.

Sam Torrance, of course, has been one of the pioneers of the long putter, though it was interesting to hear him say, during his commentary stint at the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa last week, that he felt the proposed ban should come into effect from the beginning of next year.

But, at the top level, Martin Laird is the only other Scot who has used an extended putter consistenly in recent years and, even then, he has said it actually doesn’t rest in his belly and, in order to obey the new Rules, he will just be cutting an inch or two off the putter shaft.

As for down at grass-roots level, there is little sign of a proliferation of long or belly putters in the home of golf. Aberdour’s Scott Crichton, a member of the Scotland set-up, tried one out this season but, him apart, former Walker Cup player Paul McKellar, now in the twilight of his career, is the only other player I’ve seen brandishing a long putter in one of our top amateur events.

Unless I’m badly mistaken, I don’t think there has been a sudden rush either of club golfers in Scotland demanding their local professional starts stocking these putters on the back of seeing Bradley, Simpson, Laird or whoever wielding them to devastating effect in global events.

Perhaps that is because, in this country, we appreciate more than anyone else that a putting stroke should be made by holding the club away from the body. It is part of the challenge we love and, paradoxically, hate at the same time.

The likes of Bradley need to be re-educated as part of the process of change he is about to go through, but anyone who dares to call him a cheat for using a belly putter should hang their head in shame, just like those people who should have nipped this issue in the bud 30 years ago.