LITTLE ROCK — Prohibiting the anchoring of a long putter affects a miniscule number of the 26 million golfers in the U.S.
Once a PGA Tour player and still one of the state’s best amateurs, former USGA Senior Amateur champion Stan Lee of Heber Springs is in that minority. In his early 60s, Lee gravitated to the long putter about 10 years ago because of back problems and stayed with it. "I do it for pain," he said.
He’s on board with the decision this week by the U.S. Golf Association and The Royal & Ancient Golf Club because he is certain the ruling protects the integrity of the game, but he is offended that golf’s governing bodies will address that issue and not the golf balls that fly farther and curve less and the drivers that launch them. Marketing is the reason the USGA and the R&A will not take on technology, he says.
Because of the equipment, Lee hits tee shots as far as he did 40 years ago. "What else can I do the same as I did in college?" he said.
This year at The Masters, six-time winner Jack Nicklaus said Augusta National is the only golf course in the world that has kept up with technology that has yielded outlandishly long tee shots. Augusta measured 6,985 a little more than a decade ago. Nine holes were lengthened in 2002 to add almost 300 yards and four years later, the yardage was upped to 7,435.
For years, Nicklaus’ push for a uniform golf ball for tournament play has been ignored. Same as with the long putter, only a small number of players would be affected.
In-state, all Arkansas State Golf Association events operate under USGA rules and it just so happens that more than 100 of the state’s best amateurs will tee it up next week in the ASGA Stroke in Fort Smith. Less than 10 percent will be using the long putter and the few that do will figure out some other way to putt before the rule kicks in Jan, 1, 2016. That group includes Lee’s younger brother, Louis, who embraced the long putter about five years ago and won the 2011 Senior Amateur, four years after Stan.
The many players that invoke gimmees and improve lies in the fairway won’t be concerned with the new rule and groups that abide by USGA rules may choose to approve a local exemption to Rule 14-1b.
Lee is confident than the PGA Tour will go along with the ban, but there has been some speculation that a small group of Tour players will file a lawsuit if the Tour goes along with rule-makers.
Early this year, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said adoption of the prohibition would be a mistake, but he has also said that golf should be under one set of rules. The 2016 Tour will begin in the fall of 2015 so, rather than waiting on the Jan. 1 start date, the Tour should apply the rule early in case there is litigation.
Anchoring their putter in belly or chest, Ernie Els, Adam Scott, Webb Simpson, and Keegan Bradley increased scrutiny of the long putter by winning four of the last six majors. After triumphing at Augusta, Scott said it was "inevitable that big tournaments would be won with this equipment because these are the best players in the world, and they practice thousands of hours."
He should have noted that he led the field in greens in regulation that week.
Anchoring a putter is not a cure-all for nerves. Roll tape of Bradley, putter firmly anchored, yanking a 4-foot birdie putt on the 70th hole of the Byron Nelson Invitational after eventual winner Sang-Moon Bae nailed a 6-foot birdie with a conventional putter and a pure stroke.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.