The long and short of it
Webb Simpson says he's preparing for the eventual day they take the long putter out of his hand
Published on Friday, Aug. 10, 2012 10:37AM EDT
LONG AND SHORT OF IT: If golf decides to ban long putters, U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson will be ready.
Simpson said Wednesday he ordered two Scotty Cameron putters that are conventional length and has been practicing with them at home in case the Royal & Ancient Golf Club and U.S. Golf Association decide later this year that anchoring a club to the body will not be allowed.
Neither organization has said which way they are leaning.
“I don't want to be surprised by it,” Simpson said. “I'm almost kind of telling myself to expect it, and we'll see what happens.”
Simpson has been using a belly putter for years, and when he won the U.S. Open at Olympic Club, he became one of three major champions to use such a belly putter in the last year. Keegan Bradley won the PGA Championship last year, and Ernie Els won the British Open last month. Els rallied from a six-shot deficit on the last day to beat Adam Scott, who uses a long putter that he anchors near his sternum.
R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said the day after the British Open that long putters were “firmly back on the radar” of the governing bodies, and that a decision is expected in “months rather than years.” Dawson said discussions were centered on the rules of golf, instead of an equipment decision. If a change fell under the rules, it could not be enacted until 2016. The rules are changed every four years.
“This decision has not been taken,” Dawson said. “Please don't think that it has.”
Simpson and Bradley are considered good putters who happen to use the belly putter. There have been questions over players who are not considered good putters — Els has struggled in recent years, as has Scott — gaining an advantage.
Former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell — who holed his share of clutch putts in 2010 at the Ryder Cup, U.S. Open and in beating Tiger Woods late in that year — said he has spoken to USGA executive director Mike Davis.
“They feel their research has shown that putting under pressure down the stretch on the back nine on Sunday, when you can anchor the putter to a part of your body, that just takes one extraneous movement out of the putting stroke. Putting under pressure with that type of putter is easier. ... But having said that, if it was so easy, everyone would be using one, you know? They have their advantages and disadvantages. It just so happens that a lot of very good players in the world now are using long putts.
“Let's level the playing field again,” McDowell said. “Let's get everyone with a short putter back in the bag as the game is meant to be played.”
Some players would argue that it took them years of practice with the long putter. Carl Pettersson, for example, has used a long putter his entire PGA Tour career.
Simpson suggested a long putter shouldn't be singled out.
“Do I think they should be banned? No, and here's why,” he said. “You take a wooden driver compared with the 460cc's titanium, and to me that's a lot bigger difference than a 35-inch putter to a 45-inch putter.”
He also said no one from among the top 20 in the PGA Tour's new “strokes gained” statistic used a long putter.
“To me, to change something that big and to cost manufacturers millions of dollars, you've got to have some pretty good facts,” Simpson said. “Just because some of us are winning majors or winning tournaments with the belly putter, I don't think that's a good reason to say, `Hey, we're going to take them away.’ So that's my real take.”
PUTTER PROBLEM: Keegan Bradley wasn’t going to let a small equipment malfunction ruin his week at the 94th PGA Championship.
When Bradley was practising with Phil Mickelson earlier in the week his putter broke as they were strolling along one of the fairway’s on the Kiawah Island Golf Resort course.
“I was walking down the fairway on Tuesday with Phil and I hear a ping and part of my putter had fallen off in the fairway,” Bradley said. “You know, it’s a miracle it didn’t happen on Sunday. I’m thankful that it didn’t happen on Sunday or today.
”Odyssey made me a putter that’s exactly the same. It feels great. It’s my old shot shaft in there. It’s amazing, it looks the exact same.“
ELS AND HIS CADDIE: Ernie Els has been using two caddies over the last couple of years — his regular looper, Ricci Roberts, and former NHL player Dan Quinn, who lives in south Florida and recently won a celebrity golf tournament in Nevada.
They split the earnings no matter who was on the bag, and they typically trade off majors.
But not this week.
Roberts, the South African who has been on the bag for all four of Els' majors, is working again this week at Kiawah Island.
“We all had a bit of a chat last week and we decided to bring Ricci back here for the PGA, and probably through the FedEx,” Els said. “I think Dan is going to take over when I go to Asia and play Fry's and so forth. I think Ricci earned his spot here for the PGA this week.”
KIAWAH MEMORY: Jose Maria Olazabal, now the European captain, is the only player at the PGA Championship who competed in the Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island in 1991. He and his late mentor, Seve Ballesteros, were 3-0-1 in their team matches.
Olazabal was asked for a memory of Ballesteros at Kiawah, and the story he shared spoke of how Ballesteros never gave up.
“We were hitting the ball all over the place,” Olazabal said. “I remember the second hole, the par 5. He snap-hooked the tee shot way left into the water and I have to drop it on the ladies tee, that's how bad he hit the tee shot. I hit it onto the fairway.”
The American team was in the fairway and just short of the green in two. Ballesteros hits Europe's fourth shot into the trees in the right, and Olazabal had to chip it back out to the fairway. There was water in front and behind the green, but the Americans were still hitting their third shot. It was hopeless.
“I look at Seve and I said, `What the hell are we doing here? Let's pick up and go to the third hole,“’ Olazabal said. “Seve said, `Just hold on a second. If we chip and putt, we make 7. ... Well, if they miss the chip and hit it in the water and drop it and chip it onto the green and make two putts, what do they do?“’
Olazabal did the math and came up with 7.
Olazabal said Ballesteros told him, “So we still have a chance. Let's go.”
BASEBALL PHIL: Don’t worry, San Diego, Phil Mickelson promises to leave the Padres’ baseball decisions to the baseball people.
Mickelson is part of an ownership group that includes former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley that recently agreed to purchase the San Diego Padres. The deal must be approved by Major League Baseball.
Mickelson spoke Thursday after the opening round of the PGA Championship at The Ocean Course.
If things go through, Mickelson says he won’t meddle in lineups, pitching changes, trades or managerial moves, like owners — the late George Steinbrenner ring a bell? — have done with teams in the past. Mickelson, who grew up a Padres fans in San Diego, said he’ll concentrate on community relations, something he saw lacking for several years.
“There’s been a bit of a disconnect the last few years and understandably so, where the community of San Diego has really been faithful and loyal to the team and put a lot of money in to give us one of the best ballparks in the baseball,” he said. “The last few years I think the fan base has lost a little faith in the team and we’ll see if we can turn that around.”
And how about that first time Mickelson’s sitting in the owner’s box as an actual owner? It will be “awkward, but exciting nonetheless.”
Mickelson shot a 1-over 73 and said he was close to bigger things. He’s trying to turn around a majors season that started with a tie for third at the Masters, then fell apart as he tied for 65th at the U.S. Open and missed the cut last month at the British Open.
Mickelson is tied for 66th, seven shots behind first-round leader Carl Pettersson. Mickelson said he’ll try and challenge the course more on Friday. “I’ll see if I can get it down there and play a little bit more aggressive,” he said. “If I hit some good tee shots, I feel like there’s some low scores out there.”
ALTERNATE PLAY: Ben Crane helped another alternate play a major for the first time.
Crane was the first reserve player at the British Open, but a larger-than-normal field meant two players would have to withdraw before a spot opened up. Crane decided to wait it out at his home in Oregon and had no time to make it to Royal Lytham & St. Annes in time, giving Michael Thompson the chance to play the British for the first time.
At the PGA Championship, Crane had to withdraw with a bad back, opening the way for Chris Stroud to compete at this tournament for the first time.
Stroud is friends with Crane and knew of his buddy’s injuries and kept preparing for the tournament. Crane finally made it official on Wednesday.
“He definitely waited a little longer than I expected,” Stroud said. “But I’m sure everybody else would’ve done that.”
Thompson missed the cut at the British after rounds of 74-73. Stroud opened the PGA Championship with a 73, seven shots behind leader Carl Pettersson.
BUNKER PLAY: Adam Scott said even though rules allowed him to take practice swings in the sand traps, he was still reluctant to try. Finally, Scott thought, “Why not?” and took up some sand on practice swings. The PGA of America declared all sandy areas as “through the green,” meaning players can ground their clubs and take practice swings on the sand. “I think that’s the most odd thing I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “Playing this course, that there’s actually not a bunker on it.”
“Players are enjoying the game more with a long putter or a belly putter and it should be allowed. It’s a very dangerous thing to take that away from the average golfer or from any golfer. It’s important that we remember that the game is supposed to be fun.” -- Keegan Bradley
Files from the Associated Press and Reuters were used in this report