How a long putter saved one player from quitting


LITTLE ROCK — Before a putting green was built to the right of the first tee at War Memorial Park, a hump bisected what is now the 18th green. To the left was the pin for the final hole; to the right was the practice green and our group made so many trips around the circuit that the path from one hole to the next was often worn thin.

On occasion, the competitors — usually four or more — never reached the first tee. Quarters for aces was the game and when take-home pay is less than $20 per week, you’d better make a bunch of ones or take up bowling. For years, a cut-across stroke with a Bullseye putter produced a small income supplement.

No snickering, but there was a professional Putt-Putt tour at the time and three of us even participated in a tournament in Louisiana and Mr. Bullseye cashed for about $100.

In our late teens and early 20s, we heard about the yips and laughed at those afflicted. Just nerves, we said. Happens when you get old, we said. Fifty was old then; sixty was elderly and the yips were never going to take hold.

Based on personal experience, I came around to the theory that the yips kick in when a person has reached a predetermined quota of putts. The more time spent on the putting green when you are young; the sooner the quota is reached.

Once you goose a 2-footer 5 feet past the hole, the possibility of a repeat lurks in the subconscious. Fearing such a flinch, the putting stroke comes to a screeching halt on contact and the ball poofs off the clubface like rolled-up cotton.

Desperation leads to experiments with left-hand low, split grip, claw, left-handed, one-handed.

A long putter kept me from quitting. It’s not a cure-all, but the results are acceptable and the way I read a proposed ban by the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, my use of the 41-inch club would not be affected. Not that I would ever be eligible to compete in a USGA- or R&A-sanctioned event, but anchoring the club is the issue and the butt of my club is several inches below my chin. For me, separation of the hands is the key.

Not for 2011 PGA champion Keegan Bradley, 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, and 2012 British Open champion Ernie Els. They anchor the club in their chest and that has the attention of the rule makers.

“Our conclusion is that anchored strokes threaten to supplant traditional strokes, which with all their frailties are integral to the longstanding character of our sport,” said R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson.

On Sunday, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem joined the telecast of the WGC-Accenture Match Play final to make it clear that the Tour is opposed to the ban. He said there is not enough data to show there is a competitive advantage to be gained by anchoring, and “given the amount of time that anchoring has been in the game, that there is no overriding reason to go down that road.”

Golfers are prone to tinker and some veterans have embraced the long putter, but Bradley, Simpson, and overs have grown up with the club.

If the ban takes effect as scheduled in 2016, it is not clear how the Tour will deal with the USGA’s U.S. Open and the R&A’s British Open. For the weekend hackers who do anchor, there will be a stigma.

The number of Tour players using the long putter increased from 6 percent in 2006 to 15 percent last year, but the AP says none of the top 20 players identified by the Tour’s most reliable putting statistic used an anchored putting stroke. If fool-proof, the number of users would be overwhelming.

Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is hking@arkansasnews.com.