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Belly up?

You’ve got to love good old Monty weighing in on the anchored putter debate. He certainly doesn’t come across as a man shy of the limelight, and, in a sport often starved of controversy; he’s enjoying his moment in the sun.

The decision by the R & A and USGA in November to outlaw anchored (or belly) putters has dichotomised players, pundits and fans around the world, and the furore culminated in the announcement on Sunday by PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem that the PGA Tour was opposed to the rule change. Finchem made his opinions public within the 90 day “comment period” suggested in the original proposal by the two governing bodies of the game, and will come under consideration once this expires at the end of the month.

But while his words have not had any official impact as of yet, it should be borne into mind that Finchem is one of the most powerful men in golf, and the prospect of different rules for events sanctioned only by the PGA Tour is now a realistic one. Surely that’s madness?

The commissioner’s views are based on the fact that there is a “lack of specific data detailing the advantages of using anchored putters”. The fact that three of the last five major winners (Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els) all used belly putters would seem to contradict this, but it’s a rather superficial statistic and a weak basis for a counter argument.

Furthermore, a look at Els’s stats in recent years on the PGA Tour does nothing to suggest that there has been a marked improvement in his putting since converting to the belly putter back in 2011. The following are under the category “total putting.”

2009 – 167th
2010 – 42nd
2011 – 180th
2012 – 91st

Of course, it is with shorter putts that the advantage is allegedly gained with this club. It might thus be more pertinent to look at his stats from inside 25 feet to establish if there has been an improvement.

2009 – 78th
2010 – 166th
2011 - 56th
2012 – 165th

Clearly, there isn’t much to confirm any revolutionary progress in Els’s putting, and if such data is indeed generalisable to other players who have made the conversion, then Finchem appears to be vindicated.

However, there are two key flaws in his “statement” on Sunday. Firstly, he discussed at length those players who have “grown up” focusing on perfecting the anchoring method.

Really? How many professionals “grew up” using a belly putter? The likes of Adam Scott, Els and Simpson all played a good portion of their careers with short putters, and subsequently converted. Carl Petterson and Tim Clark are the only two players on the PGA Tour I struggle to associate with ever having used a short putter. The latter cites a deformity in his wrist for his inability to use a short putter – a can of worms all in itself, but a debate for another day.

Secondly, he said that “sources” suggested that up to 20 per cent of golfers, both amateur and professional, use anchored putters. He failed to name these sources, and this statistic seems extraordinarily high. Let’s face it; those wielding an anchored blade are in a very small minority.

Also, why did he choose to do it on Sunday? It completely upstaged one of the most prestigious events on the golfing calendar, and that day will now be recalled as the one in which Finchem had his say, rather than the day Matt Kuchar claimed a famous win in the final of the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship. Can you even remember who he played against now? With some thought, perhaps.

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods are among many high-profile players to support the ban on anchored putters, and their beliefs are in conjunction with mine - the challenge of putting needs to be preserved. Golf is one of the only sports in which you strike a still ball, and, as such, it creates a type of mental pressure, especially with putting, that few other codes can rival.

And frankly, if their less skilled competitors can’t handle this pressure as well as Woods and McIlroy, why should a concession be made so that the gap can be bridged? It’s professional golf – there are no handicaps. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Els said it best after his Open triumph last year.

“Nothing should be anchored to your body and I still believe that. But as long as it’s legal, I will keep cheating like the rest of them.”

Stats or no stats, these guys are gaining an advantage because they feel they would be worse off without an anchored putter. End of story. And, as seldom as I like to agree with the man, Monty is right. Just because they have failed to ban this putter in the last 40 years, it doesn’t mean it can’t be banned now. It should be, and Finchem and the small group of players he is backing shouldn’t continue to fight it. Otherwise, there could be some farcical times in years to come.

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