Anchoring Ban Impacting Some Players More than Others
This January, the long-awaited USGA and R&A ban on anchored putting strokes went into force. We are only three short months into the ban, but we are already seeing evidence of how the ban has impacted some players more than others.
Adam Scott and Bernhard Langer are two of the more notable players that have been successful in the post-anchor ban era. That probably shouldn’t surprise us. Adam Scott was an accomplished player before he switched from a conventional putting stroke to the anchored broomstick. In 2004, he won The Players Championship as a 23-year old, becoming the youngest to do so, when he made a 10-foot putt for bogey on the final hole. Scott continued to rack up wins and nice checks but along the way his confidence with the putter waned enough that he began using the long-putter and the anchored stroke. He won the 2014 Masters with it and seemed more comfortable on the greens than he’d been with the conventional stroke and short putter.
Despite all the dire predictions that faced Scott in 2016, he’s come out of the gates fast, winning both the Honda Classic and the WGC Cadillac Doral Championship. While he’s not among the elite with regard to putting this year, he is avoiding three putts and stroking it solidly enough to take advantage of a lot of good shots. That’s why he’s winning.
Two other PGA players everyone’s keeping close eyes on are Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley. Simpson and Bradley are two other players, besides Scott, who won major championships (a U.S. Open for Simpson and a PGA Championship for Bradley) using anchored-strokes. While Scott has managed to not just survive, but thrive under the new rules, Simpson and Bradley are struggling.
Bradley has been one of America’s best players the past five seasons. Besides his PGA Championship win, Bradley is a two-time member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team and also played on a President’s Cup squad. For the past five years, he’s more or less been one of the top 25 players in the world.
Then 2016 happened. Bradley currently ranks 134th in the FedEx Cup point standings. His world ranking has fallen to 93rd and is dropping quickly. Through the Valspar Championship, Bradley was taking 1.2 strokes more per round on the greens than he was during the 2015 season. Bradley’s only made 3 of 9 cuts this season, with a single top 10 and less than $260,000 in earnings.
Webb Simpson’s situation is equally dire. While we should probably avoid overreacting just a dozen or so tournaments into the new year, Simpson is in such a funk his existence as a PGA Tour player is likely at risk if he continues to perform the way he has the first three months of the season. Last year Simpson was gaining 0.3 strokes on the green vs. his PGA Tour peers, this season he’s losing 0.7 strokes.
One thing worth noting about Scott’s transition vs. Bradley and Simpson is their personal histories. Scott putted conventionally for a number of seasons before switching to an anchored stroke out of frustration, whereas Bradley and Simpson have employed anchored-strokes for most of their careers. The old adage – it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks just might be true.
Speaking of old dogs, Bernhard Langer was another player who benefited tremendously from the long putter. Langer famously battled the yips off and on for decades and has constantly experimented over the years with different length putters, different putting grips and different putting strokes. While not as dominant as he has been, Langer did manage to win on the Champions Tour just a few events into the new season.
Langer and Scott had the ability to channel the traditional putting stroke back into their games. Bradley and Simpson have work to do. Both players have said that essentially thousands of hours on the putting green have been thrown out the window by the rule change. They are learning to crawl all over again. The big question is if they can learn quickly enough to preserve their places among golf’s elite professionals.