COMMENTARY | Just because Padraig Harrington went belly-up in Charlotte doesn't mean that the anchored stroke should be saved.
The three-time major champion made the shocking switch to a belly putter for the Wells Fargo Championship. The results, albeit a small sample size, were disastrous. He opened with 8-over-80 on Thursday, May 2 at Quail Hollow to finish dead last among the 156 players in the field. A second-round 75 left him tied for dead last and sent packing for the weekend.
For at least this one week, the belly putter was of no help. But this flat-out, flat-stick failure also is of no help to the argument made by the likes of Webb Simpson, who continues to rail about the looming possibility of a full-fledged ban of the anchored stroke in 2016.
In fact, Harrington talked eloquently after his first-round nightmare about precisely why the anchored stroke should still be banned.
"I was like, 'Oh, I wonder what that looks like,' and I was surprised to see everything was better," Harrington said. "In terms of the mechanics, it was a far better stroke."
He continued, "I think it's bad for the game of golf. [But] I'm going to use everything, if something's going to help me for the next three and a half years, I'm going to use it."
The argument made by so many proponents of anchoring is that players who affix a belly or long putter to their bodies rarely crack the top 25, much less the top 10, in strokes gained putting, the PGA Tour's stat of record for putting efficiency. Reigning U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson made that argument last week.
"2 guys in the top 45 in strokes gained putting category (PGA Tour's most accurate putting stat) use a belly putter or long putter," Simpson tweeted April 27.
He continued with a not-so rhetorical question: "Is it really an advantage???????? NO."
As someone who believes the game's governing bodies are making the right decision in attempting to ban the anchored stroke, it's hard to decide which tweet to tackle first, but perhaps the latter is better.
If there was no advantage in using a belly or long putter coupled with an anchored stroke, why would anyone use it? The putters are long, unwieldy, a little more expensive because there's more material, and take time to learn. It seems like an awfully big inconvenience for gaining no advantage whatsoever.
However, it is Simpson's first line of logic that is perhaps most flawed.
Simpson is looking at the strokes gained putting stat in a way that helps his case, not the way that it should be viewed. The rubric determining the value of the anchored stroke should not be if players catapult into the top 25 in putting categories, but rather if they improve significantly as compared to a traditional stroke.
If a player gets better by switching to the anchored stroke, there is an advantage. Of course, that is not measured one round or one week at a time. It might take months for the peaks and valleys of putting level out the true advantage a player might see by committing to the anchored stroke. Therein, however, lies another problem.
Pro golf has no offseason these days. There is little time for a player to take a month or two to practice with the anchored stroke to gain enough proficiency with it to take it to a tournament with a lot of confidence. Players that struggle with putting and feel they must switch to anchoring do so because their year, their livelihood is in danger if something bold isn't done. But those players must also often compete 30 times in a season to cobble together enough earnings to keep a PGA Tour card. If anchoring doesn't prove to be an immediate fix, players are bound to abandon the evil they still don't understand for the one they might still be able to control, so they go back to the traditional stroke.
That could very well be the ending to the story of Harrington and the belly putter: It didn't work, and the Irishman might not put in enough time with it to see if it actually would pay dividends down the line.
Harrington does understand, though, that the anchored stroke must go because he sees the inherent advantage of it. In fact, a lot of PGA Tour players do. The problem with the proposed ban of the anchored stroke -- and the source of the Tour's disapproval of it -- is that it took the game's governing bodies 23-plus years to announce their reversal of course from when they blessed Orville Moody's use of the long putter to win the 1989 U.S. Senior Open.
The Harrington case should give some cover to the USGA and R&A. It probably should not have taken them two decades to decide the anchored stroke was a bad idea, but they only could have make their decision after enough players stuck with it long enough to find success -- namely the four guys (Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Ernie Els and Adam Scott) who have won the last six majors.
Ryan Ballengee is a Washington, D.C.-based golf writer. His work has appeared on multiple digital outlets, including NBC Sports and Golf Channel. Follow him on Twitter @RyanBallengee.
- Sports & Recreation
- Padraig Harrington
- Webb Simpson
- PGA Tour