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Anchors away!

So, hands up all of you who asked for a long- or belly-putter for Christmas? Right, well don’t get too attached to it (Ho! Ho! Ho!). Okay, I hear you. We shouldn’t mock the afflicted. Especially at this time of year. And you’re right, putting is no laughing matter.

Trust me, I’m well qualified to comment. In fact, I have the mental scars to prove it. I know what it feels like to stand over an apparent tiddler, gimme-length to most, and suffer a crisis of confidence that makes rolling the ball those miserly few feet into the hole with anything resembling a positive stroke a 50:50 shot, at best.

Worst-case scenario? There have been times when the situation, the pressure, the weight of expectation has been such that I have been relieved just to make what at least appeared to be a halfdecent attempt to move the ball in the direction of the hole, never mind that it had zero chance of actually going in. In those days, I putted right-handed.

Salvation emerged after playing a season of foursomes alongside former Walker Cup player, Peter Hedges, in the early 1990s. We were partners for Langley Park, in Kent, and Peter – one of the most naturally gifted golfers of his generation – played the game right-handed but putted left.

He used a fairly short putter, a Ping Anser, I think; his stroke was rock-solid, and he rolled the ball beautifully. Thanks to him, we were unbeaten. I was sold. That was 20 years ago, and I have putted left-handed ever since. On occasion quite well. Naturally left handed, I don’t find the process of aiming the face and setting up on the ‘other’ side of the ball to be particularly alien – but here’s the crux of the matter: in turning my stroke around 180 degrees, I wiped the slate clean and was able to focus with a fresh perspective. I didn’t have a memory bank full of missed opportunity, and my train of thought was positive. I found that I was able to release the putter through the ball. Short putts no longer held the fear they once did, which freed up my stroke on the longer ones, too.

The point I’m trying to make is that the ‘fix’ was not actually physical, but mental. Sure, I was making a left-handed stroke (for me, not nearly as drastic a course of action as resorting to a long putter), but is was the ripe confidence of knowing – and believing – that I had the ability to roll the ball on a given line that rejuvenated my game.

While clearly a candidate for the long- or belly putter, I could never bring myself to use one. You could offer me sub-30 putts every round and I wouldn’t want one in my bag. They are clumsy. Ungainly. Patently, it is not golf the way golf was intended. A putter that dwarfs your driver is not a piece of equipment, more a piece of apparatus; it is not something you swing as much as something you operate. And now, thanks to the good sense of the R&A and USGA, the issue is at last being taken care of. On the basis of an extensive study, R&A secretary Peter Dawson summed things up thus: “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.”

Bravo. Controlling your nerve and keeping those inner demons at bay is part and parcel of mastering the game of golf. And nowhere does the game expose those frailties more cruelly – and expensively – than on the greens. Which begs the obvious question: once the decision is made, why wait three years to enforce a rule that deals with something considered historically fundamental?

The sure-fire result is that the game will enter a period of limbo, during which time anyone who happens to win a major – or any title, for that matter – will find themselves forever lumbered with an asterisk typed beside their name.

That’s progress, I suppose.

Enjoy the issue – and a very Happy Golfing New Year.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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