By RANDY YOUNGMAN
The United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club are the governing bodies of golf, so they certainly had the authority when they jointly proposed a rules change, beginning in 2016, that will prohibit anchoring the club to the body during a putting stroke.
“But just because you have the law on your side doesn’t make it right,” tour veteran Paul Goydos, a member of the PGA Tour Policy Board, told California Golf in an exclusive interview.
Though Goydos says he understands the USGA’s stance, he doesn’t agree with the way the governing bodies are handling the change, doesn’t understand the timing of it and doesn’t like the way they are explaining it.
He also doesn’t think it is fair to those players who have used the broomstick-style long putter and belly-length putter their entire careers.
“In my opinion, they (the governing bodies) don’t like the way it looks,” Goydos said of the increasingly popular unconventional putters and the anchored putting stroke. “I get what they’re saying. But they were wrong in not looking at it 40 years ago, and they’re wrong to look at it now. When I grew up, I was taught that two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Pointing out that tour pro Phil Rodgers won twice on the PGA Tour using a belly putter in 1966, Goydos said, “Where were [the governing bodies] then?”
Goydos says he knew the rules change was coming after USGA executive director Mike Davis briefed the policy board in October during its regularly scheduled end-of-the-season meeting in Sea Island, Ga.
It was there Goydos said he asked Davis directly if the USGA and R&A believe the use of longer putters gives players a competitive advantage over those who use conventional-length putters. “He said no,” Goydos said.
Nor did Davis bring up the fact that three of the past five major winners – Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els – won with unconventional putters.
But Goydos said Davis did mention that the percentage of tour players using long and belly putters has been increasing annually in recent years, reportedly rising from 4 percent in the early 2000s to 6 percent in 2010 to 11 percent in 2011 to 15 percent in 2012.
“If it’s 4 percent, it’s OK. But if it’s 15 percent, it’s not OK?” Goydos said incredulously. “When did [the difference between] right and wrong become a mathematical function? If 4 percent were robbing banks, does that mean they wouldn’t be prosecuted?”
Goydos clearly doesn’t like all of the reasons the governing bodies have been giving for supporting the change, including a reference to younger players being taught to use unconventional putters as they learn the game.
“They threw the PGA of America under the bus on that one,” Goydos said, referring to the local club pros who give most of the lessons in the U.S.
“If they think it’s wrong, it’s wrong. Then stand up and say it – and that’s it,” Goydos said. “Why all of this discussion? … The decision always gets more publicity, but the cover-up is usually worse.”
Goydos, currently sidelined as he recovers from his second surgery on his left hand and wrist, said that Davis is scheduled to meet with PGA Tour players at Torrey Pines during the week of the Farmers Insurance Open (Jan. 21-27) to explain the proposed anchoring ban and answer questions. It is expected to be a lively meeting.
Another concern Goydos has about the proposed ban is the perception that players being forced to change their putting style will now be labeled cheaters by some golf fans.
“I told Mike Davis [in October] that he has a responsibility to the players to make sure they’re not being run over by a bus,” Goydos said.
The week the proposed ban was announced, a fan in the gallery called Keegan Bradley a cheater for using a belly putter during Tiger Woods’ charity World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club. That is the perception Goydos is worried about.
“What’s it going to be like in Phoenix?” Goydos said, referring to the Waste Management Phoenix Open in late January, an event already known for raucous fan behavior on the par-3 16th hole, where 20,000-plus fans gather to cheer and heckle competitors.