My Masters week started out last Monday afternoon seated next to Chairman Billy Payne on the podium in the Media Center at Augusta National Golf Club. We were joined by Glen Nager, the President of the USGA, and the purpose was to announce an exciting junior golf initiative called Drive, Chip and Putt. Some would call it golf’s version of Punt, Pass and Kick, the NFL’s longstanding competition for boys and girls.
Given the fact that the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship will take place on April 6, 2014 on the Sunday before the Masters at Augusta National GC, I would argue that our initiative might have more sizzle than any modern day youth competition. A trip to Augusta National is on every golfer’s bucket list and for kids ages 6-15 to experience this competition where the putting contest will occur on the 18th green at the Masters is incredible.
No doubt that many of the national media assembled on that afternoon were secretly chuckling about the fact that Chairman Payne sat between Nager and me who have been highly profiled as being on opposite sides of anchoring argument. Glen and I made it clear that we were declaring a moratorium on anchoring discussions during the Masters. Payne made it clear that Augusta National had no comment.
Peace prevailed until late Saturday night when Adam Scott used a 49” long putter, anchored against his body and beat Angel Cabrera on the second sudden death hole to capture the green jacket at the 2013 Masters. More on this later.
Ironically, in a week when a junior golf initiative was introduced to the nation, so was Tianlang Guan. He is a 14-year old boy from China who qualified for this Masters by winning the Asian Pacific Amateur Championship. Guan is young enough to compete in Drive, Chip and Putt. Guan made lots of great impressions last week, but gained ominous notoriety by being assessed a one stroke penalty for slow play on Friday.
In an era when many of us in golf offer lip service about combating slow play, the Masters did something about it. Many in the media defended Guan because he was 14 years old. I commend John Paramore, the English rules official who handed Guan the penalty. More impressively was how Guan accepted it all. He simply said,” I deserved the penalty” and he speeded up his play accordingly on the weekend. Hey, if you drive in the Indy 500 you have to keep up, no matter your age.
On Friday night when I attended the USGA reception, I first heard that there was a possible rules infraction involving Tiger Woods. Honestly, I had a sleepless night Friday and worried that a Tiger DQ would be bad for the Masters and golf. On Saturday, my rules assignment was #16 green, so I spent the better part of the morning hanging out at Tournament Headquarters waiting on a decision.
In the 1960 Masters during the second round, Dow Finsterwald dropped a ball on the #8 green as he walked off and was going to take a practice putt. He was informed by his playing partner, Billy Casper, that practice putting during competition was not allowed.
As Dow approached the #9 tee he spotted Edwin Carter, the Tournament Manager. Finsterwald informed Carter that there could be a problem. He had, in fact, taken a practice putt on the #5 green during round one. Masters officials conferred and they approached Finsterwald after he finished his round. They informed Finsterwald that he would receive a two stroke penalty and it would be retroactively added to his first round score.
Finsterwald had violated the rule that prohibited practice putting and he had signed his scorecard. This is pretty much the same scenario that Woods had encountered with his incorrect drop on Friday and his ensuing scorecard signature. Finsterwald went on to shoot a 72-hole total of 284 losing to Arnold Palmer by two shots. The same two shots he was penalized. There had been a precedent set 53 years ago in the Masters and I support the Committee’s decision on the Woods’ ruling.
When Adam Scott dropped that winning putt in the darkness on Sunday afternoon, he completed a unique Grand Slam for the long putter. Keegan Bradley got it all started with his PGA Championship victory in 2011. Last year Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open and Ernie Els took home the Claret Jug at the British Open. All four players were anchoring long putters.
Some will say that Scott’s victory at the Masters will probably seal the fate of the anchored stroke. Watching him win was probably as painful as swallowing a handful of nails for USGA and R&A officials. Scott is popular, good looking and well spoken. At 32 years old, he is another player that represents the image that golf needs. How will his career be affected if he can longer anchor?
It’s interesting when you consider Scott’s putting performance last week from a statistical standpoint. The field averaged 1.65 putts per green hit in regulation. Scott averaged 1.67, which was worse than the masses. When Els won the Open Championship at Lytham he was ranked 71st in overall putting. So, I would argue that the last two major winners using the anchored putting stroke did so on the merits of their ball striking, not their putting.
At any rate, several hours before Scott won I sat on the green at #10 where my Sunday rules post was located. I thought to myself, the slow play issue with Guan and the controversy with Tiger’s ruling would surely dominate the post-Masters discussion. Maybe anchoring talk would go away for a while. Little did I know around 7:30 that night on this very spot, anchoring talk would start again.
Saturday night I entertained Sweden’s Carl Pettersson and his wife Deanna for dinner. Martin Laird, of Scotland, and his wife, Megan, were potential guests until he missed the cut. The wives are part a partnership we started at the PGA of America with the PGA Tour Wives Association. Deanna and Megan are on the Tour Wives Board. Coincidentally, both Carl Pettersson and Martin Laird anchor long putters.
Early Monday morning I awoke abruptly. I sat up in bed. I had been interrupted by the Navy band playing Anchors Aweigh. Do you suppose Scott, Pettersson, Laird, Fred Couples, Keegan Bradley and others had that same nightmare? In their case it might have been more like Anchors Away…………