Scott McCarron's chili was running hot after a three-putt bogey on the final hole in the second round of the 3M Championship, outside Minneapolis, last August. It would get a little hotter when a reporter approached him and began peppering him with questions about whether McCarron's oh-so-close-to-anchoring putting technique might violate the anchoring ban (Rule 14-1b), which forbids the bracing of the club either "directly" or by use of an "anchored point" against the chest or any part of the body.
The ban was enacted by the USGA and R&A on Jan. 1, 2016, and players were given two years to prepare for its implementation. The cloud of controversy surrounding claims that some players continue to anchor long putters despite the ban on the technique has tainted the success enjoyed by McCarron and Bernhard Langer, another proponent of the broomstick putter.
Rather than simply state his case, McCarron invited the reporter to the back of the practice range at TPC Twin Cities and conducted a half-hour tutorial on how to putt with a long putter unanchored. McCarron said he had done the same for several spectators who were "getting on me," he said. "I said, 'Stay after the tournament. I'll show you.' I did that a couple of times."
McCarron's objective was simple: to remove the stigma associated with the long putter in the P.A. (post-anchoring) era. The way to overcome a misperception, he says, is through education. He wanted to demonstrate that there is another way to putt.
"Don't ditch your long putter just yet," he says. "I'm here to tell you that putting non-anchored is actually better."
McCarron is so committed to his new stroke that he says, "Even if they reversed the rule, I would never go back to anchoring."
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How McCarron, who turns 53 next month and has racked up six titles on the PGA Tour Champions, became one of the poster boys for the long putter era is a story unto itself. After playing college golf at UCLA, he quit the game for four years and sold embroidered shirts in the family business. McCarron was always a long bomber off the tee, but his putting held him back. That is until he attended the 1991 Senior Gold Rush at Rancho Murieta C.C.'s North Course in Rancho Murieta, Calif., and noticed several competitors anchoring a long putter against their chest. That night, he took a PING Anser 2 putter and made his own.
"I cut off the top of the grip, broke a Cleveland Classic 3-wood over my knee and shoved the shaft down as far as it could go. It measured about 48 inches," he says. "It was too light and rattled at the bottom."
Too add weight, he applied lead tape to the bottom and poured sand from a bunker down the shaft. As for the rattle? Credit some MacGyveresque ingenuity.
"I chewed Hubba Bubba gum," he says, "and wrapped it around the top of the shaft, adding Elmer's Glue to secure it."
The next day, he took his ugly, homemade contraption for a spin and the game was suddenly easier. He won a local amateur event, reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Mid-Amateur, and turned pro in 1992. He enjoyed a solid if unspectacular career on the PGA Tour, winning three times and earning more than $12 million. He last won in 2001, and spent his late 40s doing TV commentary; he still works the U.S. Open and other events for Fox. He eyed the PGA Tour Champions as a new lease on life, albeit one with a short window. But just after McCarron turned 50, the anchoring ban went into effect.
"At first, I wasn't too happy," he says. "I could've been out of golf if I didn't find another way to hole putts."
McCarron experimented with different lengths and weights. For more than a month, several hours at a time, he practiced with the long putter unanchored. The turning point occurred when McCarron cut his putter down to 47 inches and added lead tape to the bottom to raise the weight to 800 grams. He had his best putting year in 2017, ranking second in putting average on the senior circuit (1.72) behind only Langer (1.68).
McCarron's frustration stems from the fact that most golfers were led to believe that the long putter was banned, rather than the anchored stroke itself.
"The USGA and R&A did a terrible job educating people," he says.
McCarron said he holds the club three to four inches from his body, but to the naked eye, it's hard to tell. He is quick to point out that the putter can touch a shirt, it just can't touch your body. The only way to prove it is to wear a skin-tight shirt or go shirtless.
"I don't think TV viewers want to see that," he says.
Actually, McCarron playfully shot a video of himself putting with the long putter unanchored, sans shirt, and sent it to PGA Tour Champions rules official Brian Claar to make a point that he wasn't in violation of the rule.
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McCarron says he's found a better way to putt — isn't that the Holy Grail for every golfer? — and he wants to help recreational players who were enjoying the game with a long putter but were forced to switch to a traditional stroke because of the ban. The decision to include a quick review of his technique (see photos, below) was as much his decision as it was GOLF's.
"A senior executive at Golf Channel said, 'You just want this controversy to go away.' I said, 'No, I don't.' I want to teach people how to do it. I'm not shying away from it at all. I'm proud of the fact that I found another way to putt," he says.
McCarron wants people to know that putting with a long putter unanchored is a viable, legitimate option for getting the ball in the hole. He says it took 1,500 hours of training to master this technique. His putter proved more foe than friend during the first couple months he employed his new method, and he even competed in a few tournaments in early 2016 using a short putter with a claw grip. Once he made the plunge and cut his trusty long putter from 49 to 47 inches, added weight, and kept his left arm parallel to the ground (see instruction, below), he knew he had something.
"I don't write the Rules; I play by them. My method is perfectly legal," McCarron says. "So get your long putter out of the closet, dust it off and give it a try."