Tour and News

PGA Tour Confidential: More fallout from belly ban, McDowell wins World Challenge

Photo: Charles Baus / Landov

Keegan Bradley finished second at the World Challenge despite getting heckled for using a belly putter.

Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

HECKLING KEEGAN
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: The World Challenge featured an elite field that included two of golf's most accomplished belly-putters in action for the first time since the USGA announced the proposed anchoring ban. Both Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson continued to stick their putters in their guts, and a fan heckled Bradley, calling him a "cheater." The USGA released a statement Sunday condemning the heckling and emphasizing that the new rule doesn't take effect until 2016, but it looks like the governing bodies may have a mess here. How would you solve it?

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Stay quiet. The more they acknowledge these actions, the more they call attention to them.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Agree with Mark, no reason to engage with hecklers. Now I'm waiting for the USGA to weigh in on the "Mashed Potatoes!" guy.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Seriously, they needed to weigh in after one guy heckled a player? This is the biggest moment in heckling history!

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I was stunned to get a press release on it. If this is how it works, Monty needs to back-order 247 press releases.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: The PGA Tour should not wait three years to outlaw anchoring. Do it ASAP. That way Tour players won't become targets for abuse.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I agree with Jim. The Tour should adopt the new rule right after the FedEx Cup next year, when the 2014 season begins.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: Even though I disagree with the ruling, I think the PGA Tour needs to enact it ASAP. Rule 14-1b will unavoidably cast a shadow on the guys who are still anchoring. The USGA may condemn the heckler, but what did they expect to happen when they've essentially told the world that anchoring is cheating, even if it's not on the books quite yet?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It's simple: make the ban effective Jan. 1, 2013. Adapt or perish.

Van Sickle: I'd rescind the ban, but that's not going to happen. The three-year waiting period, while awkward, is necessary to give golfers worldwide a chance to wean themselves from anchored putting, which some of them invested 10 or 20 years in.

David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: I would also repeal the ban, but that's hopeless. I think the PGA Tour should seriously consider creating its own set of rules, 99% of which would be identical to the USGA's Rules of Golf, but with special conditions to govern the game at the elite level. That would go a long way toward resolving a bunch of issues.

Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: Put the rule into effect starting Jan. 1, 2014. If the USGA thought this kind of thing wasn't going to happen, they were being naive. You could see it coming from a mile away. It puts players in a weird place, especially if somebody wins another major with an anchored stroke. The c-word could get tossed around.

Godich: Here's the other issue. If the PGA Tour season is in fact going to start in the fall, does that mean the rule is going to be changed in mid-season?

Van Sickle: Technically, yes, it's a mid-season change.

Dusek: Wonderful. Mr. Finchem, would you like cheese to go with that can of worms?

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: How would you solve the issue of fans' backlash against pros who use a belly putter?

TAINTED VICTORIES?
Ritter: Will anyone here view the championships won by Bradley, Simpson and Els – and any more won by anchored putters before 2016 – as tainted?

Herre: Not me. They didn't break any rules.

Bamberger: No they won square and fair.

Shipnuck: Nah, it's not cheating. But it is a little fishy.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: Not me. And unlike performance-enhancing drugs in other sports, I don't think that anchored putting casts a shadow on this era in golf. These guys didn't win because they had broomsticks or belly putters. They were simply better than their opponents.

Van Sickle: The die-hard traditionalists, like the fan who heckled Bradley, might. In 10 years, nobody is going to remember that Ernie Els won the Open with a belly putter; they'll just remember that he won another Open. Asterisks will undoubtedly be suggested, but they will not be applied.

Dusek: Of course not, but there are some golfers who probably think that every win since the switch away from feathery balls, hickory shafts and cast-iron heads reeks with the stench of technological evolution.

Wei: It was legal, and it's unfortunate that we're even discussing the potential for an asterisk next to their majors.

Reiterman: Nah, they're not tainted. But if I were Keegan or Webb, I'd be making the switch soon. The general public probably isn't as forgiving.

Dusek: To hell with that. If I were Keegan or Webb, I would practice with a traditional-length putter but use my belly putter in tournaments until 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2015. There is too much money to be won over the next three years not to.

Hanger: I won't view the wins as tainted, but some of those who think anchoring is cheating surely will. That's part of the problem with the ruling. It will also cause some purists to pencil in asterisks next to anchorers' victories between now and Jan. 1, 2016.

Godich: If the rules allow it, then the wins are legit. Is it really any different from the player who takes advantage of the rules on a free drop or another fair exploitation of the rules?

Van Sickle: Does anybody think all those wins by players using square grooves in the '80s or early '90s are suspect? Nah. Nobody cares.

Hanger: But this is different. It's not a piece of equipment that everybody was using. It's a method that's now been deemed, basically, to be outside the norms of the game. Again, I disagree with this stance, but those who think anchoring is cheating will absolutely remember those three majors differently from the rest.

Reiterman: And let's not forget, every time a player is in contention with an anchored putting stroke, TV announcers are going to keep reminding the public about the ban. Cannot wait for three years of "Now, remember, the anchored putting stroke was outlawed by the USGA and the R&A, but the rule doesn't go into effect until 2016."

Van Sickle: Remember, the USGA specifically said they had no evidence to prove that anchored putting was any sort of advantage. They just disagreed philosophically that it was a stroke. So cheating was not even remotely implied.

Hanger: They said it's not cricket, and that's the same as saying they think it's cheating. They want to have it both ways: "Anchored putting is cheating, but we don't think anchored putters are cheaters." It doesn't add up.

Bamberger: Who said anything about cheating? They are making a rule change.

Hanger: They said this thing that people have been doing is against the spirit of the game, against the way it's supposed to be played. They didn't say cheating, but they might as well have. And it's not like the wind-blowing-the-ball-on-the-green ruling; this is something these guys did on every putt for years.

Van Sickle: I thought it was funny that it was not considered traditional golf. How long does it take to create tradition? It's been 32 years since Johnny Miller first used a long putter anchored under his armpit in the 1980 L.A. Open, and 12 years since Azinger kicked off the belly putter. I'd say anchored putting already was a tradition in golf.

Walker: It's like the shot clock in college basketball. It eliminated Dean Smith's four-corners strategy, but we don't view those UNC teams differently.

Hanger: That's a good analogy. But wasn't that more about making the game fun to watch and play than it was about stopping something that gave the players an unfair advantage?

Van Sickle: Again, anchored putting wasn't banned because it gave an unfair advantage. The USGA said it has no idea if it does or doesn't do that. They said it's not a true stroke.

Hanger: They said that because they don't have stats, but this "not a true stroke" stuff is inseparable from the idea that anchoring is an unfair advantage in the minds of those who oppose it.

Van Sickle: I disagree with that, along with anyone stating as a fact that it's an unfair advantage until someone proves that it is.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: If Keegan, Webb and other belly-putting pros win tournaments between now and Jan. 1, 2016, are those victories tainted?

YOUR NO. 1 ISSUE
Ritter: Let's shift away from anchoring but stay with the governing bodies. Many would argue that there are more pressing problems to address in golf. I'm offering you a place at the table for the next meeting of the USGA and the R&A. What's the one issue you'd push to have fixed immediately?

Garrity: Stroke and distance for out of bounds. Unbelievably punitive.

Reiterman: Amen. It's like the pass interference rule in the NFL.

Bamberger: How to come up with a Tour ball.

Van Sickle: I'd push for bifurcation. Recreational golf is shrinking. With separate sets of rules for ams and pros, equipment makers could keep innovating and trying to make the game easier for us hacks. Meanwhile, we could take the edge off the pro game and bring back more of the skill element – a little less distance, balls that curve more, and no need for 8,000-yard courses. Golf equipment has gotten so good that is has equalized ability.

Hanger: I think bifurcation should be on the table. Why not set limits on the pros that don't apply to the rest of us chops? That would help the game in a bunch of ways, not least of which would be reining in the environmental footprint of the game.

Shipnuck: Cargo shorts. They're killing the sport.

Herre: And shirts with no collars – disgraceful.

Wei: White belts for guys over 30.

Dusek: The adoption of a "tour length" ball would solve a lot of issues. Manufacturers could still innovate for the 99%, but the classic courses could be made viable for the 1%. Plus, if the USGA and the R&A are serious about wanting to decrease golf's environmental impact, a shorter-flying Tour ball would mean shorter courses, less water and fewer chemicals.

Walker: What would really help the growth of the game is less expensive equipment, lessons and greens fees.

Dusek: Amen!

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What one issue does the USGA and R&A need to address immediately?

G-MAC CLOSES WITH A WIN
Ritter: Graeme McDowell pulled away from a small but star-studded field to win the World Challenge. G-Mac nearly won two majors this season, but he was winless in 2012 before this title at Sherwood. What's your take on the newly engaged 2010 U.S. Open champ as he heads into next season?

Bamberger: Fast backswing equals streaky player.

Van Sickle: Didn't he tinker with his equipment a bit? That, plus the sudden fame, required a period of adjustment. He's always been a streaky player. When he's in form, he's capable of winning anywhere. He will win more than just one major in his career.

Herre: I love watching him play. So stylish around the greens, and he has a great head. I see him having a big year in 2013.

Shipnuck: He's easy to root for and obviously a tough competitor, but until he fixes some of the fundamental flaws in his swing, he's always going to be prone to the big miss under pressure.

Reiterman: I can't get enough G-Mac. It's going to be hard to match 2010, but I agree he'll win two or three majors in his career.

Godich: I'll withhold judgment. He's won twice at Sherwood and also has a runner-up there. Plus, he's streaky. That can work both ways.

Dusek: It was a good year for G-Mac, and a nice rebound after 2011, so I think he's primed for a very good 2013. It's tough to put too much into his win at Sherwood, but he simply played better all season. In a strange way, I think McIlroy's ascension has helped reduce the pressure and the attention on McDowell, which should help him.

Wei: I can't gauge G-Mac's form going into 2013 based on winning a member-guest, but I guess it's promising and a good boost for his confidence.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Will G-Mac be a factor in the majors again next year?

TIGER'S REPORT CARD
Ritter: The World Challenge was also our last look at Tiger Woods for the season. Hard to believe that one year ago Woods was ranked outside the top 50 before winning this event for his first post-scandal title. How would you grade Tiger's 2012 season? Give us a letter, and tell us why.

Herre: Solid B. On the plus side, he won three times and moved up to second in the World Ranking. Minuses: Fizzled in the majors and the Ryder Cup.

Bamberger: For a normal player, A+, but for Tiger a B-. He made great strides but had weird majors.

Hanger: It's a B, but by anyone else's standards, it would have been an A+. He had three high-profile PGA Tour wins, but we all know that Tiger's seasons are judged by one thing: major championships.

Van Sickle: You have to give him an A. Three wins, and he climbed back to No. 2 in the rankings. (He would've gotten to No. 1 if Mt. McIlroy hadn't finally erupted.) A major win would've made it an A-plus, and yes, his slipshod weekend play in majors was concerning, but you can't take away the three wins.

Shipnuck: B+. No shame in being the game's second-best player. But, oh, those major championship weekends...

Van Sickle: If Tiger's a B, what is everybody else in golf who didn't win three times? That's a tough grading scale.

Bamberger: That's the point. Tiger gets judged like nobody else.

Hanger: Right. Tiger has set his own curve over the years.

Reiterman: I give him an A-. He won three times, and perhaps more importantly, played a full schedule and made it through the year without any major injuries. The minus is for being in the hunt for a couple of majors and falling apart on the weekends. I expect we'll see him in the final group at a couple of majors next year.

Godich: But does he win?

Reiterman: At least one. Book it.

Godich: I'm giving him a C. It's all about winning majors with Tiger, and he had three chances to cash in this year. Not only was he 0-for-3, he also looked vulnerable.

Dusek: I can't put Tiger in the A range because he didn't win a major, but three wins is heady stuff. That said, he was awful in the Ryder Cup, so I give him a B or B-. Hell, it's the holiday season, I'll make it a B.

Wei: B+, but I wonder what grade he'd give himself. If we're basing it on the only tournaments Tiger really cares about, then it's an F because he didn't win a major. Even if he was in the top 10, anything short of a win equates to failure for him.

Walker: I give Tiger a solid A for this year. After where he was a year ago – ranked 50-something – three wins is a phenomenal year.

Godich: I don't understand how you can dismiss his collapses in the majors. It's not like he didn't fire out of the gate. The U.S. Open, the British, the PGA: Those were all right there for him, and he struck out.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What grade would you give Tiger for his 2012 season?

THIS OLD COURSE
Ritter: The Old Course at St. Andrews is undergoing some changes, and the reported reason for the makeover is to keep the course competitive in today's game. Golf Magazine's Joe Passov says the changes are no big deal, while architect Tom Doak says he's "horrified." What's your take on the alterations?

Godich: While they're at it, they should petition to have the basketball hoop raised to 12 feet. It's just gotten too easy to dunk. Blasphemy!

Herre: The Old Course is like a museum piece. Altering it is devaluing it.

Shipnuck: It's mind-boggling. The world's ruling bodies won't do anything about the ball, so instead they're tearing up the Old Course? Kill me now.

Walker: With today's equipment the Old Course is too easy for the pros. It all comes back to the ball. Like Alan says, it's insane they'd rather change the Old Course.

Dusek: One of the things I like most about the Open Championship is that I have never felt the R&A cared about the winning score as it related to par. When the wind is up, the Old Course is tough, rugged and a challenge for ANY golfer. Nay wind, nay golf. I hope the changes are as minor as Passov says.

Reiterman: Having never played the hallowed links, it's hard for me to say, so I'm on the wait-and-see side. It doesn't seem like the changes are that drastic, but obviously there are a lot of folks who'd say otherwise.

Van Sickle: Are they really necessary? If somebody shoots 61, somebody shoots 61. If it happens, it'll be Rory or Graeme or Tiger, not Joe Schlabotnik. Believe it or not, low scoring in majors leads to great major champions. High scoring leads to surprise winners and one-hit wonders.

Bamberger: Leave great enough alone.

Reiterman: One thing's for sure, I've never watched a British Open at the Old Course and thought, "Damn, someone needs to make that course tougher." Seems the ruling bodies like to make changes that 99% of us don't even consider necessary.

Hanger: My instinct is to be horrified. Some things you just don't mess with. But Joe has a lot of good points. People have been playing golf on that ground for centuries, and it's been modified lots of times. I think the R&A and the St. Andrews Links Trust take this stuff very seriously, and they're not going to do anything drastic, right?

Shipnuck: Virtually all of the modifications were before World War II.

Hanger: True, but that's not that long considering they've been playing golf there since 1400. Now, if it were up to me, I'd leave it alone, but I'm not sure this is a travesty.

Van Sickle: They've lengthened it in the past 15 years. When you come off a lot of tees, like No. 2, you have to make a right turn and backtrack for yards. Used to be the next tee was right off the green. Not anymore.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Are you horrified by the Old Course changes, or is it no big deal?

Q-SCHOOL MEMORIES
Ritter: There's still one round to be played on Monday, but this week we say goodbye to Q-school as we know it because next year the Tour will launch a wraparound schedule and revamped qualifying process. Most of you have witnessed several years of Q-school. What's your all-time favorite Q-school story? Will you miss the old format?

Shipnuck: I'll miss guys like Rich Beem, who was folding sweaters in the pro shop at El Paso C.C. and entered Q-school on a lark. He played his way through all three stages, and the rest is mythology.

Wei: I'm wearing all black to Q-school tomorrow in mourning. All-time favorite? Here are a couple from last year: Richard H. Lee went five under in his last five holes to get inside the top 25. Colt Knost double-bogeyed the last hole and was misty as he walked off the green. He thought he'd missed by a shot until he signed his scorecard and found out he was actually inside the number. When he spoke with the press, he was still crying.

Reiterman: It's odd that this tournament has never caught on with the general public. Guys fighting for their careers, so many great storylines and so much drama. Yet Golf Channel is only devoting a two-hour special to it? I applaud the Tour for thinking outside the box and scrapping Q-school. I'm excited for the three-tournament jambaroo next year.

Dusek: For the general public to catch on to anything, they need recognizable people and storylines. Watching a guy you don't know, or someone you haven't thought of in years, just isn't very compelling. Obviously the Golf Channel has figured this out.

Van Sickle: Everyone says how dramatic Q-school is, but does anyone ever watch it? And until the last few years, TV hadn't figured out that the action was all at the cut line, not at the top of the leaderboard. Q-school sounds exciting until you turn it on and don't recognize a single player's name. I'll still miss it.

Dusek: I can't lie ... I won't miss Q-school.

Godich: You could argue that it's the game's ultimate pressure-cooker, with so much on the line over six rounds of golf. How long do you stay aggressive? When do you back off? Who around the cut line is making moves?

Wei: I guess I'm weird, but Q-school is one of my favorite events to cover. The stories and perspectives are fascinating – former major champ Todd Hamilton; four-time Tour winner Steve Flesch; Ross Fisher; 53-year-old Tom Pernice Jr.; Camilo Villegas and 17-year-old South Korean Si Woo Kim. Not to mention the guys who have been to Q-school eight or nine times without making it to the bigs.

Van Sickle: I hate that it's turning into a closed shop. The best players (like Rickie Fowler) should have a chance to play their way onto the Tour. Three spots at the Web.com Q-school would solve that complaint.

Wei: I've asked a bunch of veteran players what they think of the Tour doing away with Q-school. All of them vehemently disagree with it even though the new system actually benefits them. They say they know, but they still don't like the change and don't think it's for the greater good of the Tour. It's rare when golfers actually form a selfless opinion. I was shocked.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Will you miss Q-school?

KAYMER'S RESURGENCE
Ritter: Two months removed from sinking the clinching putt at the Ryder Cup, Martin Kaymer won the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa. Two years ago, the German was No. 1 and looked like golf's next dominant force. Do you see Kaymer getting back in the mix in the majors in 2013? How about – dare I say it – a return to No. 1?

Herre: The guy has issues, but he wouldn't be the first tour pro to return from the abyss.

Van Sickle: He tried to make a change to improve his swing and it didn't work. Learning what doesn't work for you is often as valuable as learning what does in the long term. He's better than he played this year, but I don't see him challenging Rory.

Dusek: A return to No. 1, no, but Kaymer is going to start seeing his name on leaderboards on more Saturdays and Sundays. He's just got too much talent and brains. Making that putt at Medinah was exactly what he needed to jump start his career.

Godich: With all due respect, he beat Steve Stricker at the Ryder Cup. And he beat 11 others in South Africa. Let's hold off on the No. 1 talk.

Shipnuck: He's going to have a great career. He has talent, a strong work ethic and, as we saw at Medinah, a ton of intestinal fortitude. But Kaymer doesn't have nearly enough firepower to supplant McIlroy.

Wei: I'm a fan of Kaymer's, and I hope he regains his form and contends in majors this year. But sorry, winning a 12-man field doesn't mean much to me. It's like Tiger's member-guest, but an even smaller field.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Can Kaymer be a major factor next season?

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