PGA of America's Ted Bishop is last hope for anchored putters

PGA of America’s Ted Bishop is last hope for anchored putters

PGA of American president Ted Bishop has been an outspoken opponent of the USGA's ban on anchored putting. Bishop says the ban is at odds with attempts to grow the game.
Landon Nordeman/SI

TOWN AND COUNTRY, Mo. — I remember the time when Luke Skywalker and Obi-wan Kenobi and I were sitting around the hut when we accidentally discovered a holographic recording stored in that annoying little droid of his Uncle Owen’s.

It was video of some chick wearing hair-bagels over her ears and ended with her whining, “Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi! You’re my only hope!” She might’ve been kind of hot if she’d been wearing a tiny bikini and chained at the neck instead of a recycled prom gown. I think she was some kind of royalty.

All right, so maybe I wasn’t actually there. Maybe it was a scene from that Star Wars movie. Anyway, it felt like déjà vu all over again Tuesday with The Big Announcement. A rebel alliance. An evil empire. Heroic figures unsure what to do. Everything hanging in the balance.

So hear this plea: Help us, Obi-Ted Kenobi Bishop. You’re our only hope.

This is what golf has come to. The United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club did exactly what you knew they were going to do all along: their proposed ban on anchored putting will go into effect at the start of 2016. At no time during the 90-day discussion period did I think either party would be swayed by dissenters even when those dissenters included the PGA Tour and the PGA of America.

The golf officials had already made up their minds the minute the belly-putting Ernie Els edged the long-putting Adam Scott at last summer’s British Open. After that embarrassing moment, right under the noses of the blue-blooded, no-women-allowed R&A traditionalists, anchored putting had to go.

Mission accomplished, gents, and I mean that in a George W. Bush-sort of ironic way.

Where that leaves us now is waiting for the other golf shoe to drop. The question left unanswered is whether the PGA of America and the PGA Tour will go along with the ban or fight the Empire. Both parties Tuesday were noncommittal, saying they’ll study the issue further before making a decision.

So that brings us to Obi-Ted Kenobi Bishop. He’s better known as Ted Bishop on this planet, the head of the PGA of America. And the ol’ light saber has been dropped in his court.

I don’t see politically correct lawyer Tim Finchem, commissioner of the PGA Tour, taking on golf’s governing bodies alone. If the PGA of America takes the first bullet, maybe he’ll join in. Maybe not. Bishop and Finchem expressed their organization’s opposition to the ban.

The PGA of America is trying to grow the game and turn around the declining number of participation in golf. The game is too hard, too slow and too expensive. Banning a club that a number of players use seems at odds with that goal. The PGA Tour, meanwhile, stands to potentially lose some of its star attractions. Recent major champions include anchored putters such s Adam Scott, Ernie Els, Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley.

Then there’s the Champions Tour, but apparently no one cares what they think under the misguided assumption (not mine) that they’ll all be retired or dead or both soon. A lot of those seniors rely on anchored putting techniques to compete. Maybe they can adjust, maybe they can’t. We’ll see. Since that tour is reportedly a money-loser, propped up by the PGA Tour’s deep pockets, its voice may not count.

One of my colleagues who interviewed serial anchorer Bernhard Langer here at the Senior PGA at Bellerive said Bernhard was practically shooting lightning bolts from his eyes on the matter of the ban. He’s taking it personally, as he should.

The PGA of America is another matter. This anchored ban is serious. There is more at stake than just attracting and keeping amateur golfers in the game. The PGA club professionals, some 28,000 strong, are the men and women who interact with the majority of amateur golfers. Also, many of them compete in local and regional PGA section events. Taking away anchored putting may take away their ability to compete. And for what? Because some blue-blazered purists don’t like the way anchored putting looks?

The least compelling part of the USGA’s argument is that they admit they don’t have any data or evidence to indicate that anchored putting is an advantage. Ignorance as a defense, that’s beautiful. But I get it. They don’t need evidence. They’ve got opinions and that’s good enough. They’re in charge. Which brings us back to the big question of who put them in charge of golf? The answer is, We did. One mantra I keep hearing is, It’s never to late to right a wrong.

Well, admitting you were wrong is a start. But that’s a long list of wrong. Metal woods. Square grooves. The ball. Oversized drivers. Pompeii is in danger of being buried by Mount Vesuvius ash, not to mention an approaching lava flow, and the USGA is trying to enforce a no-smoking ban. Talk about missing the point.

I am not an anchored putter and never have been. I just don’t believe it’s fair to the players who have used long putters since the mid-1980s or those who picked up belly putters since 2000 (when Paul Azinger put them on the map). The USGA and R&A don’t believe it’s a traditional stroke but if it’s been used for more than a quarter-century, I disagree. It is traditional.

The debate is over, however, unless the PGA of America and the PGA Tour decide the ban is not in their best interests and opt to ignore it. I don’t think either group will stand alone against the ban. It’s got to be all or nothing. All in or bust. That’s why I think it will ultimately rest on the sturdy shoulders of the PGA of America.

Help us, Obi-Ted Kenobi. You’re our only hope.