Ernie Els defends anchoring but may switch to conventional putter

David Cannon

Ernie Els took one for the team Tuesday when he claimed his major championship victory with a flat stick affixed to his belly was the reason golf’s rules-makers decided to ban anchored putting strokes. The reigning British Open titleholder, however, may be switching sides as early as Thursday if he decides to revert to a conventional flat stick.

"Yeah, you just might see it soon," Els told Golf Digest’s Dave Shedloski about the possibility of adding an Odyssey Black #1 to his bag for this week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Els has apparently been putting the new club through its paces of late, despite testifying earlier in the day against the proposed anchoring ban by suggesting the regulators needed to evolve with the game.

"Obviously winning a major with a belly putter, you're going to have to support that cause," Els said during a pre-event press conference at Doral. "When it's been allowed for such a long time, I just feel, why ban it?"

Els pointed to changes in the game involving grooves, balls, drivers, and hybrids.

"If a guy can't drive the ball really well, there's a driver that he can get made. If you can't hit an iron up in the air, you're going to get a hybrid made up for you. That's legal,” Els said. “If you're not a good chipper, you can go to 64, 62, 60, whatever degree. There used to be a rule where 56 degrees was the limit, so they changed that."

Els also contended that the pending anchoring prohibition would never have gotten to the precipice of enactment if he, Keegan Bradley, and Webb Simpson had not won majors with long putters in their bags.

“I think major championships is what history of the game is all about and obviously they [USGA and R&A] don’t want any more belly putter players winning major championships,” Els said. “I think that’s the issue.”

Els was the most recent of three of the last five major victors to employ long putters on the way to their wins. Bradley got the ball rolling with his 2011 PGA Championship and Simpson followed last June by cadging the U.S. Open.

Despite their plaints to the contrary, Els said his Open Championship W in July was the last straw for golf’s governing bodies, which announced in November their plan to outlaw anchoring at the start of 2016. Before that, USGA executive director Mike Davis considered anchoring, according to Els, “not really a relevant issue.

“And then we win, especially Webb and myself winning majors last year, then it became obviously something serious,” said Els, who last month asked for statistical corroboration to back up the overseers' assertion that anchoring should be banished.

“There's no data that really confirms that they have to ban it,” Els said ahead of the Northern Trust Open. “Give me something to go by to really make me believe that you have to ban it, then ban it. But I can't see them having a really great way of explaining to me why they would want to ban it.”

The USGA and R&A will likely not point to recent date from the Darrell Survey to prove their point. The numbers, according to’s Jason Sobel, indicate that use of long putters by PGA Tour players is way down since last year and that only two of those that employ the sticks (the study does not track whether they anchor or not, so non-anchorer Matt Kuchar is one of them) are among the top 20 in the strokes gained-putting category.

With a slew of additional stats covering the first two months of the 2013 campaign, Sobel concluded that, while the survey did not suggest whether anchoring should be deemed a legal stroke, it certainly provided no fodder for those in high dudgeon over the method’s supposed competitive advantage.

“When we analyze the data over the first two months of this season,” Sobel said, “it feels like the rage and ire toward the anchored putting debate is much ado about nothing.”

Unless you’ve won a major with a putter jammed into your nose, as World Golf Hall of Famer Gary Player is wont to observe. Then, according to the USGA, R&A, and just about every professional tour except the PGA, you’re going to end up on the short end of the stick.

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