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Inside the Stats: The Anchored Putter

By: Nick Bonfield | Mon 26 Nov 2012 | Comments


Ever since Keegan Bradley won the 2011 PGA Championship, the debate over the legality and legitimacy of using the anchored putter has grown and grown. Subsequent victories from Webb Simpson at the US Open and Ernie Els at the Open have added further weight to the argument. So much so, in fact, that the R&A and USGA have decided to return once more to the issue, with a statement expected before the end of the year.

Tedious

I wrote my first piece of on the anchored putter more than 12 months ago and, frankly, the subject is becoming rather tiresome. Those against argue that anchoring the club to the body creates a third point of contact and takes the hands out of the stroke. True, although nothing in the rules of golf states this is implicitly illegal. Those that don’t see an issue with the belly putter, like me, argue its role has been highly overemphasised; that it isn’t some robotic implement that guarantees success; that it comes at the expense of feel and that, if it’s so great, people should start using one instead of complaining about the advantages it brings to others.

For/against?

I also believe there is a psychological element to the debate. As is the case with other spheres of life, it is easy to complain about someone who is enjoying success, especially when you aren’t yourself. It is interesting to consider some of the people that have spoken out against the belly putter in recent times. Tiger Woods - who has lost his legendary putting touch since returning from the golfing wilderness - to name one. Padraig Harrington - who hasn’t won a tournament since August 2008 (the Grand Slam of Golf doesn’t count) and has putted diabolically this season - to name another. When was the last time you heard Luke Donald or Steve Stricker speak out against the longer versions of the putter? They are far too good at putting to concern themselves with the debate.

Objective analysis

Regardless of stance, it is time to see some form of concrete resolution. It’s important we stop this tedious discussion from commanding so much of our time and attention. But what should the resolution be? Subjectivity hasn’t vindicated any side of the argument, so let’s take an objective look at the statistics to see what conclusions they offer up.  

The top 20 of the Official World Golf Ranking (bold denotes belly putter/anchored putter usage):

Rory McIlroy

Luke Donald

Tiger Woods

Lee Westwood

Adam Scott

Louis Oosthuizen

Justin Rose

Jason Dufner

Webb Simpson

Brandt Snedeker

Bubba Watson

Phil Mickelson

Ian Poulter

Steve Stricker

Keegan Bradley

Nick Watney

Matt Kuchar

Dustin Johnson

Peter Hanson

Ernie Els

Only two of the world’s top ten use longer versions of the putter. Webb Simpson has reached that position because of his proficient all-round game, not solely because of his putting. Indeed, he ranked outside the top 100 on the PGA Tour in putting from 5-10 feet and putting from 15-20 feet in 2012. Interestingly, though, he was 16th in the all-around ranking. In addition, Adam Scott, the highest-ranked exponent of the long putter, was 148th on tour in strokes gained – putting this season.

 

Top 20 in strokes gained – putting on the PGA Tour:

Brandt Snedeker

Jonas Blixt

Luke Donald

Brian Gay

Bryce Molder

Martin Flores

Derek Lamley

Aaron Baddeley

Zach Johnson

Phil Mickelson

Bo Van Pelt

Y.E. Yang

Gavin Coles

Ben Curtis

Jason Day

Jimmy Walker

Greg Chalmers

Brendon Todd

Ben Crane

Jim Furyk

None of the players in the top 20 of this category use a variation of the long putter. Carl Petterson, who uses a long putter, is 21st in the list. Keegan Bradley, at 27th, is the highest-ranked user of the belly putter.

 

Top 20 on European Tour in Average Putts Per Round:

Marcus Fraser

Rikard Karlberg

Tyrone Ferreira

Luke Donald

Peter Hanson

Robert Karlsson

Sam Walker

Brett Rumford

Daniel Gaunt

George Coetzee

Lee Westwood

Marc Warren

Matteo Manassero

Mikael Lundberg

Ashley Hall

David Lynn

Jamie Elson

Lloyd Saltman

Richard Bland

Roppe Kakko

On the European Tour, Brett Rumford, who uses a long putter, is the only player in the top 20 to wield such a model. There are no belly putters.

 

The top 20 PGA Tour money leaders 2012:

Rory McIlroy

Tiger Woods

Brandt Snedeker

Jason Dufner

Bubba Watson

Zach Johnson

Justin Rose

Phil Mickelson

Hunter Mahan

Keegan Bradley

Matt Kuchar

Jim Furyk

Carl Petterson

Luke Donald

Louis Oosthuizen

Ernie Els

Webb Simpson

Steve Stricker

Dustin Johnson

Robert Garrigus

Keegan Bradley is 27th in Strokes Gained – Putting, and uses the belly very well. But would he be 11th on the money list if he wasn’t 11th in total driving and first in the All-Around ranking?

Ernie Els owes his position on the money list to triumph at the Open. At Royal Lytham and St Annes, he ranked outside the top 50 in putting of all those that made the cut. He did, however, hit 79% of greens in regulation.

Perhaps it’s because of my previous opinion of the anchored putter, but, to me, the stats seem to suggest there is no discernible advantage in employing one of these models. The fact is they aren’t currently illegal, and I’m concerned prospective change would be centred on popular opinion, rather than concrete statistics and empirical evidence.

Perception v. reality

Granted, it isn’t ideal to see young golfers – such as 14-year-old Guan Tian-lang, who will compete at the Masters next year - using the anchored putter, but everyone has the right to experiment with something they believe will make them better. As we know, though, there is a huge difference between perception and reality. People often neglect to talk about players like Phil Mickelson, who returned to the conventional putter after seeing no benefit with the belly. He is currently 11th in the PGA Tour putting stats – is he there because of equipment, or because of a fundamental desire to better himself? Similarly, no one ever talks about the time Keegan Bradley four-putted from 20 feet on Doral’s 10th green to fall out of contention at the WGC-Cadillac.

The reality is there are arguments for both sides, and I’m not here to stoke the fire on a debate that has already run its course. As a golf fan, all I want to see is a quick resolution. Such amazing golf is being played every week by players all around the world, making the sport as exciting as it has ever been. This is what we should be focusing on, not a piece of equipment that, in the grand scheme of things, makes minimal difference.

 

 

 


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