Is USGA's belly putter ban a 'witch hunt'?
KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Carl Pettersson says the proposed rule to ban the anchored stroke for long putters feels like a "witch hunt," and that golf's governing bodies were only reacting to three of the last five major champions using a belly putter.
"It seems silly to ban something that's been around for 40 years," Pettersson said in his first comments since the U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient Golf Club announced plans Nov. 28 to outlaw anchored strokes. "It's unfortunate. I feel like I'm 16 years behind because I haven't putted with anything else for 16 years."
Pettersson, who qualified for the Tournament of Champions by winning at Hilton Head, began using a broom-handle putter that he anchors to his chest between his sophomore and junior years at North Carolina State.
Keegan Bradley (PGA Championship), Webb Simpson (U.S. Open) and Ernie Els (British Open) used a belly putter to win their majors.
Two more months of comment period remain before the rule becomes official, and then it does not take effect until the next Rules of Golf is published Jan. 1, 2016.
Even as the long putters were getting more attention, Pettersson made one of the most compelling cases to keep them. It is the only putting stroke he has used during his 10 years on the PGA Tour, after he changed while in college to become more consistent.
Pettersson long has argued that he has spent thousands of hours practicing the stroke, which did not come naturally to him, and that to start over would put him at an unfair disadvantage. He was said to be among those who might consider a lawsuit if the rule is adopted, though the easygoing Swede said he would see how this year unfolded.
"I don't know," he said when asked if he would challenge the rule. "I haven't made up my mind yet. I'm just going to sit back and see what happens."
In the meantime, he has no plans to change putters.
Simpson said he had been practicing on occasion with a short putter in case of a ban, and Bradley had some fun at the World Challenge last month when he grabbed a short putter on the practice green at Sherwood and made a 20-foot putt.
Both showed up at Kapalua with their belly putters.
"I'm not going to change," Bradley said. "I'm not even thinking about it, to be honest. I'm going to wait for the rule to pass first, and then I'll think about what to do."
Pettersson said he tinkered with a few grips during his month at home in North Carolina, though not to the point that he practiced on a real green. He also said he was not surprised by the decision, saying it became clear in the last few months that the USGA and R&A were leaning toward a ban.
"It feels a bit like a witch hunt to me," Pettersson said. "It was a pure reaction to Keegan and Ernie and Webb. They keep harping on the younger generation using them, but I think they're going to ban it because it looks bad. But you have strong arguments from other players, too."
Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker and Graeme McDowell are on a long list of players who use conventional putters and believe an anchored stroke should go away, saying it takes the skill out of putting because the top part of the club is anchored to the body.
What concerned golf's top officials is that players no longer were using an anchored stroke out of desperation to improve their putting, but as a way to putt better.
"There's no argument that it's a better way to putt because then everybody would be using it," Pettersson said. "If it was easy, everybody on the PGA Tour would be using it. So I don't know where they got that from. It's just a different way of putting."
The PGA Tour can set its own rules, and there has been speculation that when the rule passes, the tour would adopt it before 2016 to avoid the long putters getting too much attention over the next few years.
Bradley said a fan called him a cheater at the World Challenge, which prompted a statement from the USGA that reminded fans the putting stroke remains legal.
A spokesman said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem would not comment until a players' meeting in two weeks at Torrey Pines. Pettersson won't be at the meeting because he does not plan to play the Farmers Insurance Open.
"There's so much speculation. I just wish people would say what's going on," Bradley said. "From what I've heard, the rule is not going in for three years. I haven't heard what the tour is going to do. I know it's a touchy subjection. I would prefer for it to go three years so we aren't rushed into it. I think that would be the fair way to do it."
Pettersson said he was surprised not to have heard from Finchem, and that his hope was that golf officials weren't talking only to those opposed to long putters. He did say, however, that USGA executive director Mike Davis tried to call him a few weeks ago.
"I didn't know it was him, so it went right to my voicemail," Pettersson said.
Did he call him back?
"No," Pettersson said. "I just didn't want to talk about it. And there's nothing I could do."
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