Anchored Putting Ban Clouds Adam Scott's Success

Will Leivenberg@@will_leivenbergFeatured ColumnistNovember 26, 2013

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 21:  Adam Scott of Australia plays a putt shot during day one of the World Cup of Golf at Royal Melbourne Golf Course on November 21, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Adam Scott has been tiptoeing on the edge of golf’s spotlight.

But that light may be about to dim, as the very thing that rocketed him to the top of the sport will be taken away.

After 13 years of streaky putting, Scott resolved his putting woes by switching to the anchored putter. Golf’s governing bodies, however, are adamant: Anchoring the club in making a putting stroke will be officially banned, effective Jan. 1, 2016.

“Rule 14-1b protects one of the important challenges in the game—the free swing of the entire club,” said Glen Nager, president of the USGA. “Anchoring is different: Intentionally securing one end of the club against the body, and creating a point of physical attachment around which the club is swung, is a substantial departure from that traditional free swing.”

You can boil it down to golf's arbiters arguing the anchored, "belly" putter strays too far from the tradition of the sport. And in golf, tradition trumps all.

Scott’s future is suddenly filled with questions: Coming off the best year of his career—four worldwide wins, including a breakthrough Masters victory, and a pair of top-five finishes in the majors—should he face the facts now by investing in his future and conforming to the 2016 putting standards? Or is playing elite golf reason enough to ride this momentum and cross that anchored putter bridge when he gets there?

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 15:  Adam Scott of Australia makes a putt during round two of the 2013 Australian Masters at Royal Melbourne Golf Course on November 15, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images)
Graham Denholm/Getty Images
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Switching back to the conventional putter doesn’t quite bring back the best memories for Scott.

With the traditional, short putter, Scott ranked outside of the top 100 on the PGA Tour in putting for six of the last eight seasons. He ranked as high as 186th in 2010, not to mention 177th in total putting. It kept him from contending when it mattered, especially in the majors, where he didn’t earn a single top-10 finish between 2007 and 2010.

Luckily for Scott, the rest of his game was so precise that he still found a way to win tournaments without stellar putting. Just not the big tournaments—the championships that forge a golfer’s name in the record books.

Until now.

Today, with his trusty anchored putter, he’s jumped over 80 spots in that crucial putting statistic to 102nd and is 62nd in total putting on Tour. Everything about his game flowed this year; he made 16 consecutive cuts, earned six top-10 finishes and, perhaps most impressively, he fine-tuned his game to peak on golf’s highest-pressure stages: victory at the Masters, T3 at the British Open and T5 at the PGA Championship.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 17:  Adam Scott of Australia is congratulated by his caddie Steve Williams on the 18th hole as he wins the tournament during round four of the 2013 Australian Masters at Royal Melbourne Golf Course on November 17, 2013 in M
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Giving up the anchored putter now feels a bit like taking the bat out of the hands of Hank Aaron. He will become powerless.

That is unless he adapts to the future—and fast.

Scott is hot right now, and you have to ride a hot streak because you don’t know when it will end, let alone how dreary the cold will be when it inevitably sets in. The adjustment back to a shorter putter, or even to the Matt Kuchar version of the long putter that rests against the forearm, might take a day or might take a year.

Scott is 33, in his prime and will arguably be forfeiting two to three serious opportunities at another major championship if he switches before the ban goes into effect in 2016.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" feels like sound advice with Scott rolling the ball so smoothly right now.

On the flip side, Scott will be 35 when the ban takes place, which is still the tail-end of a golfer's prime. Switching putters now could offer him ample time to adapt and most importantly, permit him five to seven more productive seasons to win majors. 

Putting is the most significant part of competitive golf. Ask any pro—you don't score well if you don't putt well. It’s where championships are won, and more often where they are lost. Just ask Scott, who squandered a four-stroke lead in his final four holes on Sunday at the British Open two years ago.

The stars are aligned for Scott right now, in many ways because he shook things up in his golf game back in 2011. First, he left golf instructor Butch Harmon for Brad Malone, who convinced Scott to experiment with the long, anchored putter. Scott then teamed up with Tiger Woods’ old caddie, Stevie Williams, who is undeniably one of the most successful caddies in the history of the sport with 14 majors to his name.

Combine these changes with Scott’s natural athleticism and maturity and he’s rapidly emerged as the rightful—albeit a bit overdue—challenger to Tiger Woods’ throne.

The decision may be 25 months away, but how can Scott not be contemplating his options with every putt he sinks?

The irony is crippling.

Scott has been on golf's radar since Tiger Woods was lapping major fields back in 2000. Word spread of the young, sweet-swinging Aussie who had the game and gumption to rival, if not usurp, Woods.

He had Hogan’s fundamentals, Trevino’s ball striking, and Nicklaus’ raw power. Scott even had the dashing looks of a prince from down under prepared to take the golf world by storm.

Scott’s finally found his groove on the greens, only to replace the exact club that blazed the trail for his resurgence.

According to ESPN’s Bob Harig, Scott said he would attempt to use a long putter without anchoring it, but not without voicing some warranted frustration with golf's higher powers. 

Now we're making rules for the betterment of the game based on zero evidence? Incredible. What did they [USGA and R&A] think when they allowed it? You're dealing with professional athletes who are competitive, who want to find better ways…What do they think when they've got supertalented golfers putting in thousands of hours of practice with a long putter, short putter, sand wedge, whatever? It was just a matter of time. They're going to get good.

Scott’s in a similar bind as his peers Ernie Els, Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley. They too have grown accustomed to the anchored technique and like Scott captured a major championship largely because of their putting.

But unlike those players, Scott has played with a consistency and dominance over the last year that’s vaulted him to the World No. 2 ranking. Golf experts are awarding him the unofficial “global player of the year.” He’s become a threat every time he tee’s it up.

Golf’s spotlight is reserved for those who get it done on the greens. Scott has earned his place…for now.