It’s a dustup that was bound to happen, especially with Bernhard Langer continuing to be the best player in senior golf. Langer, along with Scott McCarron and a few others, still use long putters, which according to Rule 14-1b in the Rules of Golf, is perfectly acceptable so long as the club is not anchored while making a stroke.
Langer, who struggled with the yips on multiple occasions throughout his career and tried everything from the claw to holding the putter against his left forearm until settling on the broomstick shaft that he used to anchor against his sternum, decided to stay with the same club and style but move his hands fractionally away from his body following last year’s anchoring ban, perfectly within the current rules.
During Fox’s broadcast of the U.S. Senior Open last week, camera angles of Langer and McCarron, who uses a similar style, appeared to show the players touching their chests during the stroke, although it was unclear if the hands or clubs were anchored or simply in contact with the players’ shirts.
Viewers took issue, including Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee, who tweeted still images of both players in competition, images that raised questions about the vague enforcement of the rule. Chamblee then wrote a piece on Golf Channel’s website saying that the USGA needs a better enforcement standard than “player intent” if the anchoring rule is to have any meaning.
After several days of back and forth, USGA officials huddled with the PGA Tour and offered joint statements from the players and the association. The USGA’s statement read:
“Over the last two years, the USGA has worked with the PGA Tour Champions and other professional tours to support education and adoption of Rule 14-1b. We are confident that Rule has been applied fairly and consistently and have seen no evidence of a player breaching the Rule, which does not prohibit a hand or club to touch a player’s clothing in making a stroke. Integrity is at the heart of the Rules and how the game is played worldwide, and this essential value has made the game enjoyable for all golfers. We will continue to work with our partners at the R&A to listen and review all of golf’s Rules, with an eye on making them easier to understand and apply.”
Langer’s statement read: “During my 45-year career as a professional golfer, I have called penalties on myself. I believe in honesty and integrity, and I could not live with myself if I broke a rule and did not incur the penalty.
“I’m certain that I am not anchoring the putter and that my putting stroke is not violating the Rules of Golf. On several occasions, I have been in contact with the USGA and rules officials on the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions, and each time I have been assured that my putting stroke is within the Rules of Golf. I will remain open and honest with rules officials and the governing bodies, and I will continue to play with the same integrity that I’ve displayed throughout my career.”
McCarron offered a similar tone:
“I have putted with a long putter since 1991 – over half my life – and my putting stroke has not been anchored since the end of the 2015 season,” McCarron wrote. “I have logged more than 1,500 hours practicing without anchoring my putter, and the more I practice, the better I get.
“I’d like to emphatically say that I do not anchor my hand, arm or club against my body during my putting stroke. I have worked with the USGA and PGA Tour Champions rules officials to ensure that I am within the Rules of Golf, and I have extended many invitations to demonstrate and teach people how to use a long putter without anchoring. I have never competed dishonestly because I have the utmost respect for the game of golf, and I will continue to represent myself and the sport to the best of my ability.”
Chamblee never said that players intentionally cheated, nor would he. Langer is a devout, evangelical Christian who would never intentionally jaywalk. And McCarron’s integrity as a player has never been questioned. Chamblee’s point was that the rule is too vague not to invite questions.
On Friday night, Chamblee told The Post, via text, “As I said to Scott McCarron in a text, they can carry on doing what they’ve been doing. Clearly, it’s OK with the rules officials. But for the controversy to go away, one of two things has to happen: The rule has to be rewritten so that it is less ambiguous and more enforceable and/or when anybody chooses to putt with the long putter in what looks to be an anchored fashion, there needs to be some separation between the grip end and their shirt so that it is clearly visible to everyone that everything is copacetic. Then their fellow competitors will be satisfied, which many of them aren’t at the moment. And everybody watching will be satisfied, which many of them aren’t at the moment.”
Since neither governing body seems eager to take up the matter again, the controversy isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.