Clark speaks out on anchoring ban
There is a passion in his voice. What’s more, it’s hard to debate that he doesn’t provide a well-grounded and profound thought process that any courtroom attorney would be proud to call his own. If Tim Clark wowed them at a PGA Tour players’ meeting Jan. 21 to discuss the proposed ban on anchoring, he demonstrated Wednesday night exactly why.
Compelling and committed, Clark broke his months-long silence on the subject and offered praise for PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem’s opposition to the ban. Though US Golf Association and R&A officials seem staunchly opposed to the anchored putting stroke — a method that Clark has used for approximately 15 years — the tour veteran said he remains “quite optimistic” that his technique will remain part of the game.
“As players now, we’re just going to support Tim in his stance,” Clark said. “We think he’s made the right decision.”
Since the decision in late November by the USGA and the R&A to propose a ban on anchoring, Clark has not been heard, but for good reason. He chose to study the issue, formulate his thoughts and plead the case first to his colleagues. When he dissected the issue, what gnawed at Clark and what led him to speak in front of the membership was this:
“This isn’t purely a rules decision. This is a decision now that’s affecting my family, affecting the way I’m going to go about making a living. So you need to listen to what I have to say here.”
On the eve of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral, Clark had come to make his viewpoints public and was accompanied by Adam Scott. Another who anchors, Scott listened to his friend and colleague, nodded his approval and added salient points.
“I can’t believe they’re making rules based on subjective opinions and not based on any evidence,” Scott said. “We’re making rules for the betterment of the game based on zero evidence? Incredible.”
Clark, 37, and Scott, 32, said they keep coming back to this: The ability to anchor the putter has been allowed within the rules forever; there is documentation of players using it in competitive events for decades; and as recently as the spring of 2011, Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA, said he didn’t see a problem with the technique.
“Why now?” Scott said. “Why did you decide now when there’s no compelling evidence?
“Statements are thrown out like, ‘They’re good players, they’ll be all right.’ Well, hang on a second. Tim has spent thousands of hours practicing a method that is allowed. Keegan Bradley has spent thousands of hours practicing, rehearsing this method that’s been allowed. How do you just cut the legs out from us over your view that you don’t like seeing a junior putt (by anchoring)?”
When Davis and Finchem announced plans to attend that players’ meeting in late January at Torrey Pines during the Farmers Insurance Open, Clark took the opportunity to air his opinions. He wasn’t in the field that week, but Clark paid his way from his home in Arizona; that’s how strongly he felt about the issue, and several veteran players — some of them guys who don’t anchor and don’t think it should be allowed — conceded that the South African swayed them.
“I couldn’t go in there unprepared,” Clark said. “I knew they (the USGA) would be prepared. But the more we started to look into this as players, the more unjust and unfair we saw this whole thing and the more we saw it as purely a decision based on no facts, just a perception of what they feel the golf stroke should be.
“A lot of our fellow players didn’t know our side.”
Clark said he never has had a “one-on-one” meeting with anyone from the USGA, that when he prepared his presentation for the January players’ meeting, he used for research “a lot of their transcripts. Essentially, they said everything. They said it all. They said we have no evidence (against anchoring).”
When he was in college at North Carolina State, Clark, a South African, was a first-team All-American. Back then, he used the short putter. But he was born with a congenital condition that renders him unable to supinate his forearms and wrists. “It’s not very comfortable for me to pick up a short putter,” Clark said. “Really, my arms get very tight.”
He decided to try the long putter and practiced with various grips and stances for months until he settled on a method that suited him. He concedes that it felt a bit awkward, that because very few people used the technique he was “self-conscious” about it, but there were two overriding aspects. One, it felt better on his arms, and two, it was clearly within the rules and no one raised an issue with it.
One might suggest that Clark would have reason to ask for a medical waiver to continue to use his preferred technique for putting, yet that’s not what this is about right now. Clark is like Scott and many others, from Finchem and the PGA of America — which also has come out against the ban — bothered greatly by the perception that Davis and Peter Dawson, head of the R&A, oppose anchoring not because data prove it should be banned but because it doesn’t look right.
Since he’s been on Tour, Clark has seen only a handful of players use the technique, one of them being his former college teammate, Carl Pettersson. He then nodded to Scott, who sat at the other end of the table, as another who has come along and used the method.
“An epidemic?” Clark said, shaking his head, knowing that data clearly support his side of the argument that very few players prefer the technique.
Since for years both the conventional method of using the short putter and the technique of anchoring have been within the rules, Scott wonders what would be happening if they “put the shoe on the other foot and it was decided tomorrow that they decided to ban the short putter.”
After all, research supports the notion that the short putter appears easier, that statistically the best putters use that method. What would the difference be between banning the short putter and banning anchoring, “because they’ve both been allowed all the time,” Scott said.
They are compelling comments, arguments, and points raised by Clark and Scott, both of whom have directed their simple question — “Why?” — to USGA and R&A types, to no avail.
“We just never got a good enough answer,” Scott said.
“There is no good answer,” Clark said.
Both players expressed disappointment at the European Tour, whose leader, George O’Grady, came out recently and said that tour would stand behind the ban on anchoring. Scott talked with O’Grady in China last fall, and it “seemed to be he was working along the lines like Tim Finchem was.”
Added Clark: “We all kind of felt that until a few days ago.”
Within a few days of Finchem’s announcement that the PGA Tour was against the proposed ban, a 90-day “comment period” came to an end and now the issue has returned to behind closed doors. It remains to be seen how it plays out.
“We have a great game,” Scott said. “As professionals, we have great tours, and we should be working together on this. I’m shocked that they went ahead and proposed the ban before getting Tim Finchem’s point of view. Why would they want to rock the boat like this? I just don’t think golf is at a point where it needs a shake-up.”
Instead, perhaps golf needs a calming, sensible presence in all of this. Enter Clark, a quiet but strong voice and a widely respected veteran member.
“Purely, what we have here is a different method of putting,” he said. “It’s not wrong. It’s not against the values of the game. It’s still a stroke. If I thought I was cheating, I wouldn’t be using it. That’s a scary place to put yourself, when rules are being made where data and statistics aren’t considered.”