Anchorers Away

Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire

Webb Simpson almost won a PGA Tour event for the first time since 2014 Sunday. At the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Brendan Steele, already a winner on Tour this season, led after 36 holes. A week before, Keegan Bradley was in a similar position, in contention on the weekend and earning his first top five finish since April of 2015.

What they all have in common is change. Prior to the infamous ban in 2016, each anchored his putter. Bradley made headlines as the first major champion with an anchored stroke at the 2011 PGA Championship. Simpson would follow suit with his putter bellied at the 2012 U.S. Open. Each man had to come to terms with the USGA’s ruling the following year, giving them over two years to find a new (old) method to putt.

The early results weren’t pretty. Webb Simpson ranked 177th in strokes gained putting last season on the PGA Tour. Bradley ranked 183rd. Steele? 149th. In 2014, they were 34th, 47th and 73rd, respectively. Good putting relies so much on repetition. Those who anchor generally do so to avoid the issues that cause variance in the stroke. Transitioning back was a difficult task.

The early results in 2016-17 – the first full PGA Tour season since the ban went into effect – have been better. Simpson’s season numbers are weighed down by some poor efforts in the fall, but he was 32nd in putting at the Sony Open and parlayed a 13th best strokes gained putting performance in Scottsdale into a playoff appearance. He still has the long putter, but now holds it against his right forearm, legal within the scope of the rules. Matt Kuchar has employed a similar technique with success, as have others.

“I’m just thankful that, you know, I have kind of found a method that’s been working,” Simpson said Sunday. “I hope it works for a long time. I feel like if any change has happened mentally with my putting, it’s been that I have just tried to simplify it, don’t take too much time.”

Steele has already won this season and is currently ranked 72nd on Tour in strokes gained putting, about where he fell during good years in his anchoring days. He has gone back to a traditional-length putter, coupled with the pencil-grip modification of the claw. He also made the change quickly, not waiting until the very end of the transition window.

“It was scary at the time because I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Steele said in 2015. “Went to the belly putter just because I thought it was a better way to putt, but if I had known there was going to be a ban I probably wouldn’t have done it. It put everybody behind.”

Bradley’s overall numbers are still below average, but he is 30th on Tour right now from 10 feet and in. He, like Simpson, has kept the familiarity of the longer shaft, but without the anchoring.

“Keegan and I have talked about this a lot,” Steele added. “Basically [former anchorers] are thousands of hours of practice behind with the short putter. So that’s where everybody has to kind of catch up. So we have to out work everybody now to pick up those little idiosyncrasies that we’ve missed over the last eight or ten years.”

There is progress being made from those banished to putting purgatory to begin last season. With more reps, look for those familiar names to continue having the success seen in this young 2016-17 season.

Strokes gained putting stats for former anchored putters 2013-14
(ban announced)
2014-15
(transition)
2015-16
(ban in effect)
2016-17
Keegan Bradley .254 (47th) -.070 (128th) -.631 (183rd) -.038 (108th)
Webb Simpson .300 (34th) -.646 (174th) -.482 (177th) -.311 (152nd)
Brendan Steele .121 (73rd) -.047 (121st) -.257 (149th) .212 (72nd)
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