The Stats Don’t Support The Long Putter Ban
The USGA and R&A decided last November to ban the use of the anchoring technique that is essential in the use of the long putter. The thinking behind the ban is that the ability to anchor the putter to the body creates an unfair advantage for the golfer. For the purpose of this article, we will ignore the fact that every golfer could use this putter if they so desired and that you would think every golfer would use this putter if it provided a distinct advantage. Instead, we’ll take a look at the stats on a few of the more prominent names mentioned while the ban has been discussed.
The main argument that I continue to see regarding this rule change is that three of the last five winners of golf’s major tournaments all used long putters. When looking at the history of golf, that is an incredibly small sample, a painfully obvious point we will ignore with hope of making an even stronger point on the issue.
When looking back at the last five major champions, Keegan Bradley at the PGA Championship, Webb Simpson at the U.S. Open and Ernie Els at the British Open all used long putters. Conventional wisdom would lead one to believe that if the advantages of the long putter are so obvious that a new rule has to be created, then these golfers would be among the best in golf on the greens. When looking at the stats, we find that isn’t exactly the case.
The statistical metric that measures and ranks the most effective putters on the tour is the “strokes gained-putting” category. This stat measures the number of putts a golfer takes based on the PGA Tour average. The strokes gained is the number of strokes the golfer gained on the field per round. With basing the number on the PGA Tour average of putts, this category takes into account the distance of each putt. So basically, if your short game is top notch and you are constantly sticking it within five feet of the cup, this category will not be skewed.
Looking back at the last three years, Bradley, Els and Simpson weren’t able to crack the top 25 in the strokes gained-putting category. In fact, in 2012 Bradley finished the season at 27th, Simpson at 54th, and Els at 112th. Now, when you are touting a math heavy statistical category to rank the best putters on the tour, you would expect the same golfers that are getting an advantage from their putter to at least be relevant in the standings.
Another golfer that has become an opponent of the anchoring ban is Tim Clark, who is unable to turn his wrists and has spent his entire career using a long putter. Clark blew up the greens in 2012, finishing 123rd on the PGA Tour in the strokes gained-putting category.
Adam Scott, another user, has not been able to crack the top 140 best putters on the tour in last two years.
These golfers may or may not need to make change of their putting style based on their lack of performance, but to say that they are in some way gaining an advantage is ludicrous. Instead of punishing Bradley, Simpson and Els for winning a cluster of majors, they ought to be applauded for overcoming what appears to be a weakness in their game.