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A ban on anchors, a long way to go

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A ban on anchors, a long way to go

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) The putt was meaningless because it was the final hole of a pro-am in what amounts to an 18-man exhibition at the end of the year, even though ranking points are available at the World Challenge. But it was hard not to look at the end of the putter pressed into the belly of Keegan Bradley.

The decision to ban the anchor stroke used for belly putters and broom-handle putters was not because of Bradley, even though he became the face of a style that was gaining popularity, not to mention credibility.

Bradley became the first player to win a major using the belly putter when he rammed in a 35-foot birdie putt on the 17th at Atlanta Athletic Club in 2011 during a remarkable comeback. It was in the news conference after the PGA Championship that Bradley spoke about a number of players on the Nationwide Tour who were using belly putters. The next year, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els won majors with a belly putter.

The U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient, who announced Wednesday a proposed rule that would ban anchoring the club to the body, said the major champions were only part of what got their attention. Mike Davis of the USGA and Peter Dawson of the R&A both spoke to a spike in number of players using such putting strokes, how it trickled down to younger golfers, and their concern that the stroke was taking too much of the skill out of the game.

Players could still use a broom-handle or belly putter - as long as it is not pressed against their body to create the effect of a hinge.

``We believe a player should hold the club away from his body and swing it freely,'' Davis said. ``Golf is a game of skill and challenge, and we think that's an important part of it.''

What's next?

As for the rule, the governing bodies will take comments over the next three months to see if it needs to be changed, scrapped or whether the proposal is fine the way it is. Then, it would be approved by the organizations, though it would not take effect until 2016.

What's next for Bradley?

``I'm going to have to really in the next couple of years figure out a way that's going to be best for me to putt,'' Bradley said.

He might end up shaving a few inches off the putter so the stroke is similar, except that it doesn't press against his stomach. Fred Couples has a belly putter that rests against his stomach, but the butt of the club moves freely. It is not hinged. Couples was not sure if that would be legal under the new rule, though he could just imagine the number of phone calls if he was shown on TV using that stroke.

Then again, the odds of the 53-year-old Couples even playing the Champions Tour in 2016 was enough to make him laugh.

U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson already has been using a short putter while at home, and he said he would continue to make the transition and go to the conventional putter when he feels comfortable with it. Bradley has been using a belly putter since he was at college, and he laments the five years of practice with it going to waste.

``Who knows? Maybe there's some way to putt better,'' Bradley said. ``I see myself finding a way to putt.''

Bradley and Simpson are in a difficult spot, for neither wants to look like a group of dissenters. Both said they have respect for the USGA and R&A, and Bradley wanted to make that clear Wednesday at Sherwood Country Club when he said, ``I do understand the USGA is trying to protect the game. I knew they're not doing something maliciously to hurt me or other guys.''

But this already is shaping up to be a divisive issue, from industry leaders worried about the growth of golf to players who have been using these putters for years.

Carl Pettersson of Sweden and Tim Clark of South Africa have used broom-handle putters all their careers, and they have talked about a possible legal recourse. Neither could be reached for comment. Pettersson was in South Africa for the Nedbank Challenge and did not return a phone call.

``Any competitive player likes to have an extra advantage,'' Matt Kuchar said. ``I think you're going find anyone using the short putter is glad, and anyone using the belly putter or long putter is not happy.''

Kuchar used a mid-length putter that rested against his left arm when he won The Players Championship. That style is OK.

Couples wasn't sure golf needed such a rule. His argument is that if the anchored stroke was that much of an advantage, everyone would be using it. He somehow managed to work Rick Barry of the Golden State Warriors into the conversation.

He referred to him as one of the greatest free-throw shooters in NBA history, famous for his underhand shot at the foul line.

``Do you see other guys copying him?'' Couples said. ``Is Keegan Bradley the best putter on tour? Is Webb? So it's a look. They can say all they want, but it's a look. An advantage? You think guys out here are dumb? What's an advantage? You would think if this was such an advantage, everyone would be using it.''

None of the top 20 players on the PGA Tour's most reliable putting statistic used an anchored putting stroke.

``In my opinion, they haven't screwed up golf yet, and I don't think this will screw it up,'' Couples said. ``But I feel bad for Keegan Bradley, because I'll tell you what: If they banned it tomorrow and we played a tournament, I think I'll be a better player than Keegan. And I don't think that's fair.''

In the meantime, the World Challenge gets under way Thursday as the final event of the year for Woods, and the last chance for this 18-man field to earn ranking points. Some will go to the Shark Shootout next week in Florida. The others won't be seen again until next year, either in Hawaii or the desert.

The anchored putting stroke will come again. The debate most likely won't end anytime soon.

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How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

The Capitals found themselves in deep trouble on Saturday.

Game 5 at Capital One Arena provided Washington a golden opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. A loss -- another home loss -- would have been a devastating blow.

After battling back from a 2-0 series deficit, to lose in Washington would mean facing elimination in Columbus. Game 5 was the game the Caps needed and it would have slipped away from them if not for Nicklas Backstrom.

The Caps’ most underrated superstar -- the one who is constantly overshadowed by the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby -- took center stage on Saturday as he tipped a Dmitry Orlov shot past Sergei Bobrovsky at 11:53 of overtime to seal the victory for Washington.

“It was just a good shot from [Orlov],” Backstrom said after the game. “I thought before he had a chance to block it, and I got a tip on it, and it’s usually what happens in the playoffs. Tip goals or rebound goals. That’s the way it is. It was nice.”

Backstrom’s overtime goal capped off a three-point night for the veteran center, who also scored in the first period and assisted on a goal from T.J. Oshie.

The team ended up needing every one of his points.

From the start, Columbus outplayed Washington. With the series tied 2-2, a best-of-three mentality took over and the Blue Jackets pushed hard for the pivotal Game 5 win.

It is in those very moments that team needs its superstar players to step up. In Game 3, it was Holtby who stole the show to help Washington steal a win in Columbus.

On Saturday, it was Backstrom.

Columbus converted a shorthanded goal to seize a 1-0 lead in what was shaping up to be a dominant first period. A fluke goal from Backstrom, however, made sure the score was knotted up, 1-1, after the opening frame.

With the puck behind the goal line, Backstrom tried to slip a pass through the crease. Bobrovsky got a piece of the puck with his stick, but the amount of spin on the pass forced the puck to carom off the stick, off the back of Bobrovsky himself, and into the net.

“I was trying to make a pass,” Backstrom said. “Honestly, got lucky. I don’t know who came back-door there but I was trying for him. I’ll take it.”

After a back and forth game, the Blue Jackets came out swinging to start the third. Down 3-2, Columbus tied the game just 2:30 in and made a real push to win the game in regulation. Washington was outshot 16-1 in the third and looked like they had no push at all.

But the Caps looked like a different team when they took the ice for the extra frame. What happened in between periods?

“As I was leaving the room after the period, I could hear guys, the right guys, all saying the right things,” head coach Barry Trotz said.

When later asked if one of those guys was Backstrom, Trotz said, “Absolutely. He's one of the leaders on our team. They were all talking about let's make sure we're doing the right things. There's a lot of pride, lot of good leadership in that room.”

Whatever Backstrom and the other leaders said did the trick. Washington made a strong push in overtime leading to Backstrom’s game-winning goal.

This isn’t the first time Backstrom has delivered. Saturday’s overtime tally is the fourth of his career. That’s the most in franchise history and tied for fifth in NHL history.

Through his efforts on the ice, the Caps were able to erase a bad first period and steal the win in overtime. But it also took a big effort off the ice to get the job done.

“If you just look at the scoresheet, that doesn't say enough of about Nick Backstrom, his contribution from in the dressing room to on the ice to key moments to key faceoffs,” Trotz said.

“I've been on his soapbox about how complete a player he is and I never really worry about Nick Backstrom. He's got enough games under his belt, he's got enough stats to back it up and he's played huge minutes and he's one of our leaders. He's a tremendous hockey player.”

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John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

After losing Game 1 and Game 2 at home, Alex Ovechkin declared "It’s going to be fun when we bounce back and going to tie the series and come back here and play Game 5 at home.”

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella seems to be taking a similar tactic.

The Capitals won Game 5 in overtime on Saturday in a game that could prove to be emotionally draining for the Blue Jackets in a number of ways.

  • It was Washington's third straight win
  • Columbus was the better team for the majority of the game, but still took the loss
  • The Blue Jackets now face elimination despite holding a 2-0 series lead to start and losing only once in regulation

Tortorella has become famous for his fiery postgame press conferences in the past, including abruptly walking out after Game 4's presser when he declared "We sucked" to the media.

Saturday's was another fun one.

In a presser that lasted less than two minutes, Tortorella twice said, "We'll be back here for Game 7."

After such a draining game, Tortorella was asked how he would get them ready for what is sure to be an emotionally charged Game 6.

"I won't have to say a damn word to them," Tortorella said. "No. We'll be back here for Game 7."

The Blue Jackets will have to win Game 6 in Columbus to make that happen.

Barry Trotz was asked for his reaction after Tortorella's comments.

"What else are you going to say? That's good. He wants to get it out there, he believes in his team just as I believe in my team. It's our job for that not to happen."

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