Tuesday 16 January 2018

Norman adds spice with criticism of Woods pick

Karl MacGinty

FATE denied Webb Simpson the opportunity to plunge yet another dagger deep into the heart of golf's fundamentalists.

No pleasure could or should be taken from seeing a chap miss a 41-inch putt for survival in sudden death, especially one as talented, charming and disarming as 27-year-old Simpson.

Yet, that little stabbed putt on the second tie hole didn't just gift the McGladrey's Classic to Simpson's good friend and PGA Tour bible classmate Ben Crane. It also served as a timely riposte to the banshee wailing stirred by the recent success of Simpson and his PGA Tour colleagues Keegan Bradley and Adam Scott (pictured below), with dreaded belly or wicked broomhandle putters.

Simpson felt he produced a decent stroke with his belly putter on the 17th green, suggesting his ill-fated effort was deflected off line by an imperfection on the putting surface, causing it to careen off the right lip.

"There was a big ball mark in my line, and I thought I repaired it pretty good," he explained.

"Late in the day, when you've got so many guys coming through with foot traffic, it's hard to tell what happens.

"But I've played golf long enough to know that I hit a pretty good putt there. As soon as I hit it, I looked up expecting it to be going in."


Given his good grace in defeat and the sincere words he exchanged with Crane as he shook the winner's hand, saying "I'm happy for you", one is inclined to believe Simpson.

However, he didn't putt well on Sunday, missing a couple of around five feet in regulation and hadn't looked at all comfortable as he tucked away a tiddler on the first play-off hole after hitting a glorious 30-yard shot out of a greenside bunker to a couple of feet.

The sobering message in this era of hysteria is that belly or pendulum putters don't consistently make good putts -- only good players do -- and even the very best can fall victim to pressure or stress, regardless of the implement in their hand.

However, second place on Sea Island has propelled Simpson past world No 1 Luke Donald to the top of the PGA Tour Money List with just one tournament remaining -- this week's Childrens Miracle Network Hospitals Classic in Orlando.

With his bid to make history by winning the US and European Orders of Merit in the same season under threat from the hard-charging Simpson, Donald decided before last Friday's deadline to enter the Disney event, and it's as well he did.

The $432,000 (€307,000) Simpson earned on Sunday pushed him $363,000 (€264,000) ahead of Donald so the Englishman needs to take next weekend's $846,000 (€615,000) first prize to prevail. Second place (worth $507,000 or €368,000) would only be good enough if his American rival is outside the top eight.

That's a tall order and if, as one suspects, Simpson tops the final money list, further fuel will be added to the debate about the threat posed by the long putters to one of the fundamental skills of the game.

No question, it's alien to the original concept of the golf swing or putting stroke to anchor the end of the club, whether it hangs like a pendulum from beneath the chin, is clasped to the sternum, or nestles in the navel.

Yet that horse bolted more than 20 years ago. In fairness, only the hardest heart would deny tortured souls like Bernhard Langer or, more recently, Ernie Els, some measure of salvation from their horrors on the putting green.

Langer and Els are merely poster boys for many others. David Fay, executive director of the USGA, put the view of the world ruling bodies in a nutshell this summer when he referred to the countless amateurs who could be driven away from golf in frustration and despair.

"Do we want to take clubs out of the hands of people who almost can't enjoy the game anymore because they are so mentally afflicted with the yips or something or the like, or people with back problems?" Fay asked.

That was in the wake of Scott's eye-opening second place at April's Masters but before the Australian wielded his 49-inch broomhandle in victory at the Bridgestone World Golf Championship in August, which was followed a week later by Bradley's mould-breaking Major Championship victory at the US PGA.

With Simpson then sweeping up the Wyndham and Deutsche Bank Championships in quick order to make it four victories in five weeks for players wielding long putters, the term 'bellyaching' found new meaning in golf.

So far, the world game's leading administrators have shown little interest in taking firm action to halt the proliferation of the long putter as a weapon of choice, especially for the younger elite player as opposed to the last desperate throw of the dice by the distracted.

As Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk joined the ever-growing legion of Tour professionals and college stars, including Michelle Wie for heaven's sake, on the bandwagon, public interest inevitably mushroomed in these 'magic wands'.

TaylorMade summed up their forecast for fourth-quarter sales of long and belly putters by saying: "We can't make them fast enough."

Meanwhile, Callaway reputedly have stopped manufacturing standard-length Odyssey putters in their effort to meet demand for their longer lines. This putter hype is generating a bonanza in dire times for equipment manufacturers and the industry in general. The long putter costs on average upwards of 50pc more, while these implements, especially belly putters, require expert fitting to be of any real use.

Let's consider a few cold facts. If Bradley broke the mould for long putters at the Majors, players wielding these dreaded implements have topped the US Money List before.

Vijay Singh registered four out of eight victories by players with long putters in 2003, for example, as he romped clear of Tiger at the top of the US Money List.

Frankly, if the belly and the broomhandle are so invincible, why is Scott McCarron the only long-term devotee (Angel Cabrera dabbles) inside the top 20 on the US Tour's current putting charts?

For all his recent success, Simpson is 50th in the American putting averages, Bradley is 93rd and Scott 138th.

GREG NORMAN added a bit of spice to the Presidents Cup build-up and bucked the usual schmaltzy conventions of this biennial bunfight by bluntly admitting he would not have given a captain's pick to Tiger Woods.

Commenting on the controversial decision of his US counterpart Fred Couples to hand Woods one of his two wild cards for next month's showdown in Melbourne, international team skipper Norman said: "I think Keegan Bradley was much more deserving.

"I can understand the name of a Tiger Woods and his history of what he's done on the golf course. But I pick the guys who I think are ready to get in there and play and have performed to the highest levels leading up to it."

Top marks to Norman for his honesty.

Whatever about his judgment, Couples remains one heck of a player, judging by his runaway win at the AT&T Championship in San Antonio, a final-round 66 on Sunday putting him seven clear of the field in a record total of 193 strokes (23-under par) for a 54-hole Champions Tour event.

McIlroy and Clarke bid for Grand Slam

RORY McILROY has flown 20 hours around the world for a two-day rendezvous with his fellow Major-winners Darren Clarke, Charl Schwartzel and Keegan Bradley, in Bermuda for the PGA of America's annual Grand Slam Championship.

After finishing last in his seven-day, seven-city promotional junket around China's top golf courses with Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Liang Wen-Chong, McIlroy hopped aboard a flight in Hong Kong on Sunday night for the 20-hour journey to Bermuda, via Los Angeles.

McIlroy and Clarke today launch their bid to become the first European player since Welshman Ian Woosnam way back in 1991 to win this prestigious $1.3m (€944,000) event, which offers $600,000 (€436,000) to the victor and $200,000 (€145,000) to the man in fourth.

Irish Independent

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