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Masters enters age of a new low for putters

The HondClassic - Round Three

The Honda Classic - Round Three

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Updated: April 11, 2013 12:46PM

AUGUSTA, Ga. — I want you to pay attention to a recent exchange between Phil Mickelson and reporters. I want you to pay attention to it mostly because I had to.

The discussion was about his new club, nicknamed “Phrankenwood,’’ a cross between a driver and a 3-wood. Or, as Mickelson put it, a 3-wood on steroids.

Reporter: So you’re not going to use a driver at the Masters?

Mickelson: “This is my driver. It just looks like a 3-wood. It’s a 3-wood technology. It’s a larger 3-wood, but it’s got a driver shaft in it.’’

Reporter: How long is it?

Mickelson: “You mean in length or off the tee?’’

Reporter: In length.

Mickelson: “Forty-five inches.’’

Reporter: Is the club-head loft 12 degrees?

Mickelson: “Eight and a half.’’

Reporter: Eight and a half? Wow.

Mickelson: “You heard me say it’s my driver, right? I mean, I don’t know if I’m [making myself] clear. It’s a driver, but it just looks like a 3-wood because our drivers are so big now. But this one is smaller because it’s an enhanced 3-wood.’’

Oh. This would have been a lot easier to follow if Mickelson had said his amplifier is louder because it goes up to 11, the way Nigel Tufnel’s did in “This is Spinal Tap.’’

I don’t want to say technology has gotten out of hand in golf, but it won’t be long before golfers are phased out of the sport entirely. The logical result of this technological arms race will be clubs that can break par all by themselves.

In at least one regard, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. One of the controversies raging in golf these days has to do with long-shafted putters. Golfers use them to “anchor’’ the putter against their bodies. The U.S. Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club are considering a proposal that would ban the use of those putters beginning in 2016.

Some people think the clubs give golfers an unfair competitive advantage.

I think they make golfers look like complete dorks.

The people who use the anchored putter, with one end of it up against their chests, look like aging shop owners sweeping in front of their establishments. The chubby golfers who use the belly putter, which is positioned near the navel, look like harpooned whales.

“Does it look a little odd? Yeah,’’ Jack Nicklaus said. “Is it a golf stroke? I don’t know.’’

This isn’t just a crime against golf aesthetics, folks. It’s a dodge.

Putters are meant to be held in the hands, not steadied by any other part of the body. If placing a long-shafted putter against your body has helped you make up for a sudden loss of fine motor skills (the yips), good for you, but you still have the yips. You’re lucky enough that technology has helped take that affliction away from you, but it’s still there.

Keegan Bradley is intently watching the controversy play out. He has earned almost $10 million since turning pro in 2008, most of it while using an anchored putter. He won the 2011 PGA Championship using one. He’ll use one this week at the Masters.

“When I switched to it, I was looked upon as an outcast,’’ he said Wednesday. “Everyone thought that I had a problem with putting. Everybody was telling me I was too young to putt with it.’’

In other words, golfers with pull carts and compression socks are the people you’d expect to be using this gimmick. But all the elite golfers who have won big tournaments with long-shafted putters aren’t laughing, not with the prospect of having their moneymakers retired. Webb Simpson won last year’s U.S. Open with an anchored putting stroke.

The golf world was waiting with bated breath Wednesday to hear how Augusta National chairman Billy Payne would weigh in on the putter spat. Even though the Masters is a tournament, not a governing body, its opinion is considered important. Payne declined to offer one because this is Augusta, where there is no such thing as a straight answer.

Too bad. The bottom line is that golfers, forever looking for an edge, technological or anatomical, need to be saved from themselves. If you told a fanatical golfer he could save five strokes a round by wearing lingerie around the course, he’d ask if a leather corset top and a riding crop would be over the top.

In golf, the answer would probably be no.

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