The Masters 2013 has been a tournament to remember. We’ve been treated to drama, controversy, and moreover, some excellent golf. Sunday was a day of firsts, as Adam Scott won his first major championship and, at the same time, became the first ever Australian to don the green jacket. As the golfing world relaxes after a nail-biting finale, we have time to reflect on the plethora of talking points which have arisen during the course of this competition.
Anchored Putters: Yay or nay?
It came as no surprise that it was a putt which clinched the championship, and it came from one of the most consistent putters of the day, and of the competition. Scott holed a 20-footer for birdie on the 18th hole of regulation that put him into a playoff with Angel Cabrera, and then won his first major championship with a 12-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole. As a user of the anchored putter, Scott will no doubt be concerned about the impending ban on anchored putters, due to be prohibited in golf in 2016.
A normal putting stroke has six areas of freedom, which can alter slightly to ruin your shot: hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, waist and knees. Using an anchored putter removes, or greatly reduces, the effect of these freedom areas, as the putter swings whilst connected either to the stomach, or even to the chin, allowing a much smoother and more reliable contact. Moreover, for golfers who struggle with back pain, the longer anchored putters are a blessing, as the posture required for an anchored putt doesn’t require stooping uncomfortably over the ball.
The “yips”, or uncontrollable sudden movements, have plagued many a golfer over the years. German professional Bernhard Langer once took four attempts to putt a ball just three feet from the hole due to his severe case of the dreaded yips. The anchored putter reduces the effects of these miniature spasms, which gives the user of anchored putters a distinct advantage.
However, the anchored putter is looked down upon by the multitude in the world of golf, many of whom see it as a contradiction of the values of golf. World number 1,Tiger Woods, is an advocate of the traditional putter, saying “I just believe that the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves. Having it as a fixed point, as I was saying all year, is something that’s not in the traditions of the game. We swing all other 13 clubs. I think the putter should be the same.”
He is far from the sole critic of this new fad; Keegan Bradley, the first winner of a major championship who used an anchored putting technique, complained that he was “sick” of the being called a cheater by fellow golfers and journalists alike.
The issue that I have is not with the technique or the putters themselves, but with golf’s ruling bodies the R&A and the US Golf Association (USGA), and the way they have dealt with this situation. By introducing a delayed ban on this technique, they have admitted that it is not within the spirit of the game, yet they’ve also opened a window of opportunity for those still using the technique to go on and win major competitions. In the years to come, what will people think of these competitions? Will they be considered meaningless, because they were won using techniques which will since have been outlawed? In five years time will the golfing world look back on the Masters 2013 and shake their heads in disapproval, disregarding its winner for the way in which they won it? We can only hope that this competition will be remembered for its drama and for the quality of the golf, rather than for the putting technique of the winner.
Inspiring a generation
At a time when football, the most popular sport in this country, is mired in controversy over the appalling behaviour of its “fans”, the Masters 2013 provided a breath of fresh air for professional sport. For as long as I can remember, the image of football has been plagued by such issues as racism, poor sportsmanship, and disproportionally high salaries. Golf has recently been hit with its own share of controversy, with the issues in the private life of golf’s most famous player in recent times, Tiger Woods, being widely publicised and criticised. Young people naturally look up to professional sportsmen and women as role models – and if they are becoming disillusioned with the example set by some high profile names, then they could do no better than to look to some of the golfers this weekend for inspiration.
As I mentioned in my day 2 blog, 14 year old Guan Tianlang, youngest ever competitor at the Masters, performed in an exemplary fashion not just on the course, but also in his interviews. He showed himself to be modest, patient and, most importantly of all, gracious in his deference to the officiators after they penalised him for slow play. There was no profanity, no frustration, not even a bad word against the officials. If he continues along his current path, Tianlang has a great future ahead of him, and hopefully he can inspire a generation of young people to see that professional sport is not necessarily about living the high life and getting your own way; it is more about hard work, dedication and being modest in victory whilst showing dignity in defeat.
From the young to the old – whilst Angel Cabrera couldn’t quite become the first grandpa to win the Masters, he played a superb four days of golf, and showed admirable graciousness in the immediate aftermath of his defeat. His initial reaction was neither of anger, nor of frustration; instead, he went across to congratulate his victorious playing partner, whom he later described as “a great player” and “a good winner”.
Golf has always been the sport of the gentleman. However, whilst this sort of behaviour is far more commonplace in golf than in other sports, it was still refreshing to see such good sportsmanship on display in the wake of an unsteady period for golf’s image, and hopefully faith in the decency of the game has been restored.
Highlight of the Masters 2013?
I realise that I’ve said a lot about the Masters without putting too much focus on the quality of the golf itself. In order to rectify that whilst choosing my highlight of the Masters, I have resisted the temptation of choosing Rickie Fowler’s monochrome, bright orange attire (for which the only explanation I can offer is that both he, his caddie, and whichever friends or family saw him the morning before he set off to play, are all colourblind), and instead have shortlisted three of my favourite shots of the competition:
1 – Jamie Donaldson’s hole-in-one
On one of the trickier par 3s on the course, the No. 6, Jamie Donaldson managed to scoop the first hole-in-one at the 2013 Masters. The elevated tee box allows players to drop their shots right on top of the flagstick, which, whilst being a tricky shot, does offer the slim chance of scoring that elusive hole-in-one. The 37-year-old Welshman became only the fifth player to achieve this feat on the 180-yard par three sixth hole in the event’s 77-year history.
2 – Luke Donald from the bunker
Bunkers are designed to be a hindrance, not a help, so to hole the ball directly from a bunker is not a feat to be sneered at. Luke Donald did exactly that on the 16th, and in some style as well, landing the ball far beyond the hole and watching as it rolled satisfyingly back into the hole. There was something indescribably mesmorising about watching the ball trickle backwards towards the hole, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in rising to my feet and applauding the television to mark such brilliance…right?
3 – Tiger’s downfall
After this competition, there is no doubt that Woods is back at his sparkling best. I would go as far as to say he is back where he belongs, as he looked good value for his world number 1 ranking. This was highlighted by his finish in the top 5, just four shots behind the leaders, despite his nightmare 15th hole in the second round, in which his approach shot hit the flag and cannoned off into the drink, not only increasing his overall score for the hole, but ultimately leading to a further two-shot penalty for an incorrect dropping of the ball two yards from his original position. It is fair to say that if his original shot had been a couple of centimetres to the right, Tiger could currently be celebrating his 5th Masters win, considering his final position despite that disastrous hole.
Golf is, like most sports, a game of ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ and ‘maybes’, usually applied with the benefit of hindsight. Sometimes you can see disasters unfolding right before your eyes without realising it. This felt like one of those moments, as nobody predicted what implications Tiger hitting the flag would ultimately have on this competition. And it is for this reason that, in the face of stiff competition, my highlight of the tournament goes to Woods’ shot on the 15th hole in the second round, which came so close to perfection, but ultimately led to Tiger’s failure in the competition.
Why always Tiger…