GULLANE — Carl Pettersson’s golf bag was a little bit lighter. And the burly Swede didn’t stand quite so tall Thursday in the British Open.
All because of his putter.
Pettersson has used a long putter that he anchors to his chest since he was in college at North Carolina State. For the first time in a major — for the first time that it really mattered — he switched to a conventional putter on Thursday at Muirfield.
"Putted nice," Pettersson said without even being asked a question.
The USGA and R&A adopted a new rule in May that will ban the anchored stroke starting in 2016. Pettersson was among those who were strongly opposed to the rule, and he was one of the players singled out as how the ban might affect a career. The broom-handled putter is all he has used as a pro. He has put in thousands upon thousands of hours practicing with it. But he also realizes change is coming.
Pettersson used what he called a "split claw" grip, in which the bottom of the putter handle near the shaft rests between his right thumb and forefinger.
"Since this rumour of the ban came out last year, I grabbed a couple of regular putters — regular length — and put my hand on it and gripped down on the shaft," he said. "And it felt pretty good. It was not serious practice, but I hit a few. It’s essentially the same grip with the right hand, so I just had to change the left hand. It’s the same motion I’ve been doing with a long putter. It’s just not anchored."
A week after the U.S. Open, Pettersson was at the Travelers Championship when he saw a bunch of putters and thought about changing.
"We always have a Tuesday game, a gambling game, and I used it in that and made nine birdies," Pettersson said. "I was going to put it in at Hartford but I didn’t have the (guts) to do it."
Pettersson first used the conventional putter in the final round of the John Deere Classic, where he was at the bottom of the pack. He shot 70 and tied for 54th.
"It was nerve-racking at the John Deere," he said. "If it hadn’t gone well, I would be back to square one. But I did nice. I holed all the putts you’re supposed to hole. I didn’t run the tables, but it was nice."
The real test was the British Open on Thursday, when he essentially started out in a tie for the lead. And he had no complaints, especially after making a 30-foot birdie putt on the opening hole. More pleasing was that he didn’t three-putt in his round of 74.
Is that the end of the long putter forever?
"I can’t say forever. Well, we only have two more years," Pettersson said.
ODE TO THE 2-IRON: Dustin Johnson wasn’t tempted by the firm links of Muirfield to make any changes in his bag, such as putting in a 2-iron instead of a 5-wood.
That 2-iron appears to be gone for good.
The last time Johnson said he had a 2-iron in his bag was Sunday afternoon at Royal St. George’s in the 2011 British Open. He was challenging for the lead on the par-5 14th hole when he tried to lay up with a 2-iron and it sailed way to the right, out-of-bounds. He never recovered, finishing runner-up by three shots behind Darren Clarke.
That shot stuck with him.
Johnson believes if he had hit a 5-wood, even with a poor swing he wouldn’t have lost as much to the right. Besides, he tried out the 2-iron on a Trackman radar device and found it only goes about 7 yards longer than his 3-iron.
"I tried a 2-iron on the range and it lasted for about five minutes," he said.
The real difference, though, was Royal St. George’s. That was the last time he hit one in competition.
"And it will never go back in," Johnson said. "If I wouldn’t have had one in there, it might have been a different story."
SPIETH ROLLS ON: The last five days must feel like a blur to 19-year-old Jordan Spieth. He won the John Deere Classic on Sunday for his first professional win, which qualified him for the British Open. He flew on a charter overnight to Scotland. He saw Muirfield for the first time.
And then he went out Thursday and had one of only 13 rounds in the 60s.
Perhaps even more impressive is that Spieth had only one bogey, dropping a shot on the par-3 fourth hole. He birdied two of the par 5s and added another birdie on the short par-4 third hole.
The kid loves to play poker to relax. This feels like house money. Remember, he started the season without status on any tour and now has a PGA Tour title, an exemption through 2015 on tour, a spot in the next two majors and World Golf Championships and over $2 million.
"There’s even less pressure than there was before," Spieth said. "I kind of accomplished more than I’d thought possible this year. I just wanted to get my card for next year. Now it’s just really exciting. … I didn’t think it would happen this soon. But on the course, I was plenty confident to go out there and do it."
TWO WDs, BUT NO ALTERNATES: Joost Luiten of Belgium and David Lingmerth of Sweden were at Muirfield playing and practicing to be ready to play in case anyone had to pull out. They wound up having to go home.
Two players did withdraw, but only after their rounds started.
Peter Hanson, who has been coping with a bad back, pulled out after five holes. Louis Oosthuizen, playing with Tiger Woods and Graeme McDowell, withdrew with a recurring neck injury after a bogey on the eighth hole. He was 4-over for his round. It was the second straight major the South African couldn’t finish.
"I’m bitterly disappointed to have to pull out of the Open, and it looks likely now I am going to have to take some time off and give my neck the rest I’ve been told it needs," he said. "I thought I would be OK today as I warmed up pretty well on the range hitting balls. But then as the round progressed the pain in my neck translated into my hips and just found it increasingly uncomfortable to walk."
Oosthuizen won the Open at St. Andrews in 2010.
His management company said the rest doctors have prescribed would mean Oosthuizen misses the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone and the PGA Championship.
ROUGH START: The British Open got underway with five balls hit from the first tee.
Peter Senior led off the 142nd Open with a tee shot down the middle. Oliver Fisher just found the left rough. The rest of the shots belonged to Lloyd Saltman. His sliced his first shot so badly that he cleared a 30-foot fence guarding the tented village, which is marked out-of-bounds. His next shot clanged off the boards of the fence and was never found, presumed to be OB. His third tee shot was in the right rough, and he scrambled for a quadruple-bogey 8.
Because of the tented village, with restaurants and exhibits, the area is marked OB. It’s rare to see white stakes in the middle of the golf course, though the R&A felt it was the best way to mark the course. Without the white stakes, players would get relief from all the structures and have a reasonable lie to play the next shot, right after hitting what could only be described as an atrocious one.