But first, some background…
In November the major governing bodies in golf, the United States Golf Association and the R&A, proposed rule 14-1B. This rule set out definitions of a legal stroke. Essentially it defined any stroke where the club anchors to the trunk of the body as illegal (for detailed information, here is the proposal from the USGA’s website: http://www.usga.org/news/2012/November/Proposed-Rules-Change-to-Prohibit-Anchoring/). The proposed rule would take effect January 1, 2016.
Essentially, what Rule 14-1B does is outlaw anchored putting strokes. The kind of stroke used by players with belly-length and broomstick-length putters. Players like Tim Clark, Adam Scott and Carl Pettersson have had great success with the latter while Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els have all won major championships with the former over the last 18 months. And that is why this rule is being proposed now.
In the early 1980s the governing bodies ruled that anchored putting was legal, so for 30-odd years both professional and amateur players have employed the method. For most of those three decades using an anchored stroke was seen as a last resort for a player who simply could not putt with a conventional-length putter but did not want to quit the game. Or for a professional, as a last-ditch effort to continue making a living playing golf.
Until Bradley’s win at the PGA Championship in 2011 no player had ever won a major using an anchored stroke. Not Bernhard Langer, a broomstick user for more than 15 years; not Paul Azinger, thought to be the first player to utilize the belly-length putter; not Vijay Singh, who has used so many different putting methods (anchored and not) that many people stopped counting a decade ago. Then Keegan Bradley won. Then Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open last June (a tournament run by the UGSA). A month later recent belly putter convert Ernie Els chased down recent broomstick putter convert Adam Scott at the Open Championship, organized by the R&A.
There were rumors and reports that the governing bodies would announce a ruling on anchored putting, and that the ruling would be against it. That all came to pass on November 28 when USGA head Mike Davis and R&A chief Peter Dawson jointly announced the proposal of Rule 14-1B. To go along with the proposal was a 90-day comment period for anyone to express their views on the proposed ban.
Marquee tour players Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell have all spoken in support of the ban, citing their belief that a golf stroke/swing should not be anchored to the body. Phil Mickelson echoes the sentiments of many, saying that while he thinks anchored putting should be illegal the time to rule against it was in the early 80s, not now and it should therefore be allowed to remain. Obviously players who currently use an anchored method, like Bradley, Simpson and Clark oppose the ban. In the case of Tim Clark, he was born without the ability to properly rotate his forearms and can therefore not putt with a conventional stroke. It was also reported that Clark gave an impassioned plea against the ban at a players meeting in San Diego last month that reportedly swayed several players to oppose the ban. Additionally some, including Golf Channel Analyst Brandel Chamblee, have called for bifurcation, or a set of rules for professionals and a set of rules for amateurs. You can read Chamblee’s well-thought-out Golf Magazine article calling for bifurcation here (http://www.golf.com/tour-and-news/brandel-chamblee-wants-two-sets-rules-anchored-putting-golf).
Chamblee’s point, and that of those in favor of bifurcation, is that amateurs should not be restricted on the equipment they use if it will prevent them from enjoying the game and playing golf.
Finally, the two organizations that represent professional golfers, the PGA of America and the PGA Tour have made their opposition known as well. The PGA of America did so at the annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando in January and reiterated their stance Monday as being “in complete concert with the PGA TOUR.” While the PGA TOUR made its official announcement during the final match of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship (which seems a bit counter-intuitive to make a big statement DURING one of your marquee events, but that’s a different column).
Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem announced to assembled media and later on the NBC Sports broadcast of the Match Play final that the Tour opposes the ban on the anchored putting. This coming after a players meeting in San Diego at the Farmers Insurance Open in January and a conference call with the Player Advisory Committee last week to tie up the Tour’s official response. Finchem drew the proverbial line and essentially told the governing bodies “it’s your move”.
So what does all of this mean? So many things…sooooo, sooooooo many things. As Golf Channel Analyst Frank Nobilo said Sunday, this is playing “Russian Roulette with the game.” And he’s 100% correct. There are several possibilities from this point:
- Worst Case Scenario: The governing bodies approve the ban and the PGA Tour opposes it. Since the Tour chooses to follow the USGA’s rules they can also choose to create their own rules. (Whenever the Tour plays “preferred lies” or “lift-clean-and-place” in wet conditions they create their own local rule, not in the officials Rules of Golf.) They would do the same and allow their members to use an anchored putting stroke in all Tour-run events including The Players, the World Golf Championships and The Presidents Cup. The majors are run by Augusta National Golf Club (who has yet to take a stance on the issue), the USGA, the R&A, and the PGA of America. It could conceivably happen that anchored putting is allowed at The Masters and PGA Championship but at the U.S. Open or Open Championship. Not lost in all of this is that the European Tour has decided to go along with the R&A, which does govern the game everywhere in the world except the US and Mexico. It is likely that the other major tours, the Sunshine Tour in South Africa, The Japan Golf Tour, The Asian Tour and the PGA Tour of Australasia will go along with the R&A as well, leaving the PGA Tour as the only major Tour in the world to allow anchored putting. BUT there is also the Champions Tour! [Smack my head] Many players on that tour use anchored methods as they are in the category of still needing to make a living but not being able to do so with a conventional putting stroke. In this apocalyptic scenario, there would be bifurcation; AMONG THE PROFESSIONAL TOURS…this could create a paradox that would unravel the very fabric of the Space-Time Continuum and DESTROY THE UNIVERSE!!! Granted this is a worst-case scenario, the destruction might be localized, limited mainly to your local muni…granted that’s worst case scenario.
- OR one of the parties backs down from their stance. If the Tour backs down, things should return to normal and players will simply have to adjust to non-anchored putting. If the governing bodies back down then that might take away from the authority they have to govern the game. It would be a statement that the PGA Tour has the power to rule golf. While the Tour does not wish to get into the rule-making business, as Finchem stated Sunday, they might find themselves there. Or they will simply be the big brother who made the little brother (governing bodies) say “uncle!”
But here’s the thing: even though Finchem effectively put the ball in the governing bodies’ court, the ultimate move is still the PGA Tour’s. Amateur players take their cues from professionals. Regular players want to feel like they are emulating the pros they watch on TV and at tournaments. If the Tour goes against the governing bodies, golf will be fractured (at least in the US). The USGA will have lost its effective authority to make rules. The Tour will do what they want and regular players will follow suit.
One of the reasons why slow play is such a big issue in the game is because tour professionals are playing slower. Since average players are the monkey-do to the pros’ monkey-see it means that the USGA could be rendered obsolete. Does that mean that golf will suddenly look like a different game? No, probably not. But what might happen is that equipment manufacturers stop making clubs and balls that conform to USGA standards. There is an overriding opinion that the ball and driver are the bigger equipment issues to tackle for the governing bodies anyway. So why the issue of anchored putting? Who really knows, and that is a moot point now because anchored putting is on the table.
Here is my opinion on the issue. I mostly agree with Brandel Chamblee’s position. I think that touring professionals should not be allowed to use an anchored putting stroke, because it eliminates the element of controlling nerves, which is a part of playing golf for money and prestige. I say ban the anchored stroke on the highest levels of professional and amateur competition, (i.e. The PGA, LPGA and all other major professional tours). I don’t think it should be banned on senior tours like the Champions and European Senior Tours. Simply because these players are not playing at the highest levels any longer. That’s the reason tours for 50+ year-old players were created. These players are not playing for the same money and prestige as players in their primes. If the senior players choose to compete on the “regular” tours they will have to abide by the rules, but otherwise, who cares?
Lastly, amateur players should NOT be subject to the same restrictions on equipment that professionals are. Amateurs play the game for fun. I think of a former playing partner I had who has a nerve condition that causes him to tremor, it looks like Parkinson’s but it’s not. He is a single-digit handicap and uses a broomstick-length putter. If he were forced to use a conventional-length putter he would certainly not have as much fun playing the game and might be forced to quit altogether. He plays every weekend at his club with the same foursome. Is that what the governing bodies want to sacrifice? Losing a regular player who loves the game and will play as long as his body allows him to? Is that worth the potential chaos that could ensure if Rule 14-1B were passed? I don’t think so.