The Anchored-Putter Ban, Expected Tuesday, Will Help Preserve Golf’s Best Qualities
The U.S. Golf Association said Friday it will make public on Tuesday its final decision in the anchored-putting controversy. Nothing is official yet, but all indications are that the USGA and its international rules-making counterpart, the R&A, will push forward with the rule they proposed last November, to ban anchored putting once and for all time.
As I’ve mentioned before, the global ancient game of golf will be better off with a ban. For years, anchored putting has been a disruptive issue. For all those who embraced the stroke, many more felt it wasn’t a proper way to play the game. With hope, that debate now will be behind us.
A more important reason to support the ban, should it be enacted, is that it plants a flag in the ground that says: “This is golf, and this isn’t.” I don’t want to come across as a blowhard, an oldest-member type pulling up the drawbridge to protect the creaky rituals of another age. Many defenders of anchoring see themselves as part of a movement to rescue golf by making the game easier, less frustrating and more accommodating. I think they’re misguided on this issue, but I get where they’re coming from.
The game needs shaking up, no doubt about it. It’s too fusty, too slow, too intimidating to newcomers and far too self-serious. Golf ought to be fun and fast, loose and social, not to mention a lot less costly. That’s how the Scots treated golf for hundreds of years, before the Brits and the Americans stigmatized the game through its association with status and wealth. Then, more recently, television slowed the pace of play by beaming us weekly images of the world’s best players approaching each shot like neurosurgeons contemplating a craniotomy.
Some suggest that diluting the game’s core challenges—by making putts less nerve-racking, for instance, or marketing balls that don’t slice or hook, or cutting holes 8 inches wide instead of 4¼, as some have suggested—would remedy these ills. But this misses the heart of golf’s appeal. Socializing, getting a bit of exercise and enjoying the outdoors are part of it, too, but the main reason golfers love their game is because it’s hard, and they sometimes succeed anyway. Triumph in the face of adversity, even minor adversity like a greenside bunker, is what brings us back.
One of the talking points I almost always hear from equipment makers, when they argue for the virtues of longer or more forgiving clubs and balls, is, “No one ever quit the game because it was too easy.” That’s probably true, because the game thus far has been protected by the rules makers. But who would want to play golf if it were half as hard? If they took away all the bunkers, eliminated the trees and creeks and rough, and located the holes on every green at the bottom of a bowl, what would be the point?
Golf is optimally fun at a certain ratio of failure to success. One result of the huge advances in equipment in the 1990s and early 2000s, until the USGA and the R&A clamped down on further increases in distance, driver-club-head size (later than they should have) and club-head trampoline effect, was that courses got longer and more difficult (and thus more expensive) in response. They had to, in order to keep success and failure in equilibrium. There are many reasons golf has lost 30% of its avid players since 2000, but all those advances in technology, touted to make the game more fun, don’t seemed to have helped.
In making their case for the ban, the rules makers have never claimed hard evidence that the anchored stroke—with the butt end of the club pressed against the body, to create a fulcrum—is more effective than the conventional style. They argued merely that the anchored stroke isn’t traditional and free-swinging. But clearly their fear and suspicion is that anchoring is a superior way to putt and that with time it would dominate. Some short-game instructors, including Dave Pelz, already teach that the stability of an anchored stroke is a significant advantage for most players. It’s proving handy in big events, too. With Adam Scott’s win at Augusta last month, anchor putters have now won four of the last six majors.
Long putters themselves would still be legal under the ban. No one with a bad back would have to crouch to putt. Current broomstick users, by moving their putters away from their chest and creating an un-anchored fulcrum with their top hand, could still make a pendulum stroke. Golfers will adapt. On Tour, yes, a few pros currently hanging onto their cards by their chest-anchored fingernails may eventually drop out of sight, but the game’s big anchor-putting stars—Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Ernie Els and Scott—will almost certainly continue to shine.
The comment period that followed last fall’s proposal was more contentious than most expected, especially in the U.S. The PGA Tour and the PGA of America, which represents club and teaching pros, publicly opposed the ban, as did several manufacturers and other industry groups. Soon, should the USGA and the R&A act as expected on Tuesday, the ball will be in their court. The ban as written would go into effect in January 2016. Here’s hoping everyone complies, so that golf can get on with speeding up play, reducing costs and putting on a friendlier face for newbies.