Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pendulum Putting


                After yesterday’s exciting announcement, I’m sure many of us headed straight back to the garage to figure out the perfect pendulum putting stroke – the legal way.  As someone who has struggled mightily with the putter in the last few years, I have a few instruction tips that I have used for many of my students.

1.            Rotation – The perfect pendulum putting stroke results from smooth rotation.  Think of your shoulders and spine as a T.  The only movement you’re looking for is to make the top of the T swing back and forth.  Frequently, amateurs are stuck making the mistake of swinging with the hands.  This tends to introduce a less fluid motion and leads to a breaking of the wrists that is the most common cause of the “yips.”

2.            Swing with your back – This is a phrase you probably haven’t heard before.  Next time you’re practicing on the putting green set up to the golf ball as you would for a normal putt.  Then, start the putting stroke with your back muscles, using them to turn your shoulders, which then moves the putter.  It’s not easy and it takes practice but it’s a great way to feel your shoulders rotate properly and not swing the putter with your hands.  Tucking in your elbows to your torso is particularly helpful for this drill.

3.            The color of the grass beneath the ball – This is probably the greatest question I was ever asked as a student and have ever asked as a teacher, “What color is the grass beneath the golf ball?”  Of course it’s green, but how could you know for sure unless you’re looking at that spot after the golf club has struck the ball?  Especially in putting, it is important to focus on the golf ball and not the putter during your stroke.  Make sure you’re looking for that spot underneath the golf ball well after you finish your putting stroke, and preferably until you hear the ball roll into the hole.  As a drill, practice 3 footers where you never look for the golf ball until after you hear it hit the hole liner.

 

                If you can implement these three lessons into your putting you’re bound to become a more fluid, pendulum-like putter, with or without the anchor.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My Last Word on Anchoring


                While I’m certain this will not be the last discussion about anchoring in the years to come, this will be my last article about it (unless something truly dramatic happens).  The USGA and R & A officially announced the proposed ban on anchoring, or Rule 14-1b, this morning.  To most of us who have followed the progress of the anchoring debate this comes as no surprise.  What the ruling bodies have enlightened the public to is the official reasoning behind the proposed ban that will go into effect at the next Rules change on January 1, 2016.

                A decent chunk of the surrounding debate, including my own arguments, centered on whether or not anchoring actually gave a competitive advantage to players.  I was hoping to see some empirical data that the USGA or R & A had gathered showing this competitive advantage.  The competitive advantage, however, was not part of the debate for the ruling bodies.  On the new FAQ page that the USGA has put forth on its website (www.usga.org/anchoring) they state:

“…changes like this to playing Rules are not based on empirical studies. In writing the Rules that define how golf is to be played, the governing bodies assess current practices and recent developments in the context of history and traditions and make a judgment about the game’s fundamental nature and long-term best interests.”

                The ruling bodies have made this decision based on the traditions of the game (of course the last 30 years of history aren’t important) and the fact that there is no data that supports a competitive advantage to anchoring had no effect.  Or in their own words, “We believe that the essential nature of the traditional golf stroke involves the player freely swinging the club with both the club and the gripping hands being held away from the body.”

                As an official for a regional golf association, I will abide by the governing bodies and adhere to the Rules they set forth.  Their knowledge on the history of the game and what constitutes tradition is far superior to mine.  BUT…

                You’re telling me the anchored putting stroke is not traditional but a 460CC titanium driver is?  What about graphite shafts?  How about unpronounceable cored golf balls with polyurethane covers?  Perhaps we should return to hickory shafts and the feathery?  I don’t necessarily have a problem with the ruling, but I don’t agree with the timing or the reasoning behind it.  I can’t argue with the tradition argument (by the way, speaking of tradition R & A, what the bleep are you doing to the Road Hole and St. Andrews?!), but I can argue with their judgment about the game’s “long-term best interests.”  I would love to see the argument for alienating a good percentage of new or aging golfers that play the game recreationally. 

                The new president of the PGA of America sent a letter to the USGA about the problems the ban could present in growing the game, “we feel compelled to inform you that we are concerned about the impact a ban on anchoring a golf club could have on participation now and in the future.  The PGA, in fact, was able to present some empirical data AGAINST the ban.  The PGA polled its members, the instructors and professionals who are in daily contact with the true players of the game, the millions of recreational golfers, regional golf association members, your Sunday group! The PGA poll stated that 63% were NOT in favor of the ban because of the “negative impact a ban could have on both the growth and enjoyment of the game.”

                So while I cannot argue with the ruling bodies’ reasoning that anchoring is fundamentally non-traditional and against the spirit of the game, I can argue that the ban is not good for the game of golf and its short or long-term future.  What is most irksome, is that this is not supposed to be a knee-jerk reaction to three out of five major champions using anchored strokes, however, I find it incredibly coincidental that the review process “began in early 2012” according to the USGA.  So I beseech the ruling bodies to consider an alternate option that would be fair to all golfers:  Propose the ban as a Condition of Competition for use in your championships.  Junior aspiring to win the U.S. Open won’t use anchored strokes and Joe Everyperson who loves to golf but just can’t keep still over a short putt will still be able to enjoy a Sunday round.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Anchors Away


                Before tomorrow’s much anticipated joint news conference with the USGA and R & A let’s take one last look at the anchoring debate.  (However, rumor has it the announcement will be about a new cover for the joint Rules and Decisions books).

The Catalysts:

Three major champions in the last five have won using long putters anchored to the body.  The ruling bodies claim that this wasn’t a major factor in making the decision now and that the rising popularity of the anchored putting stroke amongst junior golfers is the real problem.  That may be the case, but the timing comes off as a knee-jerk reaction to Els' and Simpson's victories in the two major Opens.

The Expectation:

It is expected that the USGA and R & A will make a rule banning the anchoring of putter to the body to go into effect at the next Rules change in 2016.  Another probability is that they will introduce an optional Condition of Competition that can be used in the Opens or on the Tours as soon as next year.  In a recent informal survey at the IAGA conference there was nearly unanimous support amongst regional golf associations for NOT introducing that Condition in their respective championships and it is highly unlikely the Tours would implement the Condition for at least another year.

For the Ban:

For the purists this is no different than the bans of the croquet stroke (1968) and the stymie (1952).  These were both allowed in competition for years, even decades, before the ruling bodies determined that they were against the spirit of the game.  According to the experts, anchoring the club to the body provides a distinct advantage and helps create a smooth pendulum stroke, particularly in windy conditions.  The problem, we’re told, is not so much the use of the anchored stroke amongst professionals, but the increasing popularity of the anchored stroke amongst junior and beginning golfers.  In theory, there wasn’t much of a problem when a select few used anchoring or older and injured golfers used long putters to relieve stress on their ailments, but when junior golfers perfectly capable of performing the standard putting stroke began skipping years to jump to the belly putter it became a problem.

Against the Ban:

Carl Pettersson, Bernhard Langer, Tim Clark and any number of players who have been using long putters with an anchored stroke for years are just thinking, “Why now?”  While it happened that a belly putting Ernie Els won the Open Championship in 2012, it was a long putting Adam Scott who yipped it away down the closing stretch.  At Augusta National, where putting is at its most valuable, two standard putters battled it out in a playoff.  Isn’t it possible that you just happen to have a handful of extremely good players who would probably have won majors with regular putters also? (Ernie Els in fact did…3 times)  If the issue is really about junior golfers perhaps coordinating with the PGA of America to promote standard putters when teaching juniors is more sensible than a Rules change.  How many players will this alienate from an already faltering sport?  Does the game really need to be more difficult?  I’d also like to see the statistics showing the advantage gained by using the anchored stroke.  Yes, in theory it makes putting easier but there are a lot of really bad putters using anchored strokes.  The bottom line is you still need to get the ball in the hole and it’s just as difficult with a standard stroke as an anchored stroke when the pressure is on.
 
For the Good of the Game:

With golf barely starting to recover from the recession and the major issues facing that recovery, is an anchoring ban really the best way to go?  The biggest obstacle the industry has is making golf appeal to new golfers of all ages and abilities.  Making the game harder (whether or not this is actually the case) doesn't seem like the best message to send to incoming players.  Older players with back problems may have to stop playing in 2016, they can't play golf without long putters.  Players who have struggled with yips won't be able to enjoy a recreational round with friends because their belly putter would be "cheating."  We'll see what happens tomorrow, but I hope they decide to introduce a Condition of Competition and not a true ban.  That will be enough to discourage junior golfers aspiring to win the U.S. Open from switching to anchored strokes.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Rules of Golf Year in Review

The year isn't quite over but I'd like to to start off with my own Year in Review and highlight some of the major topics in golf for 2012 and some predictions for lucky '13.

Even after the player friendly changes for 2012 the Rules came to the forefront once again in 2012, with one controversy yet to be determined.  Let's start with the Rule that didn't change...

Early in the year players had difficulty with the new exception to Rule 18-2b that was supposed to exempt players from an unfair stroke penalty when their ball moved after address.  Ryan Moore found out the hard way that the new exception was designed to avoid penalties in situations like Webb Simpson at New Orleans and Padraig Harrington at the Masters, where balls were obviously moved by wind.  Decision 18-2b/11 specifically states that gravity is not a force to be considered when applying the new exception and Ryan Moore could not say with certainty that something other than gravity or himself caused his ball to move.

Then you had the Sybase Match Play incident with Morgan Pressel and Azahara Munoz.  Munoz had been the clear culprit of slow play for several holes but once on the clock, it was Pressel who took too much time and was penalized a loss of hole penalty.  It was a two-hole swing as Pressel had initially won the hole in question.  She went on to lose the match and stir up the massive pace of play debate that followed.  (Let's overlook the fact that the whole situation turned ugly when Pressel made a claim against Munoz later in the match).  One could argue that for a match play event the penalty should have been an adjustment to the state of the match (meaning Pressel would've lost only one "up" rather than losing a hole she had actually won).  One could also argue that the application of the penalty should have been withheld given so much evidence that it was Munoz who had slowed the group in the first place.  Just like Dustin Johnson in 2010, the Rules are for everyone and you can't make an exception in that case.  Frankly, I'm just happy that one of the major Tours is actually penalizing players for pace of play.

The incident was followed shortly thereafter to having the final group in the U.S. Open on Sunday put on the clock at the 16th hole.  Jim Furyk proceeded to collapse with a snap hook into the trees.  Did the application of the Rules get in the way of a major championship?  The USGA was absolutely right in their handling of the situation, but the debate didn't stop there.  The governing body for the Rules of Golf were in the spotlight.

Then the slowly growing mumble became a loud roar as Ernie, Adam Scott and their long putters stole the stage at the British Open.  Hopefully we'll soon find out what the ruling bodies have decided.  If you want my input, I seem to recall Adam Scott doing a pretty good job of yipping a short putt or two with his broomstick...

If that wasn't enough the question of "advantage" came into play with a two-stroke penalty to Carl Pettersson in the final round of the PGA Championship.  His backswing made one tiny little leaf that had no bearing on his stroke to flutter out of the way.  Because his ball laid in a hazard, it was a violation of Rule 13-4, just like Brian Davis at Harbour Town.  He took it well, and proceeded to birdie a decent chunk of the front nine but two-strokes can mean some serious dough at that level.  The ruling was correct, but plenty of angry golfers took sides against the Rules for such a harsh penalty.  Pettersson's ruling later in the round, which to outsiders seemed laughable, took the cake as my favorite ruling of the year.  A small boy had picked up and moved Pettersson's ball.  When he realized his mistake he put it down and ran off.  Another spectator replaced the ball in the correct spot.  Brad Gregory, the Rules Official with the group handled the situation perfectly and as a last minute question he asked the spectator who had moved the ball and who had put it back.  Rule 20-3 states that the person who lifted the ball, the player or his partner (not applicable here) must replace the ball.  The spectator that had put the ball back was not any of those.  Gregory had Pettersson briefly pick up and replace the ball in the exact same spot so that it was the player who replaced the ball.  It's an awesome ruling for an official/Rules junkie like myself, but really hard to explain to the casual observer.

All in all, it's been another crazy year for the USGA and R & A.  Regardless of how the "anchoring" debate ends, it will be a hot topic for some time.  I just hope we keep it in perspective: you still have to get the ball in the hole.

In 2013, if anchoring is banned the debate the entire year will be about players who continue to anchor putters until the ban goes into effect.  Every win, every belly stroke will be contested and asterisked.  I understand the argument against anchoring is more about junior golf than the pros.  If that's the case then let's attack it from a different angle.  How about educating and working with PGA Professionals like myself so that juniors aren't taught to switch to the broomstick?  There are too many legitimate reasons to allow anchoring and long putters to continue, and I'd hate to see a knee-jerk reaction divide the game at a time when we're bringing it back together.

If someone doesn't try to take a serious look at pace of play next year the game will continue only a very slow recovery.  A major issue blocking new golfers is the time it takes to play the game.  And as slow as a Saturday round at your local muni is, how slow is it to watch on TV?  I can barely watch a PGA Tour round until they get to groups of two.  I recently read an article suggesting stroke penalties on the PGA Tour and I agree.  It's time.  And it will work.