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.

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