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.

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