Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Anchoring Ban, the Answer at Last

            I realize I am behind the curve in covering this major piece of news, but I was hoping to see a response from the PGA Tour quickly after the announcement and it just didn’t happen. 

            So the big news is obviously, but not unexpectedly, that the USGA and R & A will adopt the new Rule 14-1b which prohibits the anchoring of the club during the stroke.  First I want to cover the exact text of the new Rule and pick it apart a bit and then I will discuss some of the reactions and responses.  Being a PGA member and an employee for an SRGA (State & Regional Golf Association) I have had access to documents or letters that many have not.


Rule 14-1b. Anchoring the Club

In making a stroke, the player must not anchor the club either “directly” or by use of an “anchor point.”

Note 1:  The club is anchored “directly” when the player intentionally holds the club or a gripping hand in contact with any part of his body, except that the player may hold the club or gripping hand against a hand or forearm.

Note 2:  An “anchor point” exists when the player intentionally holds a forearm in contact with any part of his body to establish a gripping hand as a stable point around which the other hand may swing the club.


            So let’s break this out of Rules lingo to analyze the structure of this new Rule.  Don’t let the size of it and the two Notes overcomplicate it.  The plain and simple is that you cannot hold the club against your body, or hold an arm against your body to stabilize your grip of the club.  The two notes are simply internal definitions.  The Rule requires two new terms to be defined: directly (direct anchoring) and anchor point (indirect anchoring).  Each Note is simply a definition for these new terms so that when making a ruling about whether a club is anchored or not, there is no gray area about what those terms mean.

            The most important word in both of those Notes, however, is the word “intentionally.”  This takes 14-1b from a cut and dry Rule – do or do not – to an intent-based Rule.  This means that a player could unintentionally anchor their putter during a stroke (perhaps the player has had a few too many beers over the years) and not be in breach of this Rule.  A player must have the intent to anchor the putter in their belly or against their body to violate 14-1b, it cannot happen accidentally.  While this complicates things for officials in some ways, it simplifies most situations.  If a player is not trying to anchor and through the course of the stroke accidentally does, an opponent will not be able to watch the stroke and then say, “Hey, you anchored that one, that’s a penalty!”  The intent part of this Rule actually eliminates many potential arguments even though it can complicate rulings for officials at higher levels.

            The final part of the Rule is the penalty statement.  You may notice that a penalty statement is not prominent in any of the explanations found online or by media outlets.  You can find the answer half way down the page of Rule 14:

The Penalty for Breach of Rule 14-1 or 14-2:

Match Play – Loss of Hole; Stroke Play – Two strokes.

So before anyone goes buck-wild and tries to disqualify all the anchorers, remember two things:

1.         The penalty for a breach of Rule 14-1b is two strokes or loss of hole in match play.  A player who anchors is not disqualified.  The breach is exactly the same as if a player pushes, scrapes or spoons a ball.

2.         This Rule is not in effect until January 1, 2016.  You may anchor all you want until that date without penalty.  Someone who anchors prior to that date is NOT a cheater and should not be thought of as one.

For more information on anchoring see the USGA’s Anchoring Page and their Guidelines forPlayers and Officials.

So how about the responses?  Let’s start with the most admirable response yet – the LPGA.

            The LPGA, who remained silent during the 90 day comment period, immediately came out with a statement of full support for the USGA and their decision.  It was thoughtful, admitted there would be some disagreement and then it showed pure acceptance:

The LPGA has consistently conducted our official events in accordance with the Rules of Golf as established by the USGA and the R&A. We recognize the need for an independent governing body to maintain the rules of the game. We trust in the ability and expertise of both the USGA and R&A to make the decisions that are in the best interests of the game.

The USGA provided ample time and opportunity for us to not only educate our players, but also to solicit input, concerns and feedback surrounding Rule 14-1b. While we know that not every one of our members is in favor of the rule change, the LPGA will continue to respect and follow the Rules of Golf which includes the implementation of Rule 14-1b in January of 2016.

It would have been lovely if the PGA of America and the PGA Tour would have taken the news this well.  It showed class and wisdom, another win for Commissioner Mike Whan who has been nothing but a superstar since he took over as head of the LPGA Tour.

            Let’s also keep in mind that this issue is prominently an American issue.  The major global tours all came out in support of the R&A prior to the close of the comment period.  The only major opposition is the PGA of America and the PGA Tour.

            Those naysayers have definitely spoken though.  PGA of America President Ted Bishop fired off a letter shortly after the announcement to his 27,000 professional members again emphasizing his disappointment and disagreement with the ruling:

We are very disappointed with this outcome. As both we and the PGA Tour have said publicly and repeatedly during the comment period, we do not believe that 14-1b is in the best interest of the game and we are concerned about the negative impact it may have on both the enjoyment and the growth of the game.

Bishop suggests in the letter that the PGA has not made a final decision about the implementation of the Rule for its own championships, “At this point in time, The PGA will digest the USGA and R&A's decision to proceed with Rule 14-1b and discuss this matter with our Board of Directors, PGA Sections and, of course, our 27,000 Professionals throughout the country.”  My information from the insider track is that the PGA Board and Rules Committee generally support the USGA and it is highly unlikely the PGA will not adopt the new Rule for its championships.

            So how about the Tour?  The PGA Tour via Commissioner Finchem has not made a statement yet, but two big names have made big statements.  Tim Clark, who has a medical condition that prevents him from pronating his wrist for a traditional stroke, has announced his intent to use his legal counsel and fight the ban if the Tour adopts the Rule.  Webb Simpson, who maintains that he practices with a short putter at home (and beat me personally in several junior tournaments with a regular putter), was extremely vocal on Twitter in his argument against the decision.  Both players, however, maintained that any further action on their part would wait until they have a decision from the Tour.

            My view, which has morphed into a stronger, slightly argumentative view is simple: DEAL WITH IT.  I’m sick and tired of hearing the players complain about how they need different Rules because they’re so special.  Guess what?  The Rules are good enough for millions and millions of other golfers around the world, if you’re really the best in the game, the less than 1% of you at that level can live with it.  I don’t hear Adam Scott whining, or Ernie Els.  They both opposed the ban but have taken the view of “Whatever, we’ll manage.”

            So now we all await the final word from the PGA Tour, who has the ability to change the course of golf forever.  For one, I hope they decide not to bifurcate.  I think it’s the wrong way to go and players just need to get over it and move on.  By 2016, this won’t even be a story.  It is interesting to think about the predicament that Tim Finchem is in.  He must keep the best interests of his players at heart, his job is not the best interests of the game of golf.  So it is certainly plausible that he may defy the powers that be and break from the USGA on this one Rule.  The question is how slippery is that proverbial slope?

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