posted on November 28, 2012 12:01
Apologies are in order, as I previously promised to keep my thoughts to myself until next season, but the recent news has forced me out of my sabbatical. Golf’s governing bodies, the USGA and the R&A, on Wednesday morning ruled that beginning in 2016, players will no longer be allowed to anchor the club. A fancy way of mandating that long and belly putters are soon to be a thing of the past. This is a complex issue, and while I respect the opinions and ideas of those on the other side, what follows is a stream of consciousness that will ultimately lead to why I believe the powers that be are making a BIG mistake.
The primary argument against anchoring is that it takes the hands and wrists out of the putting stroke. No doubt this is true. Anyone who has ever played for anything they cared about, whether you’re a scratch player trying to win their club championship or a hack trying to secure beer money for the night from scramble winnings, has had their hands shake over a short putt. If you’ve ever anchored the putter, you can’t dispute that your HANDS might shake less. However, anchoring won’t fix what’s going on between your ears. You might hit your hybrid, or whatever comfort club you go to when the chips are down, during an important tee shot. I would bet my bottom dollar that you’ve also pumped that comfort club into the woods when the pressure was on. Yips will by no means be cured by anchoring.
The opposing side is well represented; no less than Tiger Woods, the man for which have been accused of being an apologist, and Graeme McDowell, also one of my favorite professional athletes, are on record as being strongly opposed to any sort of putter anchoring. Apparently their opinion is the prevailing one among players, as this wouldn’t have happened if a majority of the actual professional golfers weren’t in favor of the ban. Let’s not let the inmates run the asylum though; if every sport operated like this, NBA players would be wearing sweats to games, the NFL would have its marquee players ending up as vegetables due to violent helmet-to-helmet hits, and Giancarlo Stanton (if willing), would roid up and hit 78 home runs next season. Just because an opinion is popular doesn’t make it right.
This leads to the next point: why now? I can’t say it better than Paul Azinger*has, so I won’t try… “I’ll say this, the Great Big Bertha made wooden drivers look like a 4-wood. Now the Great Big Bertha looks like a 4-wood. Everyone hits today’s drivers farther, not everyone will putt better with a belly putter or, like the drivers, everyone would use it.” Indeed Zinger, indeed. Putting is an art; not everyone uses the same brush. I’ve had the same Scotty Cameron Newport for over a decade, and it is more or less is the same design as the classic Ping Anser. That’s what works for me. I think the Odyssey 3-Ball (which absolutely creates an aiming advantage) looks disgusting, but that doesn’t mean it should be illegal… This all feeds into the larger point, which is: if we’re going to get tough on equipment all of the sudden, the enormous forgiving drivers and the ridiculously awesome golf balls would be a better place to start! When I took up the game a little over twenty years ago, the ball of choice spun like crazy and had a cover that rendered it useless after one mishit. Now everyone plays a Titleist Pro V1, or another three piece ball with an almost indestructible thin cover, that spins less off the driver and stops on a dime on approach shots. The golf ball, along with the lightweight and huge titanium driver, has made some famous courses obsolete for professional competition. There are several nits to pick with equipment if you’re a traditionalist, but honestly, the belly putter shouldn’t be at the front of the line.
*Zinger, if you can tolerate his right-wing political views, is an excellent follow on Twitter (@PaulAzinger). While I don’t necessarily fall in line with all of his politics, I would not hesitate to nominate him as the commissioner of the PGA Tour, and/or the United States Ryder Cup captain for life.
Lastly, a sport that relies so heavily on the participation of its fan base should be all about inclusion. When was the last time, aside from taking your kids, that you shot baskets at a public hoop? Took some hacks at the batting cage? Wore shoulder pads under your Rams uniform and tackled another grown man or woman? On the flip side, I guarantee most of us have recently purchased some Nike golf apparel because Tiger Woods wears it; plunked down some bonus money on new Ping irons because Bubba Watson plays them; bought a 64 degree Callaway wedge to hit a Phil Mickelson flop shot… Maybe even picked up a belly putter because Keegan Bradley uses one. Money makes the world go round, and don’t think for a second that equipment companies don’t have skin in this game. What I’m getting at is that, far more than in other sports, we take our cue from the professionals. If it’s good enough for three of the last five major champions, it’s probably good enough for us. This sport is hard enough as is, let’s not make it harder on the people whose hard earned dollars make it all possible. Even if you have a bum spine, and the belly putter would make the golfing experience more enjoyable, if the pros can’t use it, you won’t either. There are women who are now members at Augusta National; clubs that won’t allow minorities or women now have no chance of hosting sanctioned events. Inclusion, and an open mind to change should be the future of the game.
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