PGA Tour Undercuts Its Players with Anchored Stroke Ban

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PGA Tour Undercuts Its Players with Anchored Stroke Ban
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Adam Scott makes his living with an anchored swing.

In banning the anchored stroke, the PGA took a free swing at a core group of its membership.

Aligning itself with the United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient, the PGA Tour voted to implement the ban of anchored strokes beginning Jan. 1, 2016, as reported by Joe Fleming of USA Today. 

In doing so, the PGA threw the belly putter and those who use it under the bus by opting not to go against golf's governing bodies.

If they have to have this rule, then so be it. But it should only affect those players who enter the tour after the rule goes into effect in 2016. That would seem to be the fairest way to handle this mess.

Instead, the ruling will adversely affect Adam Scott, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Tim Clark and others who will have to go back to a regular putter. Even Phil Mickelson gave it a try.

It seems patently unfair to those players who are not breaking any rules currently, and it should not be used as a form of punishment.

Those pros who have become accustomed to a certain way of putting, working hours perfecting their game, are now being forced to change. They had no idea that what they were doing was wrong, since no one ever said that it was against the rules.

That’s because such a rule never existed. Until now—or at least until 2016.

According to the new USGA Rule 14-1b, “In making a stroke, the player must not anchor the club, either 'directly; or by use of an ‘anchor point.'”   

This rule would affect those who use belly putting, where the grip end of the putter is anchored in or around the abdomen and chest. It would also affect those who use long putting, where the grip end is locked against the chest.

According the USGA, “…the new Rule should not adversely affect participation in the game, that it is not too late or unfair to require players to comply with it and that it will remove concerns about any potential advantage that anchoring provides. It also makes clear that one set of Rules is essential to the future health of the game.”

Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Phil Mickelson gave the long putter a try.

The USGA has a lot of nerve to make such a blanket statement regarding the actions of the golfers who must live by their standards. Of course, rule-making is their job.

Perhaps no other sport lives by a more intricate set of rules than golf. Moreover, golfers follow an on-course etiquette that demands self-policing. Their sport demands the highest degree of character and integrity. Imagine if John McEnroe had been allowed to make his own calls.

In that sense, the ruling goes against golf itself. The USGA, R&A and PGA are looking for a mulligan.  Oops, we meant to make a ruling 20 years ago about anchoring your swing but we goofed. So now we got it right and you have got to abide by it.

The job of a rule-maker is much like that of an orthopedic surgeon: They look for things to cut into or cut out.

In this case, the USGA and R&A took a hard-line conservative approach to the rules of putting.

Pro golfers have said they would wait and see how the PGA responded to the USGA ban before taking action.

Tim Clark, speaking for nine other PGA members, said at the Crowne Plaza Invitational in May, “We do have legal counsel. We're going to explore our options. We're not going to just roll over and accept this.”

How very sad, but how necessary. Golfers should try to protect themselves against this kind of outright authoritarianism.

Let’s be clear. The rule is not a ban on belly putters or long putters, but on the anchored stroke, which does not align with the original rules set down regarding the free swing associated with putting.

Yet this is one of those rules that seem not only arbitrary, but also unnecessarily harsh on those players who have been using this method of putting for years.

For more than 20 years, the rules committees of golf’s governing bodies have viewed the idea of anchoring as neither a good nor a bad thing. In 1989, an official statement condoned long putters. Nothing has been said about them since then.

That’s a heck of a long time to think about something.

Should PGA players be allowed to use the anchored stroke?

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While there are those traditionalists, like Tiger Woods, who feel the anchored putter gives players an advantage, the players using this method should be able to just say, “Too bad.” 

Why should the rule-makers be able to go back in time and question something that has such a small impact on the game?

Yes, four of the past seven major winners, including Scott at this year's Masters, used an anchored stroke. But there appears to be no scientific research showing anchoring offers a benefit. Instead, the new rule smacks of crying foul about something after the fact.

I am normally a traditionalist when it comes to sports. I don’t like aluminum bats. But while those were introduced to the public, they were not allowed for professional use.

There is little question that the anchored swing may help a player who has a case of the yips. It mostly definitely helped Scott’s game, and it is now the chosen method for young players like Bradley and Simpson.

And then you have idiotic statements like these from an unnamed source speaking to Golfweek: "Nobody (within the ruling bodies) wants children to know nothing else but sticking putters in their bellys...It now seems possible that an entire new generation of golfers could learn to putt this way and never use the traditional method that has been the bedrock of putting for hundreds of years.”

This is a rule that will affect the livelihood of a small group of professional golfers. If it is such a great way to putt, more pros would be doing it. There is no sign that it is a gateway drug that will lead to greater abuse.

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