Now let me start by saying this: I use a traditional putter and so, to a degree, I don’t really have a dog in the anchored-putter fight.
On top of that, I love and respect the USGA and the R&A for all they do to preserve and protect the integrity of the game, as well as to grow it. We need governing bodies in golf, and we need the governing bodies to continue to work together as they do or the rules by which it is played all over the world will become fractured and subject to potentially dubious influence. The rules, as they stand, are confusing and voluminous enough without having a different set by which to play, depending upon where in the world you are.
That being said, the ruling bodies collectively botched this one. With two years to come up with a suitable interpretation for their intention, and what they believed would serve to protect the spirit of the game, it would seem in this case they suffered from nothing more than that age-old golfer’s infliction: paralysis from analysis. So before I get to my solution, let me first start with the reasons why I believe what the ruling bodies came up with for the anchored putter ban was wrong, why it has the potential to hurt the game, and why it comes at the worst possible time.
It’s not an unfair advantage
Anchored putters have been around for a long, long time, and while belly-putters are the newer kid on the block, Phil Rogers first used one in competition in the 1960s. I could give you all the brain science to back it up, but the fact is, if anchored putters were really such a huge advantage they would have been adopted en masse a long time ago by all the players on the various tours. They play golf for a living; it’s how they pay their mortgages and trust me, their often king-size egos aren’t so big that the majority of them wouldn’t adopt a new piece of allowable equipment if it really gave them an advantage. You don’t see hordes of touring professionals clinging to their persimmons and steel-shafted drivers out of tradition. When it became clear that metal, graphite, and titanium were obviously better options, they dropped that old stuff like a bad habit.
While the USGA and R&A govern golf, they’re not involved in the day-to-day operations, and their interpretation of this new rule has set us who do up for endless disputes — like the controversy over what Bernhard Langer did while winning his first tournament after the anchor ban. Unlike Adam Scott, many who use anchored putters won’t abandon them altogether, and trying to determine whether or not a player’s forearm is actually touching his body or not, especially in cold weather where players are wearing bulky jackets and many layers, is pretty much impossible and unenforceable.
Since Jan. 1, I’ve had to get in the middle of more disputes between members than I have in 25 years, and every one has been about whether or not a certain player was anchoring.
A major fix to a minor problem
When golf’s governing bodies made the decision to ban anchored putting, a big part of the discussion had to do with their concern over the rise in popularity of belly putters and their increased use among tour players and younger players. The problem is that segment of golf’s participants comprises less than 1 percent of those who play the game.
Most players who used anchored putters were just the regular Joes trying desperately to find something that would help them get through a putting slump or a case of the yips. If golf’s governing bodies really wanted to stem the supposed tide of adoption without hurting the regular guy or gal, they could have just worked with the PGA Tour to adopt a policy restricting their use in major competition.
Just about every young amateur that has any game at all dreams of playing in the big show, and kids emulate their idols. You should have seen the near perfect cross-handed impression of Jordan Spieth I witnessed from a 10-year-old at an event recently, but I digress.
You’re not going to see kids adopting things that won’t be allowable once they do qualify to play in a big event some day, and if the Tour players weren’t using them, it wouldn’t be long before anchored putters would be seen by the next generation as an old-man’s club that no decent player would be caught dead with.
Discrimination and abuse
If you’ve read the text of the new rule or have seen the posters the USGA spent considerable expense putting out, one thing becomes immediately apparent. Despite all they hysteria over belly-putting, the new rule likely impacts golfers who used long putters, or the broomstick-style of putting the most.
Anchoring your forearms against your body is OK if you’re putting traditionally, but it’s not if your putter is longer and/or you’re using a split-hand grip with the top hand inverted? I guess the USGA figured out pretty quickly that certain body types (read big bellies) wouldn’t be able to putt even in a traditional manner if they just said your forearms can’t touch your body, so they came up with an interpretation that would leave those guys alone while still attempting to eliminate any similar stabilizing ability for those with a longer wand.
The way the rule is written, it’s OK for me to anchor my forearms against my sides (read: belly) as long as I don’t invert the top one and or split the hands. But if I essentially do the same thing with my top hand hanging down, as long as the hands at least touch each other (read: aren’t split) I’m good? According to the rules I am, but if you’re confused by now without the aid of all the fancy infographics that the USGA has provided us then you get my point.
Golf’s highly publicized drop in participation over the past half-dozen years is nothing to sneeze at. And at a time when we need to be doing most everything we can to not only attract new players, but retain the players we have, we don’t need to be doing anything that turns off many avid players to playing or playing more. And I’m sure the level of discouragement I’ve seen among a handful of players at my own club is going on simultaneously around the country and the world.
When the Mayo Clinic studied the yips a few years back, they did one survey whose results claimed that upward of 25 percent of the people who gave up golf did so because of the yips. An estimated 10-15 percent of players used some form of a long or anchored putter to help them play this great game before the ban. Now I don’t think all of those golfers are going to just up and quit. Many will grumble, adjust, and move on to some other putting method that allows them to putt just poorly enough to stay in the game at some level, but is that really what we want? Do we want to make the game less enjoyable for people who already love it, and at the same time run the risk of taking the fun out of it for a small percentage so much so that they consider giving it up?
So now that I’ve told you essentially why I believe this crusade against the unconventional among us is more than just a bit wrong-headed, let me tell you what we could and should have done instead, and how we can walk it back a bit.
In my heart of hearts, I agree with the sentiment behind what the USGA and R&A were trying to do. I’m a traditionalist and want to see the game’s great traditions preserved and respected. But long and belly putters have been around for a long time now, so I think at this point they almost qualify. If we are really hard set on banning anchoring, not the length of our putters, I get that. It would have been much simpler, fairer, easier to enforce, and would have created far less confusion, however, if Rule 14-1b simply said:
No part of the club may touch any part of the body other than the hands, and the hands are considered to be part of the club.
With that change, all this anchoring stuff would have been a moot point. It would have left Langer and most of his broomstick brethren alone, but would have essentially eliminated most forms of anchoring (like the scary belly-putter phenomenon) in a way that would have been far easier to enforce and interpret.
How can we walk it back? That one’s easy, and while the USGA and R&A may have a bit of egg on their face in the short term, a statement about the difficulty of enforcement of the rule under how it’s currently written would satisfy most players and allow them to save face while creating an enormous amount of goodwill among a segment of players that they have at this point alienated.
Everyone makes mistakes, but ultimately, the people we most respect own up, learn, and grow from those mistakes. And what we should learn from this one is that, despite the best of intentions, this wasn’t the best move we could have made and it certainly didn’t come at the best time.
I’d love to hear what you think.
Skateboarding legend Steve Caballero on why golf is cool (Bonus: must-watch golf trick)
GolfWRX recently spent time in Los Angeles, California where we investigated skate culture, and why so many skateboarders are starting to play golf. There is much, much more content that we will release in the coming weeks from this journey, but we thought this was an interesting place to start.
Spear-headed by Bert Lamar of Iliac Golf, who grew up skateboarding and snowboarding (ever heard of Lamar Snowboards? that’s him), we spoke with skateboarding legends Steve Caballero and Tony Hawk about the golf-skateboarding relationship.
Steve spoke with Bert about his recent introduction into the world of golf, what’s drawing him in, and how skateboarding is similar to golf. Enjoy a transcription of that conversation below (edited for brevity), and check out our trick golf shot with him at the bottom of the story!
Fun fact: Steve Cab is the inspiration behind the Vans Half Cab shoe (“half-Cab” was a trick that he invented, and he also advised Vans to make a mid-height shoe that was given the same name).
Skating, music, art and… golf?
I’m traveling a lot around the world. Skating, I do a lot of artwork these days. So I’ve been traveling to Japan, and I’m going to France in two weeks, to ride motorcycles, skate, do art, play some music… I’m kind of all over the board when it comes to being creative, and just kind of expanding my capabilities and possibilities of things, and now golf has become a new challenge for me. My oldest brother used to play golf with my dad, and that’s something that they shared together, and my brother’s been trying to get me to play golf for probably around 10 years. And I’ve just always said “no, no, no, I’m too busy”… I ride dirt bikes, I mountain bike, I skate for a living. [I started playing golf] to please my brother. I was like, “you know what, ok”…. We went out and hit some balls, [at] the range, and I definitely got a feel for what it takes to hit the ball and try to focus on what you’re doing and it really, really struck me; it is very challenging, and it kind of reminds me of skating in little ways.
How is skateboarding similar to golf?
Just technique, body position, repetition. I know golf is a very difficult sport, and I just knew if I indulge myself into it… I like challenges so anything that I get into I’m gonna focus on and that’s all I’m gonna do; I’m gonna eat, breathe and sleep golf… I know that golf is a little bit more safer than skateboarding in terms of bodily injury and getting hurt; breaking a wrist or your leg or concussion.
What makes golf cool?
I think what makes golf cool is the fact that you need to put work in and just to be good at it. You have to put a lot of time and focus into it. And I think what it is, you have to have that personality of wanting to challenge yourself at something. It’s something you can do on your own, something you can do with a group. That’s kinda why it reminds me of skating because it’s kind of the same thing, like, one day I’ll be able to do an “air” three-feet out, the next day, I can’t even grab my board…
Are you a natural at golf?
It’s a thing where I get into arguments with my older brother; I don’t believe in natural talent, everything is learned.
So, how about that trick shot, huh?
Our own editor Andrew Tursky and legend Steve Caballero collaborated on a golf trick shot during the interview session. Actually, this only took a couple tries. It turns out Steve is a good putter when using the wheel of his skateboard.
Gear Dive: Mizuno’s Chris Voshall speaks on Brooks Koepka’s U.S. Open-winning irons
Mizuno’s Chief Engineer Chris Voshall speaks on how Brooks Koepka was the one that almost got away, and why Mizuno irons are still secretly the most popular on Tour. Also, a couple of Tiger/Rory nuggets that may surprise a few people. It’s an hour geek-out with one of the true gems in the club biz. Enjoy!
Listen to the full podcast below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
Hear It, Feel It, Believe It: A Better Bunker Method
The following is an excerpt from Mike Dowd‘s upcoming novel, “Coming Home.”
After picking the last of the balls on the driving range, Tyler cornered Mack as he hit a few shots from the old practice bunker to wind down at the end of the day. Mack was hitting one after another, alternating between the three flags on the practice green and tossing them up about as softly as if he was actually lobbing them each up there underhanded.
Tyler just stood there, mesmerized at first by the mindless ease with which Mack executed the shot. Bunker shots, Tyler silently lamented, were likely the biggest hole in his game, and so after Mack had holed his third ball in a couple of dozen, Tyler finally decided he had to ask him a question.
“What are you thinking about on that shot, Mack?” Tyler interrupted him suddenly.
Mack hit one more that just lipped out of the closest hole, paused a few seconds, and then looked up at his protégé in what Tyler could only interpret as a look of confusion.
“What am I thinking about?” he finally replied. “I don’t know, Tyler… I’d hate to think how I’d be hittin’ ‘em if I actually started thinking.”
Tyler gave Mack a slightly exasperated look and put his hands on his hips as he shook his head. “You know what I mean. Your technique. I guess I should have said what exactly are you doing there from a mechanics standpoint? How do you get it to just land so softly and roll out without checking?”
Mack seemed to be genuinely considering Tyler’s more elaborately articulated question, and after a moment began, more slowly this time, as if he was simplifying his response for the benefit of a slightly thick-headed young student who wasn’t getting his point.
“You can’t think about technique, Tyler… at least not while you’re playing,” Mack replied. “There’s no quicker path back to your father’s garage than to start thinking while you’re swinging, especially thinking about technique. That’s my job.”
“Mack,” Tyler insisted, “How am I supposed to learn to hit that shot without understanding the technique? I’ve got to do something different than what I’m doing now. I’m putting too much spin on my shots, and I can’t always tell when it’s going to check and when it’s going to release a little. How do I fix that?”
“Well, not by thinking, certainly,” Mack fired right back as if it was the most ridiculous line of inquiry he’d ever heard. “A good bunker shot can be heard, Tyler, and felt, but you can’t do either of those if you’re focused on your technique. You feel it inside of you before you even think about actually hitting it. Watch, and listen.”
With that Mack swung down at the sand and made a thump sound as his club went through the soft upper layer of sand and bounced on the firmer sand below.
“You hear that?” Mack asked. “That’s what a good bunker shot sounds like. If you can hear it, then you can feel it. If you can feel it, then you can make it, but you can’t make that sound until you hear it first. Your body takes care o’ the rest. You don’t have to actually tell it what to do.”
Tyler still looked puzzled, but, knowing Mack as he did, this was the kind of explanation he knew he should have expected. Coach Pohl would have gone into an eight-part dissertation on grip, stance, club path, release points, weight transfer, and so forth, and Tyler suddenly realized how much he’d come to adopt his college coach’s way of thinking in the past four years. Mack though? He just said you’ve got to hear it.
“Get in here,” Mack said suddenly, gesturing to the bunker and offering the wedge to Tyler. “Now close your eyes.”
“What?!” Tyler almost protested.
“Just do it, will ya’?” Mack insisted.
“Okay, okay,” Tyler replied, humoring his coach.
“Can you hear it?” Mack asked.
“Hear what?” Tyler answered. “All I hear is you.”
“Hear that sound, that thump.” It was Mack’s turn to be exasperated now. “It was only moments ago when I made it for you. Can’t you still hear it?”
“Oh, remember it you mean,” Tyler said. “Okay, I know what you mean now. I remember it.”
“No, you obviously don’t know what I mean,” Mack replied. “I wanted to know if you can hear it, in your mind, hear the actual sound. Not remember that I’d made it. There’s a big difference.”
Tyler suddenly did feel kind of dumb. He wasn’t picking up what Mack was getting at, at least not exactly how he wanted him to get it, and so he sat there with his eyes closed and gripped the club like he was going to hit a shot, waggled it a bit as if he was getting ready, and then opened his eyes again.
“Okay,” he said suddenly. “I think I can hear it now.”
“Don’t open your eyes,” Mack almost hissed. “Now make it, make that sound. Make that thump.”
Tyler swung down sharply and buried the head of the wedge into the sand where it almost stopped before exiting.
“That’s not a thump,” Mack said shaking his head. “That’s a thud. You can’t even get the ball out with that pitiful effort. Give me that!”
He took the wedge back from Tyler and said, “Now watch and listen.”
Mack made a handful of swings at the sand, each one resulting in a soft thump as the club bottomed out and then deposited a handful of sand out of the bunker. Tyler watched each time as the head of the club came up sharply, went down again, hit the sand, and came back up abruptly in a slightly abbreviated elliptical arc. Each time Tyler listened to the sound, embedding it as he studied how the club entered and exited the sand. Mack stopped suddenly and handed the club back to Tyler.
“Now you make that sound,” he said, “and as you do remember how it feels in your hands, your forearms, your chest, and most importantly in your head.”
“What?” Tyler asked, looking back up at Mack, confused at his last comment.
“Just do it,” Mack said. “Hear it, feel it, then do it, but don’t do it before you can hear it and feel it. Now close your eyes.”
Tyler did as he was told, closing his eyes and then settling his feet in as he tried to picture in his mind what Mack had been doing. At first, he just stood there waggling the club until he could see the image in his mind of Mack hitting the sand repeatedly, and then he could hear the soft thump as the club hit the sand. He started to swing but was interrupted by Mack’s voice.
“Can you feel it?” Mack said. “Don’t go until you can feel it.”
“Well, at first I could see the image in my mind of you hitting that shot over and over again,” Tyler said, opening his eyes and looking at Mack, “and then I could hear it. It sort of followed right in behind it.”
“Ah, the image is a good starting point, but you can’t just see it and hear it, you need to feel it,” Mack replied, pointing to his head. “Feel it in here, and then you can feel it here,” he continued, putting his hands together like he was gripping a club. “Now close your eyes again.”
“Okay,” Tyler said, not sure he was getting it, but finally bought in. He settled in again and began waggling the club until he could see Mack swinging and hear the subtle thump of the sand. He let it just loop in his mind, over and over again, until suddenly he could feel it like he was the one doing it, and then he swung.
Thump came the sound as the flange of his wedge hit the sand. It was his swing, but it was different, maybe not to the naked eye, but in the speed, the level of tension, and the release. He opened his eyes again, almost tentatively, and looked at Mack with a combination of curiosity and amazement.
“I felt it that time,” Tyler said in a voice that seemed to resonate within from somewhere in the past. It almost sounded like Jackie’s in its exuberance.
“Yes… good,” Mack replied patiently. “Now close your eyes and do it again, but make sure you can feel it before you pull the trigger.”
Tyler settled in again, waited until, like the last time, he could see it, hear it, and then finally feel it… Thump… Something was slightly different this time, though, and Tyler opened his eyes to notice Mack kneeling down next to him. He had quietly deposited a ball into the place where Tyler had swung. Tyler looked up in the direction of the green and the target flag he had been aiming toward just in time to see a ball slow to a gentle stop about four inches from the flag.
“How’d you do that?” Tyler said, almost in wonder now.
“I didn’t,” Mack replied. “You did. You just had to stop thinking. See it, hear it, and feel it. Once you feel it, you can believe it. Anything more is more than we need. Any questions?”
As Mack turned to walk up out of the bunker, Tyler just stood there shaking his head a moment, looking at the spot in the sand, and then back up at the green as if to confirm the ball he’d seen roll to stop was still there. “I guess I’ve still got a lot to learn.”
“Well… yes and no,” Mack said cryptically as he turned back to look at him. “You pretty much know how to hit all the shots, Tyler. You’ve hit every one of them at one time or another. You’ve just got to learn how to empty your head of all those instructions so you can focus on finding the shot you need when you need it. It’s in there somewhere.”
“It’s hard to explain,” Tyler said, “but a lot of times I walk up and think I somehow just instinctively know what shot to hit without even thinking about it. I just kind of see it and feel it. It’s when I start to analyze things a bit more closely, factoring in all the things I know are important to consider like the wind, keeping away from the short side, where I want to putt from, and the best trajectory or shot shape for the situation, that I often start to second guess that feeling.”
“Ever heard the saying paralysis from analysis?” Mack asked. “It pretty much describes those moments.”
“Yeah, I get it,” Tyler replied, “but all that information is important. You have to consider everything and not just make a rash decision.”
“Sure, information is important, but you can’t get lost in it,” Mack countered. “Whether it’s golf, or just about anything else in life, Tyler, you need to learn to trust your gut. You’ve hit hundreds of thousands of shots in your life, Tyler. All those shots leave a mark. They leave an indelible little mark that gets filed away in your brain subconsciously, getting stacked one on top of the other. And after years of playing the game, those stacks and stacks of shots create an instinctive reaction to each situation. It’s like gravity. It pulls you in a certain direction so much that most of the time you almost know what club you should hit before you even know the yardage. Trust that, Tyler. Go with it, and know that first instinct comes from experience. There’s more wisdom in those gut reactions than just about anything else.”
“Thank you,” Tyler said after considering it a moment. “I think that’ll really help.”
“You’re welcome,” Mack replied. “Now rake that bunker for me and clean the balls off the green. I want to get things closed up before dark.”
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