Questionable Play is GolfWRX version of a mailbag from the perspective of a millennial who also happens to be a purist, which is to say, I’m a twenty-something who often practices with a persimmon driver and walks most of the time. As with any other piece on this site, we highly encourage comments. We’d also like you to send questions that can inspire future columns to email@example.com to we can keep this column rolling. Let’s do this!
This edition of Questionable Play is anchored in an old and potentially tired subject, but that doesn’t prevent it from being interesting. The USGA is trying to “modernize the rules of golf,” and it’s hard to say whether the fans will have any significant impact in the USGA’s new initiative to “simplify” the rules of golf. They have solicited opinions from every corner of the golfing world in the last six months, though, so why don’t we give them one more?
Leading up to the USGA rules revision in 2012, there was a debate centered around whether or not the USGA was going to ban an anchored putting stroke, design the rule so that the putter had to be the shortest club in your bag, or leave it alone and let people continue to anchor. There was fiery discussion on both sides of the argument, and many of the prominent members of the golf media (namely Brandel Chamblee) believed it was finally time for bifurcation, or two sets of rules: one to govern the amateur game, and another to govern the professional game.
I didn’t agree with bifurcation (still don’t). Many aspects of golf that make it different are rooted in tradition and nostalgia, for better or worse. Bifurcation wouldn’t have been a big deal, but it would have taken away something that no other sport can boast; in golf, everyone plays by the exact same set of rules from Tiger Woods to the weekend warriors. (See, that’s what happens. The previous sentence isn’t necessarily rational, but it’s how golfers view their own world, which is fine.) I’m glad the rules weren’t split, but I still think the governing bodies got the anchor ban wrong.
Brandel Chamblee beat his opinion drum a little louder than normal a couple months ago when he called out PGA Tour Champions veterans Bernhard Langer and Scott McCarron (though most of his attention was on Langer) for what he considered to be anchoring of the putter. Both players have long used broomstick-style putters and Langer has been doing everything but flogging his playing competitors with it as of late. Langer now holds the record for most major wins on the penultimate senior tour.
Langer and McCarron have both been defended by the USGA. Here’s the statement:
Over the last two years, the USGA has worked with the PGA Tour Champions and other professional tours to support education and adoption of Rule 14-1b. We are confident that rule has been applied fairly and consistently and have seen no evidence of a player breaching the rule, which does not prohibit a hand or club to touch a player’s clothing in making a stroke. Integrity is at the heart of the rules and how the game is played worldwide, and this essential value has made the game enjoyable for all golfers. We will continue to work with our partners at the R&A to listen and review all of golf’s rules, with an eye on making them easier to understand and apply.
That statement, accompanied by statements from Langer and McCarron, seemed to calm the storm a bit, but it didn’t settle the debate. Videos of Langer making a stroke with the camera zoomed in on his chest continue to make the rounds. Below is the most damning one of Langer. If you look closely, it simply looks as though his thumb is touching his shirt, but it’s impossible to say if his thumb is touching his chest.
— Shane Gurnett (@gurngunja) July 1, 2017
The USGA got it wrong for this reason; you can’t definitively prove golfers are anchoring from the videos, and if your rule is based on intent, then you HAVE to trust the player. Otherwise, you’re just going to breakdown the trust between the organization and the players who are governed. Anyone who’s watched a single episode of Game of Thrones knows that a lack of trust between the governing body and the governed only leads to mutiny. The good news? The solution is easy.
The only way I see to end this squabble about anchoring is for the USGA to retract the rule and allow anchoring once again. The USGA got it wrong when it banned the anchored stroke, because all it did was complicate the rules of golf more. And as the keepers of the rules look to revise what’s in place, now is as good a time as any to own up to a mistake and reinstate anchoring into the game. There are a couple of precedents for the USGA and R&A retracting rules over the last century or so. Here are two straight form the USGA’s website:
1. “The 1956 code eliminated the penalty for a ball hitting an unattended flagstick in the hole when played from the putting green (but by 1968, both rulemaking bodies had agreed to restore the penalty).”
2. “Seeking to speed up play, the 1968 code introduced a new rule allowing a player to clean a ball on the putting green only once (before the first putt); and, in stroke play only, requiring the player to putt continuously until the ball was holed (but these changes proved impractical and unpopular, and were revoked in 1970).”
The second example is a perfect fit for this scenario, because it’s fair to say that all of this debate and calling a player’s integrity into question is not the direction anyone wants to go. It’s not great for the game, which is to say, the anchoring ban is impractical.
The USGA, while it’s “modernizing the rules of golf,” should retract the anchoring ban and let players use the stroke they were allowed to use prior to 2016 so we can all move on. If the USGA was going to ban anchored putting, it should have done it in 1991 after Rocco Mediate became the first player to win on the PGA Tour using an anchored putter. The USGA didn’t, and it missed a chance. The only thing the ban has accomplished in the last 18 months is to put players in a strange predicament where they have to defend themselves to people from all over the world.