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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
The Gear Dive: Golf marketing convo with Honma VP John Kawaja
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The Wedge Guy: How many wedges?
From the feedback I get, many golfers are not entirely confident…or are completely confused…about how many wedges they should carry. Those of you who know my work and writing over the past 25 years or so also know that I am a proponent of carrying a carefully measured “set” of wedges that give you the shotmaking control you need in prime scoring range. But what I’ve learned over those many years is that the number of wedges that is “right”, and the lofts of those wedges can be very different from one golfer to another.
The reason I think getting this right is so important is that your scores are more heavily influenced by your play from wedge range into the green, and your shotmaking around the greens, than by any other factor. The right “set” of wedges in your bag can make all the difference in the world.
As I repeatedly preach, taking your guidance from the PGA Tour players might not help you achieve your goals. These guys spend hundreds of hours each year perfecting their wedge play, and you simply cannot do that. The good news is that you can add some science to your wedge set make-up that can help you have more shot choices when you are in scoring range or trying to save par from a missed green.
My basic premise on the subject is that the answer can be approached scientifically for each golfer, and it is a multi-step process
- Begin by knowing the loft of the 9-iron and “P-club” that came with your set of irons, as optimum gapping begins there. The industry challenge of producing longer-hitting irons has led most OEMs to strengthen lofts throughout the set. Along the way, it was apparently decided to widen the gaps between the short irons to 5 degrees from the traditional 4 that stood for decades. What this does is increase the distance differential between your 9-iron and “P-club” from what I would consider optimum. For golfers of slower swing speeds, that 5-degree gap might well deliver a 10-12 yard differential, but my bet is that most of you are getting a difference closer to 15 yards, or even more. That just will not let you get the distance control precision you want in prime scoring range.
- The second step is to be honest with your distances. I am a big proponent of getting on the golf course or range with a laser or GPS and really knowing how far you carry each of your short irons and wedges. Hit a number of shots from known yardages and see where they land (not including roll out). My bet is that you will find that your distances are different from what you thought they were, and that the differentials between clubs are not consistent.
- Figure out where to start. If your actual and real distance gap between your 9-iron and “P-club” is over 12-13 yards, maybe the place to start could be with a stronger P-club. You can either have your loft strengthened a bit or make the shaft 1/4 to 1/2” longer to add a few yards to that club.
- Figure out what lofts your wedges should have. From there, I suggest selecting lofts of your wedges to build a constant yardage difference of 10-12 yards between clubs. Depending on your strength profile, that may require wedges at four-degree intervals, or it might be five – each golfer is different. Those with very slow swing speeds might even find that six-degree gaps deliver that distance progression.
- Challenge the traditional 52-56-60 setup. Those lofts became the “standard” when set-match pitching wedges were 48 degrees of loft. That hasn’t been the case in over 25 years. Most of today’s P-clubs are 45 degrees, which leaves a very large distance differential between that club and a 52-degree gap wedge. Some enlightened golfers have evolved to carry a wedge set of 50-54-58, which is a step in the right direction. But you can get whatever loft precision you want, and you should do that. At SCOR, we made wedges in every loft from 41 to 61 degrees, and our wedge-fitting tool prescribed lofts of 49-53-57-61 to many golfers, based on that 45* “P-club” and their stated distance profile. Those who took that advice were generally very happy with that change. We fitted and sold many sets at 49-54-59 as well. Though no company offers wedges in every loft, you can bend even numbers to hit your numbers exactly. Just remember, bending stronger reduces the bounce and bending weaker increases the bounce.
What many of you will find with this exercise is that it suggests that you should be carrying more wedges. That’s probably true for the vast majority of recreational golfers. I have come to realize that more wedges and less long clubs will usually improve your scores. After all, long or short by 25-30 feet is great at long range, but not acceptable in prime scoring range.
If you have more clubs at the long end of your bag (longer than a 5- or 6-iron) than you do at the short end (9-iron and up) then you should consider an honest self-appraisal of how often you use each club between your driver and putter. My bet is that it will be an enlightening analysis.
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