Did the USGA and R&A Get the Rule Change Right?

Fred Altvater@@tolohgolfrContributor IIDecember 1, 2012

The USGA and R&A announced the proposed rule change for anchored strokes will begin on January 1, 2016.  The clamor of "unfair" and "how could they?" is rising up around the world.

Tiger Woods has made his position quite clear on the matter and considers anchoring shots a form of cheating.  Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and others who are currently using the anchored putters do not want to have to go back to the conventional method.

Even mild-mannered Tom Lehman has come out strongly against the ruling calling it unethical.  He made these comments to the Golf Channel: 

It is blatantly unfair to have let it go on this long and now decades later make this proposed ruling. There are many young players who have grown up with the belly putter, never even using traditional methods. To tell them it is illegal or against the spirit of the game is way late, very unfair and in my opinion unethical. If I were Webb Simpson or Keegan Bradley or Bernhard Langer or anyone else who has poured their hearts and soul into putting this way, I would be furious. The reality is that successful golf is achieved by what happens between the ears. I am disappointed with this ruling.

Golf club and equipment manufacturers have made clubs more forgiving for missed shots.  They have exponentially increased the distance the ball will fly with new technologies and better golf balls. 

Has golf gotten easier for the average golfer over the past 20 years?

There are still a lot of hackers at my golf course with handicaps somewhat north of 25.  

The Khaki slacks and Blue Blazer country club set are bemoaning the effect that these newfangled long and belly putters are having on the game.  They are appalled at the number of younger people using the illegal and ungainly looking things at their club. 

It just doesn’t look right to the traditional golfer.

Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els even had the brass to win three of the last five majors with the contemptible things.  In addition, Adam Scott was runner-up to Els at the 2012 Open Championship right there in bloody Scotland.

If you ask any avid golfer why he plays the game, you will get several different responses.  One of the most popular is that the game is challenging and difficult to conquer.

Golf is not a game of easy.  It never has been. 

Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and even Tiger Woods experienced periods when they struggled to get the ball down the fairway and into the hole.

If the guys who have played the game at its highest level for most of their lives struggle occasionally, what chance does the average golfer have?

If the long putter or belly putter is anchored during the stroke and makes the game somewhat more enjoyable for the average golfer, should it be banned entirely?

The term "bifurcation" keeps getting tossed around. Who even knows what that means? Do we really want separate rules for professionals and amateurs?

How many sets of rules do we need?  Maybe just have a set of rules for your Sunday morning foursome with your buddies.  I’m sure you and your pals always adhere to the formal "Rules of Golf" in your casual rounds.

It’s difficult enough to learn one set of rules. How is a second set of rules even feasible? 

No, we all need to play by the same set of rules.  That method has worked fairly well for over 500 years. 

If you want to allow your regular playing partner to use an anchored putter in your friendly game, so be it, but he is out of luck if he wants to use that long anchored wand in the club championship or some other sanctioned event.

Major League Baseball players can only use wooden bats, but amateurs are allowed to play with aluminum. College football rules mandate that a receiver needs one foot in-bounds for a reception, while the NFL requires both feet to be in-bounds.

These are both examples of bifurcation.

It just doesn’t work that well for golf.

The timing of this announcement by the USGA and R&A is terrible.  They should have decided on this issue 30 years ago when Orville Moody first started wielding the long putter on the PGA Tour. 

Little did "Old Sarge" realize what a firestorm he was creating.

Anchored putting strokes were not an issue until quite recently.  A very small percentage of golfers and very few tournament professionals ever used the anchored style of putting.  It was reserved for those pitiful souls afflicted with the "yips" and octogenarians who couldn’t comfortably bend over. 

The USGA and R&A were beginning to see a dramatic increase in the percentage of the field at USGA and R&A events using an anchored stroke for their putting preference. 

They were even beginning to hear golf instructors advising and teaching their students to use the anchored stroke.

However, the straw that broke the camel’s back was that players using an anchored putter won three of the last five major titles. 

That simply could not be allowed to continue.

The USGA and R&A only consider rule changes once every four years. Would the decision have been any easier if they had waited four more years?

The USGA and R&A are comprised of older gentlemen who take the duty of protecting the integrity of the game seriously.

They have spent much time pondering and discussing this issue at great length.  On the whole, they do an excellent job of preserving the great game of golf.

Just because it looks funny and is not conventional in some golfer’s minds, should the anchored stroke be banned completely?


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