The 2013 Masters was consumed with stories about the rules of golf.
Tianlang Guan, the 14-year old Chinese phenom who earned the honor of low amateur, received a one-stroke penalty for slow play on Friday, nearly pushing him below the weekend cut line.
Tiger Woods was the story of the tournament after being retroactively penalized two strokes for an illegal drop on the 15th hole Friday that had many demanding he disqualify himself from the Masters.
Rules, rules, rules. Golf is full of them.
Yet somehow, the biggest potential rule change in golf—the ability for PGA Tour players to use anchored putters like the one Adam Scott lugged around the greens during his Masters-winning performance at Augusta this week—seemed like a complete non-issue, especially to those who covered the Masters for CBS.
Sir Nick Faldo was one of the most vociferous detractors of Woods staying in the tournament, demanding the best golfer of this generation take himself out of the tournament for signing an incorrect scorecard. Faldo, like most pundits who felt the same way, neglected to acknowledge that sometimes the rules of golf change, and in 2011, the PGA Tour installed a rule to protect players from being disqualified for penalties spotted on TV.
Throughout play over the weekend, Faldo was apoplectic whenever the topic of Woods' illegal drop came up, exasperated at the notion that golf's rules have changed from when he played, lamenting how different the game has become. And still, when Scott lined up putt after putt on the difficult Augusta greens, there was nary a mention of the fight to ban the use of anchored putters.
Remember that rule, the biggest potential change to the PGA Tour rulebook in nearly a generation? Interesting how that didn't come up, isn't it?
Certainly the drama down the second nine on Sunday, which spilled into the playoff between Scott and Angel Cabrera going to a second hole, overshadowed the need for Faldo, Jim Nantz or anyone on CBS to shoehorn in the debate about long putters.
That doesn't mean the conversation shouldn't be happening. (Faldo has been on the fence about the anchored putters in the past.)
With Scott winning the green jacket in 2013, four of the last six major champions have won using an anchored putter.
Scott is the first player to win a major championship since the USGA and R&A proposed a ban of using anchored putters from competitive use last November. Per the joint proposal, the length of the putter wouldn't be an issue, but the ability to anchor the putter to one's body would. If the ban passes—and the fight is still being waged—it would go into effect in 2016.
PGA commissioner Tim Finchem, however, came out in February and said the PGA Tour and PGA of America have no plan to ban the putters, given a lack of evidence to change the rule on equipment.
Is four out of six a pattern or a string of coincidences?
Scott's putter failed him in epic fashion in last year's Open Championship, so should that be counted in the same manner as his stellar putting late on Sunday at the Masters?
In all four majors—Els over Scott at last year's Open Championship, Scott at the Masters this week, Webb Simpson at the 2012 U.S. Open and Keegan Bradley at the 2011 PGA Championship—was it the player, the putter or a combination of both?
(Note: Els has mentioned he will be phasing out his belly putter. Methinks Scott will be ordering a few more after this weekend, just in case one gets lost.)
Many players support the mission by the USGA and R&A to ban the anchored putters, some even going so far as to admonish the game's governing bodies for ever letting them into championship competition in the first place.
Arnold Palmer, who got the Masters started on Thursday with the ceremonial first drive off the first tee at Augusta, said just three weeks ago that he hopes the anchored putters get banned (via Doug Ferguson, PGA.com):
That's not part of the game of golf. To attach it to your body in any way is taking a little bit away from the game. I'm not going to argue with anybody about it. I've stated my position, and that is we do not need a contraption to play the game of golf.
Scott does not use a traditional belly putter, which anchors to the stomach in an effort to eliminate unnecessary wrist action and create more of a pendulum swing with the club. Scott plays with a "broomstick" putter, with a shaft so long it essentially anchors to his chin.
Cheating? No. Contraption? Yes.
Palmer's recent comments are in line with the European Tour, which has backed the R&A and USGA, stating in early March (via Tony Jimenez, Reuters.com):
Virtually all of our Tournament Committee and player representatives support the proposed rule even though they are aware, and have taken into account, the fact some members and especially our senior members use the anchored method.
The European PGA agrees with the ban as well, suggesting there is no evidence the longer, anchored putters make the game more enjoyable for weekend hacks like most of us.
Let's not forget the best two players in the world, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both back the ban, with both players suggesting Finchem doesn't want to ban the clubs because he's looking out for his players, not the integrity of the game.
In February, McIlroy went as far as to suggest Finchem's comments against the ban were a "knee-jerk reaction to how much success people were having with it" (h/t Paul Mahoney, The Independent).
With Scott's green jacket, we can add even more success with the long putters.
Scott was one of two players in the top 10 in this year's Masters to use a long putter. Matt Kuchar finished tied for eighth this year, just a few places ahead of Tim Clark, Els and Fred Couples, who all placed in the top 15 using long putters.
In a sport so hung up on its own rules, it's almost comical how poorly this rule has been handled. Like all rules of golf, it needs to be decided upon and enforced unilaterally. The sooner the better, or more of the biggest trophies in the game will be won by players using a device that may soon be against the rules.
That said, arbitrary enforcement of rules isn't anything new to golf. People around the world were upset at the slow play penalty given to Guan, which is seldom assessed.
They were upset about the Woods ruling too, saying the PGA was protecting its top player, then, after hearing the full explanation, upset that a player could be penalized for his comments when talking to reporters. It also seemed ridiculous that a television viewer's comment could spur a penalty.
For a game with so many rules, there needs to be a little more clarity on when and how to enforce them.
We spent so much time this past weekend debating the way the Woods drop was handled, wondering what would happen if Woods were to win the tournament after not disqualifying himself. What did we get in the end but another player—who modeled his game after Woods and currently employs his old caddy—having the tournament of his life, sinking a series of clutch putts with a flat stick that's longer than the distance between the two divots Woods left on the 15th fairway.
Golf is a game of inches…or perhaps yards. I guess it depends on where you drop your ball, or how long your putter is.
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