The 90-day comment period on golf’s proposal to ban anchored strokes came to a merciful end Thursday. Now the USGA and R&A have to decide whether they are going to remain the guardians of the game or kowtow to the PGA Tour.
“So it opens the debate as to how much does the PGA Tour call the shots in world golf,” said former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, of Northern Ireland. “We’re about to find out.”
The U.S. Golf Association and R&A have more passionate feedback than they bargained for to sift through before making a final decision on defining the fundamental nature of the golf swing. On Sunday, the PGA Tour joined the PGA of America by taking dead aim against the anchor ban proposal. The European Tour and a number of prominent players, including Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer, stand with the banning crowd.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem dropped anchor against golf’s governing bodies with a public declaration against banning during the telecast of Sunday’s World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. In doing so he made an aggressive statement and put the USGA and R&A in a precarious position of instituting a rule that the world’s most prominent tour might decide to ignore.
Backing down now in this game of regulatory chicken could make it impossible for golf’s traditional governing bodies to rule with the same authority in the future. But proceeding without the blessing of the PGA Tour could lead to competitive chaos if pros play by one set of rules in regular PGA Tour events and another set of rules in certain major championships or alternating Ryder Cups run by organizations with opposing viewpoints.
“I see the PGA Tour backing down. I don’t see the USGA and R&A backing down,” McDowell said. “I feel like they’re all in and have put too much in to back down now. The PGA Tour says, ‘Work away guys,’ and all of the sudden you get to the U.S. Open and British Open and they’re banned? If European Tour says ban ’em and PGA Tour says don’t ban ’em, we get to the WGCs and what do we do now?”
That “can of worms” – as world No. 1 Rory McIlroy called it – is at stake. Both sides are entrenched.
Much of the logic used to defend the anchored putting status quo is reminiscent of the classic quote on social safety nets by “Coach” Craig T. Nelson.
“I’ve been on food stamps and welfare – did anybody help me out? No!” Nelson told Glenn Beck in 2009 in one of the all-time twisted thoughts.
The anchoring equivalent came from the lips of Harrison Frazar, a member of the PGA Tour Policy Board that helped convince Finchem to make his public declaration against the anchoring ban on behalf of the tour’s players.
“I’ve used long putters; I’ve used belly putters; I’ve used short and regular; I’ve used ultra short with fat grips; I’ve used all of it,” Frazar said recently. “And with the exception of helping me just simply get the ball in the hole from a foot-and-a-half, I didn’t notice a whole lot of difference. It never really made me a better putter.”
The straw man arguments used to defend anchoring have done little to dissuade the purists who see anchoring as anathema to the spirit of a true golf swing.
They’ve decried a lack of empirical data to support the theory that anchoring is beneficial, ignoring the obvious anecdotal information that struggling putters have converted for obvious reasons to combat the yips. They’ve trotted out the absurd statement that “if it was so much better everyone would be doing it,” as if already top putters would even consider making changes to something that isn’t broken.
They’ve asserted that a ban could drive away golfers in a game struggling to grow when all evidence points to cost, time and access as the biggest inhibiting factors regarding participation.
Golf’s governing bodies aren’t thinking about pro players or specific constituencies, but the overall good of the game and what defines a traditional stroke. Woods stands with the USGA’s Mike Davis and R&A’s Peter Dawson on this.
“I still feel that all 14 clubs should be swung, it shouldn’t be anchored,” Woods said. “That hasn’t changed at all.”
While many players agree with him, the tour still opted to side with its growing ranks of anchorers. In a grand display of institutional arrogance, some of the several hundred pros who make up the game’s elite believe that they know what is best for the millions who play the game in the rest of the world. Golf revolves around them, of course. They are the center of the universe. Their precious bank accounts and means of acquiring wealth are the only thing that matters.
To heck with the folks who have been codifying the rules since the game began long before “professional” was considered a respectable word in golf.
“The real issue is, why do people who don’t play golf professionally, get to make rules for guys who do?” one tour pro was quoted as saying anonymously after players met with USGA executive director Davis in January at Torrey Pines.
Another unidentified peer countered that sentiment.
“Guys have lost the fact that the rules aren’t written for just pros or 200 guys, but for millions of people,” said another pro. “In my opinion, the height of arrogance is thinking the Rules of Golf should be tailored to us.”
Finchem tried to spin the conversation away from that selfish approach and pretended to care about the average golfers whose yip curatives might be affected by the ban. But in reality, he’s just looking out for his constituents.
Just not all of them agree.
“I stand where I stood at the beginning of it all,” McDowell said. “At the top level of the game we shouldn’t be anchoring the club to our body. I get the argument of bifurcation (different sets of rules for pros and amateurs) and all the stuff. At the end of the day, how similar are we as tour players to an older 15- to 20-handicap golfer at his local muni who just wants to enjoy the game of golf? There’s a huge disparity there anyway. So I’m a believer we should take it away from the top level of the game and get it back into a pure form.”
It’s now in the hands of the USGA and R&A to make a final decision on behalf of everyone and dare the top ranks to play by their rules.
“It’s an interesting debate, and I’m looking forward to it being over because, I guess, I’m fed up talking about it,” McDowell said. “I don’t even use one, and I’m fed up. I can’t even imagine how (anchorers) Adam Scott and Keegan Bradley feel. I feel for those guys. So I’m looking forward to the end. Let’s make a call and move on.”