Don’t Give In, USGA

Amid a frigid, desert backdrop on Sunday, the PGA Tour drew their line in the sand. 

Now it’s up to the game’s governing bodies to walk right over it.

While the final match of the WGC-Accenture Match Play was still unfolding, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem took to the media center and then the NBC booth to express the PGA Tour’s official position on the proposed ban of the anchored stroke: these guys don’t like it.

The PGA Tour wrote a letter to the governing bodies, as they requested within a 90-day comment period after the proposed ban was announced, saying they disagree with the idea. And that’s where it ends for now. Finchem, a lawyer by trade, stuck to his training, not giving up his next move based on how the governing bodies respond to their letter. However, there are truly only three outcomes that this letter could cause:

  1. The governing bodies ignore the letter and implement the ban in 2016 as planned
  2. The governing bodies feel pressured and withdraw their proposed ban altogether
  3. The governing bodies work with the PGA Tour, PGA of America manufacturers and other stakeholders to revise the ban to appease more parties

I would suggest the first option (or the third, I suppose). Ban the anchored stroke, PGA Tour be damned. The facts on the table suggest no reason to give in to the wishes of the paid set.

We’re looking at a ban that impacts a very small percentage of golfers. Finchem suggested some 20 percent of golfers anchor. That’s patently false, unless he’s talking about boat ownership. It’s closer to 5 percent, maybe. A survey in Great Britain suggested closer to 2 percent.

In other words, the ban would impact an extremely small percentage of golfers. Really, how many people have you seen at your favorite course using one? Me? Three. Ever. And I play a lot of golf.

However, anchored putting on the PGA Tour has grown exponentially compared to the weekend hacks. At the Open Championship last July, nearly 29 percent of the field wielded a belly or long putter. Though three of the last five majors have been won by anchorers, their growing ranks as a whole is what scares the governing bodies – and the PGA Tour, both for very different reasons.

If the PGA Tour were to support the ban, they could be upsetting a large base of their membership. If the USGA backs down, they’re affirming the growth of anchored putting at the highest level, surely to eventually trickle down to the average player, which is precisely what they want to avoid.

For proponents of banning the ban, so to speak, they see no problem with the proliferation of the anchored stroke. Why not? It’ll grow the game, they say.

Maybe, but not in the way that making the game more welcoming, affordable, accessible and faster would. The advances in equipment have not directly led to growth among our ranks. Give players a 1000 cc driver head. Let them play the Polara ball. The game’s real issues in participation have more to do with bigger issues than 20 inches on a putter and how it’s held. That doesn’t mean to throw the ban out with the bathwater, but rather to implement it because it’s the right thing to do. Then tackle the game’s bigger problems.

In fact, the governing bodies should implement the ban and go a step further. Regulate the golf ball — more so. Reign its maximum distance in 20 yards or so. Instead of instituting equipment rules, like grooves and the anchored stroke, incrementally every five years or so, take care of the game’s two most pressing issues at once. Then we can be done with it and move on to those endemic issues. 

Again, those in favor of a frontier-style approach to equipment regulation would suggest rolling back the ball would drive more golfers from the game. Probably not.

It often seems forgotten, but golfers always have the option of moving up a tee box. Nothing would convince players to Tee It Forward more (and please the PGA of America) than by taking away the maximum distance their golf ball can fly. But, a ball roll back would likely have little impact on most golfers anyhow because they simply don’t hit it well and far enough to impact them.

On the plus side, maintaining the anchoring ban and rolling back the golf ball could actually help one of golf’s problems: speed. Think about it.

If the ball doesn’t travel as far, then it doesn’t go as far offline. That means you’ll find your banana slice sooner. It means you’ll move up a tee box, walking less and playing more. It means you won’t pause to go for it from 255 out on a par 5 when you know you’re more likely to top it forward 30 yards than clear that water hazard guarding the green. 

Taking away the anchored stroke would improve pace, too. Your weekly match would have a whole lot more gimmes because all of you will stink at putting, instead of having that one guy who anchors and is making everything inside 10 feet. The anchorers will putt faster, convinced they’re mere mortals. 

But you know what would fix this entire problem? Bifurcation. Tick the boxes on the rules that need to be different for pros and amateurs. Let the PGA Tour make their own rulebook, or the governing bodies can do it for them. Name the two sets of rules Golf Hard and Golf Easy.

Amateurs can play either way. They’ve been selectively adhering to the rules for centuries. Most don’t know how to take a drop anyhow, and that’s fine by me because their blissful ignorance has no bearing on the history of the sport.

Meanwhile, let the PGA Tour represent a couple hundred guys against a couple hundred folks at the governing bodies. Start your finger-snapping now, the Sharks and the Jets are about to rumble.

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