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Rubenstein: Anchoring ban won't drive golfers away Add to ...

Now that the USGA and the R&A have banned anchoring a putter, the idea that this will drive players from the game will only heat up. Well, it’s been plenty hot since it became apparent that the ruling bodies of the game were moving in this direction. I can’t see it. I just don’t believe that players will give up the game or not take it up because they’ll no longer be able to anchor the putter should they choose to follow the rules.

I’ve written about the proposed ban before, here and here, and here. Meanwhile, I don’t think I’ve heard anything more questionable in all my years writing about golf than the idea that people will leave golf or that the game won’t “grow” if a ban on anchoring is imposed. What does “growing” the game, anyway, have to do with a decision based on what a golf swing and stroke is all about?

Golf is a difficult game. It always has been and always will be. This is one important reason people like it. The USGA’s and R&A’s ruling is all about “defining what is a golf stroke,” as the R&A’s secretary Peter Dawson said during the global teleconference. A golf stroke means a golf swing. Anchoring part of the putter against one’s belly or chest is not a swing. It appears to be a more effective way to putt, especially at short range, which is why more instructors are advocating the method and why young golfers are taking to it. But it’s not a swing.

“Throughout the 600-year history of golf, the essence of playing the game has been to grip the club with the hands and swing it freely at the ball,” USGA Executive Director Mike Davis said. “The player’s challenge is to control the movement of the entire club in striking the ball, and anchoring the club alters the nature of that challenge. Our conclusion is that the Rules of Golf should be amended to preserve the traditional character of the golf swing by eliminating the growing practice of anchoring the club.”

I’m old enough to have played golf way back in the 1960s; you know, that era when a long drive was 260 yards, you had to hit the ball in the middle of a tiny clubface to get the maximum out of the club, the ball curved more so a poor swing caused more problems, and so on. I’m no Luddite and I don’t believe the game was better or worse than now - it was challenging then. it’s challenging now, it was a pleasure to play then and it’s a pleasure to play now.

But I know this: I have never heard one golfer say he or she is going to quit the game because it’s too difficult. I’ve played with many golfers who have the yips and they have tried to find ways of dealing with their anxiety and they’ve not left the game. Anchoring the putter does help neutralize anxiety, especially on short putts, but that’s an external rather than an internal solution to one of the game’s most vexing problems. Brandt Snedeker, this year’s FedEx Cup winner, said he wants to see how a player handles anxiety down the stretch of a tournament. How does the golfer cope with shaky hands?

I would be surprised if the controversy over the anchoring ban that will become official in the spring of 2013 after a period of comment from interested parties until then, and become part of the Rules of Golf on Jan. 1, 2016, doesn’t fade away over time. Golfers might not play the game because of its cost and the time it takes. But, as I say, I have yet to have somebody tell me that he’s quitting the game because it’s too hard. In the same way, I don’t think anybody currently playing golf would leave the game if the ruling bodies slowed down the ball so that a long drive is 280 yards and not 325 yards.

Golf’s a brutally hard game. There’s a great deal of satisfaction to be derived from conquering its many challenges, even if only briefly. The last word, for the moment anyway, goes to the USGA’s Davis.

“Difficulty is way down the list, and anchoring would only be a very, very small part of that,” he said, referring to factors that influence why golfers quit golf or don’t start to play. "So ultimately, we don't think quitting the game or not playing the game is really an option when this comes to this anchored stroke.”

The PGA of America’s president Ted Bishop told Golf Channel’s Rich Lerner after the teleconference that his association considers the ban a “step backwards,” when it comes to growing the game. He believes that the game’s difficulty does drive people from the game.

And there you have it. The battle on the ban is joined. As for the ban affecting the growth of the game, I just don’t see it. Golf is bigger, better, more intriguing and more enticing, than whether a player can anchor a putter.

RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein

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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at rube@sympatico.ca . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein

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