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Adam Scott of Australia uses a "belly putter" during a practice round (MATT SULLIVAN/REUTERS)
Adam Scott of Australia uses a "belly putter" during a practice round (MATT SULLIVAN/REUTERS)

Rubenstein: Is anchoring a stroke of golf? Add to ...

The debate over the proposal to ban anchoring that the USGA and R&A made in late November, after which has followed a three-month comment period that will end Feb. 28th, has widened to include irrelevancies. The only issue is, or should be, whether the player who anchors the putter against his or her body is making a stroke of golf.

The irrelevancies have been fouling the air for the last three months, and reached dizzying heights of irrelevancy this week when PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem conducted a conference call with the 16-member Player Advisory Council. The rhetoric has amped up. And amped up. And amped up.

The majority of PAC members came out against the ban. Joe Ogilvie, a PAC member, referred to it as a “vast” majority. It’s up to the PGA Tour’s policy board to decide whether it will go against the anchoring ban, scheduled to take effect in 2016. It’s likely that Finchem will inform the USGA and R&A by the end of the month that the PGA Tour is against the ban. The PGA Tour could allow a condition of play making anchoring acceptable in its own tournaments.

Steve Stricker, one of four player directors on the PGA Tour policy board, said at this week’s World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship that “the timing” of the ban “is poor.” He added, “We’re at a point in time in the game of golf that we’re trying to keep players, lure players into playing the game, and we all feel–a majority of the players feel that it only puts a negative spin on that, maybe detracts the local guy, the club member, the public player, whoever, from playing the game.”

There’s irrelevancy number one, and the fact that it’s coming from one of the game’s most thoughtful players indicates how sensitive a matter this is. The irrelevancy is the thesis, unproven, that banning anchoring will stop people from taking up the game. The corollary often advanced is that golfers for whom anchoring has proven beneficial–and it’s helped many–will quit golf because of the difficulties they believe they will again face when they’re not allowed to anchor the putter directly against a point on their bodies.

This seems to me to be an argument about that cloudy and also dreamy subject of “growing the game.” That’s the new buzz phrase in golf. The PGA of America and Golf Canada, to cite two national organizations, are always going on about “growing the game,” and if that means changing the game, or at least one important aspect of it, so be it. They may be interested in growing the game, but maybe they don’t care about considering the central and fundamental question of whether anchoring is a stroke of golf.

This all leads to irrelevancy number two, which is that anchoring has been around for 30 or more years, and it has, in much more limited numbers, and so why ban it now? Phil Mickelson has said he doesn’t think anchoring should be part of the game, but that it’s too late to ban it. Why should that be? If it’s wrong, it’s wrong.

The relevant part of the debate has been ignored and even lost. Banning anchoring is about one thing and one thing only: The decision that the USGA and R&A have come to that the golfer who anchors his or her putter is not making a stroke of golf. Thoughtful people can argue until the triple bogeys come home about whether or not it is, but that’s what this is, or should be, about. The irrelevancies have corrupted and debased the discussion.

Here’s what Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director, told GolfDigest.com when the proposed ban was announced.

“It’s been a polarizing issue, and for many years you’ve had people who genuinely care about the game sit on both sides of it,” Davis said. “It’s been fairly divisive and it’s only gotten more so in the last year, but this decision gets back to the USGA and R&A feeling that fundamentally golf for 600 years has been about picking up the club, gripping it with two hands and making a free swing away from the body.

“We don’t write rules to make the game easier,” Davis continued, “but we don’t write rules to make the game harder, either. We write them to define the game, clarify the game, and in this case, the game has always been about swinging the club freely, and the anchored stroke is really a diversion from that.”

This takes us into irrelevancy number three, a big one with many people. They argue that the USGA and R&A should deal with how far the ball is going, and that they need to do something about the ball and perhaps even equipment itself. All true, but a diversion. They’re separate subjects. Again, the proposed ban on anchoring isn’t because it’s making putting too easy, but because the USGA and R&A have, belatedly, for sure, concluded that anchoring a putter is not a stroke of golf. That’s it.

Every other discussion point is fodder for endless debate everywhere in the game. You hear, “If anchoring made putting so easy, everybody would be using it.” PGA Tour player Robert Garrigus led the RBC Canadian Open by one shot heading into the final round last July, but shot even-par 70 the final day. Scott Piercy beat him by a shot.

“I couldn’t make a thing on the last day with a long putter,” Garrigus, who has also used a very short putter, told reporters earlier this month. “Couldn’t sniff the hole from three feet. And they think it’s cheating? I giggled at that.”

It’s not cheating. It’s legal, now anyway. I don’t care whether anchoring is banned or allowed, but I do think the discussion should centre on and not diverge from the one and only relevant question: Is anchoring a stroke of golf?

That’s the only relevant question. Every other point in any and all discussions is a distraction, and irrelevant.

RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein


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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