“The game of golf would lose a good deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green. You ought to be able to show that you can do it a good deal better than anyone else with the regular tools before you have a license to bring in your own improvements.”
FORT WORTH, Texas – The preceding comment on the game’s biggest hot-button issue didn’t come from the mind of USGA executive director Mike Davis, nor was it spoken by fellow head honchos Glen Nager or Mark Newell. It wasn’t part of R&A chief executive Peter Dawson’s brazen directive. In fact, it had nothing to do with Tuesday’s landmark decision to ban the anchored stroke beginning on Jan. 1, 2016.
They are the words of Ernest Hemingway.
With exactly 955 days remaining for us to collectively jab the butt ends of putters into our belly buttons and sternums, it is important to understand that this issue, in some shape or form, has subsisted within the game’s inner circles for years and its outer circles for just as long, with Hemingway offering dialogue on the matter as an analogy to grammar in a letter published in 1925. (His initial comparison: “My attitude toward punctuation is that it ought to be as conventional as possible.”)
The debate has spanned decades, from Ernest the author to Ernie the anchorer. It was Els who once famously stated, “As long as it’s legal, I’ll keep cheating like the rest of ‘em.” In the wake of Rule 14-1b being implemented into the Rules of Golf, reactions have ranged across the spectrum, with hardly a fence-rider among us. The problem – or perhaps more to the point, the promotion – is that like all equitable debates, there are valid points to be made on all sides of the issue.
Davis argued Tuesday that the governing bodies are simply righting a long-standing wrong. “This was about protecting the fundamentals of what we believe the game has always been and that we do believe this has been a divisive issue that needed to be cleared up.”
Brian Harman employs an anchored putter and doesn’t see why a non-professional’s opinion should adversely affect his career. “It bothers me that guys that have no stake in the game decide how guys are going to make a living doing. I don’t see it (using an anchored stroke) being a huge deal. We have no say in the way that they make those rules. I don’t see how that’s fair.”
Tom Lehman similarly agrees and wonders whether the ruling will impact the USGA and R&A’s global power. “I think the USGA and R&A are setting themselves up for a situation where people don’t follow their lead, which will diminish their credibility as ruling bodies, and I think there’s a potential problem with that.”
Brendan Steele recently switched from anchoring to gripping the putter against his forearm, which will remain legal in 2016 and beyond, but understands the benefit of doing what’s best for him professionally. “I’m going to putt however I can best get the ball into the hole this week and then deal with it moving forward. I’m using the [Matt] Kuchar-style because I feel like it’s the best chance for me to hole putts this week.”
Individually, each argument reeks of common sense – even those which contradict each other. And therein lies the greatest dilemma: There is no right or wrong here.
Unlike drug testing on the game’s elite levels (“All for it,” we say) or slow play (“Let’s erase it,” we contest) or participation (“Need to fix it,” we cry), there is no universal recommendation for the anchoring rule.
Personally, I’d be willing to take part in a Bad News Bears-like chanting process outside the USGA’s Far Hills, N.J., headquarters.
Compounding the matter is the fact that neither answer has been – or will ever be – proven right or wrong. Just as an anchoring ban supporter will quickly point out that four of the last six major championships were won by players placing the end of the putter against their bodies, a contrarian will counter by allowing that the first 418 majors in the game’s history had exactly zero anchoring winners.
What we’re left with is an issue which has two logical points of view and no correct answer. It has become golf’s ultimate enigma, a Rubik’s Cube incapable of being solved. Even so, those who govern and preserve the game declared they uncovered this enigma, accepting their own proposal to the delight and doubt of many.
From Ernest to Ernie, it’s a story which has influenced the game for decades. Trying to solve this problem will only serve to keep it at the forefront.