Let’s face it: if two guys in their 20s don’t win major championships eight months apart while using long putters, all this growling about anchoring doesn’t get loud enough for golf’s governing bodies to hear it. There would have been no rules alterations – certainly not this quickly, anyway – which makes this a self-corrective measure caused largely by the little man.
The U. S. Golf Association can talk all it wants about its decades of research. Timing is everything, however, and when Webb Simpson won a U.S. Open from the clubhouse after one of golf’s most reliable performers (Jim Furyk) collapsed down the stretch, it reminded the recreational golfer that nerves play a huge role in who wins and loses.
From Joe Sixpack’s viewpoint, anchoring the putter amounted to an untoward competitive advantage – a method used to eliminate the free-flowing movement of arms and hands, and thus, reduce the effect of nerves on the stroke. So the people spoke. Both the R&A and USGA listened, leading to legislation that willcome into play beginning in 2016.
Three years? My goodness, who won’t have the yips by then?
If this change could have a potentially serious impact on the pro game, you’ll have a hard time convincing me the abolition means much at the grass-roots level. “It’s totally a better-player issue,” says former assistant pro Dave Burstein, 35, who has used a broomstick on and off for the last eight years. “I don’t think the casual player understands or really cares about the long putter.”
OK, I thought, maybe my boy Dave just doesn’t want everybody latching on, no pun intended. So I called Paul Ryiz, my head pro at the Little Brown Dog, a nine-time overall champion of the PGA of America’s Connecticut Section. “If we’re going to lose [golfers] because of a ban like this, it sounds pretty ridiculous,” he assessed.
A noble position, for sure, although Ryiz also admitted, “I have not sold one long putter or belly putter in the five years I’ve been at our club.” We’re talking about a membership that has purchased 60 or 70 regulation-length putters from Ryiz over that same period, although an 8 handicap who shoots 74 probably isn’t going to dabble much when it comes to experimentation on the greens.
Perhaps we’re guilty of using too broad a brush here, so I’ll defer to PGA of America president Ted Bishop, who sent a letter to the USGA earlier this week opposing the ban. In the letter, Bishop refers to a 16-percent response rate among the nation’s 27,000 club pros, which he calls “extremely high.”
Really? Here we are in late November, when perhaps two-thirds of America’s golf courses are about to shut down for the winter – and the guys who run them don’t have 10 minutes to reply on a matter that has been one of the hottest topics in golf for the last eight months? Perhaps a majority of the 84 percent who didn’t respond simply don’t see the long-putter ban as significant to their cause, be it in the shop or on the first green.
Regardless, 16 percent is 16 percent. In any context, it’s not a number from which volumes of inspiration can be drawn. “It takes a lot of practice to learn how to use the long putter,” says Bruno deBiasi, 52, a seven-time club champ at Brooklawn CC and owner of one of the best amateur short games I’ve ever seen. “That might be the hurdle that keeps a lot of recreational players from using it. It’s not a very athletic stance. It’s actually pretty awkward once you’ve gotten used to a conventional-length putter.”
For all the analysis devoted to the anchoring ban in the near and distant future, it’s important to understand that neither the USGA nor R&A hold lawmaking jurisdiction on the PGA or European tours. The change had to be implemented on a game-wide basis, covering Joe Sixpack first, then Webb Simpson, but only if the lords of pro golf choose to follow the lead of their fellow governing bodies.
If ever a matter cried for bifurcation – better known as two sets of rules – this would seem to be it. Unless you count yourself among a relatively silent minority, however, the game as you and I know it won’t change much, if at all.