With a ban on anchoring looming, it's time amateurs played by their own set of rules
In York, England, it is still legal to shoot a Scotsman if he's carrying a bow and arrow -- except on Sundays. In France, it is illegal to name a pig "Napoleon," which gives me a new appreciation for George Orwell. In Lawrence, Kan., drivers entering the city must sound their horns to warn horses of their arrival. My point: Laws are born out of need, but with the passage of time some laws cry out for review.
The traditions of golf are no different. Golf is a game that requires a strict adherence to proper etiquette and comportment, and every participant is responsible for upholding the rules of the game; the potency of these three customs lends golf its civility and, to a large extent, its appeal. Still, not all of the game's traditions make sense to me, first and foremost the mandate that all golfers must abide by one set of rules.
The issue has come into focus with the USGA and R&A's proposed ban on the increasingly popular putting method known as "anchoring." In recent memory, never has an issue divided so many golfers so sharply. Most but not all professionals believe that anchoring a putter against one's stomach or sternum simplifies putting to an unacceptable level. Most but not all recreational players believe that the technique is a godsend, providing a respite from aching backs and the yips.
The answer to this quandary is obvious. Create two sets of rules: one for golfers who play for fun and another for those who play for a living.
Almost every other major sport has just such a legal system. In baseball, amateurs use an aluminum bat with more pop than the wooden bat that the pros swing. In basketball, the three-point line is closer to the rim in the college game than it is in the NBA. In college football, receivers need get only one foot down in bounds for a reception; in the NFL, they must have both feet in.
Traditionalists will cry blasphemy, but believe me, few weekend duffers -- which is to say, the overwhelming majority of golfers -- will take offense to the notion of playing by their own rules, especially if those rules make the game more fun. Ask your golf buddies what they most enjoy about the game and they'll cite the camaraderie, or the joy of striking a perfect shot, or even the genius of the handicap system, which allows two unevenly matched opponents to compete head-to-head. One response you'll rarely, if ever, hear: "Because all golfers play by the same set of rules!"
The anchoring ban has been especially heated in part because it has taken the governing bodies so long to act. Phil Rodgers won on Tour with an anchored putter back in the sixties, and plenty of other pros have had success with long putters since then. In 2011, seven different players won on the PGA Tour with the anchored putter, and, according to the R&A, 28 percent of the field at last year's British Open employed one. Anchoring has been around for so long in the pro ranks that it has become, dare I say, conventional.
Indeed, at clubs all over the world, it's more than conventional -- it's vital. In the last decade alone, millions of amateurs have grown reliant upon the corrective tendencies provided by anchoring, while the principles of the technique and how to choose the right belly or long putter have become popular topics on practice greens and in grill rooms.
Anchoring has become more than a fad -- it's one of the game's new traditions, a tradition that at least one set of rules should embrace.
This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Golf Magazine, on newstands now. Click here to subscribe to Golf Magazine and to learn about Golf Magazine All Access.