It is now official what has been known for months: the USGA has onions.
Golf’s most important ruling body announced Tuesday that -- following a long, divisive comments period that polarized sentiment across the golf world -- anchored putting is the work of the devil and will no longer be allowed to muck up our great game, effective Jan. 1, 2016. The R&A co-signed, though this was never really its fight.
In making the announcement, the USGA’s blue blazers did not cite reams of data that prove anchoring provides a definitive advantage; they didn’t have to. This debate has always been a battle for golf’s soul and the USGA basically came to the conclusion that today’s golfers should swing a putter more or less the same way Old Tom Morris did 150 years ago.
As USGA president Glenn Nager said at Tuesday’s press conference in Far Hills, N.J., “It's important to understand that the playing rules of golf are not based on statistical studies, they're based upon judgments that define the game and its intended challenges.”
“One of those challenges is to control the entire club and the swing, and anchoring the putter alters that challenge,” Nager said. “Moreover, the issue here is not whether anchoring provides a statistical demonstrable advantage to the average golfer or on every stroke or in every circumstance. What matters here is whether by diminishing obstacles inherent in the traditional stroke, anchoring may advantage some players at some times. Statistics are not necessary to resolve that issue.”
No, but it took institutional fortitude to resolve that issue. In the face of stout pushback by the PGA of America and its attention-seeking president and high-profile whining by selfish Tour players and some transparent ass-covering by their commissioner, the USGA has reinvented itself as an activist organization willing to fight the good fight.
Yes, anchoring should have been banned decades ago, when the scourge first appeared. But despite vague threats of legal action and alarmist predictions that a ban will drive away recreational golfers, the USGA has now chosen to do the right thing, and not a moment too soon. Nager noted that only 2 percent to 4 percent of recreational players in the United States and Europe anchor their putters and even fewer do so in other parts of the world. But the USGA has detected a strong uptick among juniors, many of them surely influenced by the four recent major championship winners who anchored. Said Nager, “Rather than being too late, now is a necessary time to act, before even larger numbers begin to anchor and before anchoring takes firm root globally.”
The new Rule 14-1b will not be prying long putters from the cold, dead hands of desperate yippers. They can still use these putters, they simply can’t anchor the end of the putter against their bodies and create a pendulum that reduces some of the shakiness of the hands that makes putting such exquisite torture. That some pro golfers may now have a harder time earning jet-fuel money has been an issue that all along has received undue consideration. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem muddied the waters in February by coming out publicly against the ban, even while acknowledging that he prefers to have the USGA make rules for the entire sport. The Tour can still decide to flout the anchoring ban by enacting a condition of competition, but Nager outlined the ramifications of this doomsday scenario.
“The method of stroke is fundamental to the game and integral to the game's appeal so that we can all play on the same course with the same equipment under the same rules,” Nager said. He added that bifurcation -- golf having separate rules for recreational players and professional players -- would “create two different games and undermine the integrity, the traditions and the global appeal of this game.”
Is that really what Finchem wants at the tail end of his long and successful run as commissioner?
The only disappointment here is that the USGA did not go further and ban anchoring at the beginning of 2014 instead of 2016. We will now have a long limbo in which important tournaments are sure to be won with a putting style that remains legal but has otherwise been stigmatized. Still, we’ll take progress where we can get it, and with the anchoring ban the USGA has now claimed the moral authority to take on future issues fundamental to golf.
“The bottom line is that anchoring has generated serious division within the game and among players about whether those who anchor play the same game and face the same challenges,” said Nager. “Such divisiveness is corrosive to a game that's based on sportsmanship. Rule 14 1b will serve the game by removing the cause of this division.”
Amen to that.