For the tortured souls among us who bleed green, last week's news was exhausting: The Old Course is getting a makeover, and anchored putting – typically achieved by sticking the butt end of a long-shafted putter in one's belly (you read that right) – is on life support. Both stories broke last week, courtesy of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and the United States Golf Association.
There were no reports of violence. We got lucky.
The Old Course, in St. Andrews, Scotland, is the Temple Mount of golf, where the game has been played since the 15th century. We nod here to those who would challenge the assertion that golf is merely a game that one plays. Golf has so many constituencies you could spend whole days nodding like a Bobby Jones bobblehead doll and never accomplish anything.
That would please golf's arch conservatives, who are resistant to all change and believe that the coming modifications to the Old Course – adding some sand traps, flattening the back of the 11th green and a fairway mound, expanding the Road Hole Bunker – are as unnecessary as painting the White House columns fuchsia or some other color of the moment. The truth is that the Old Course has often been altered, most notably by Old Tom Morris and Mother Nature. The nips and tucks announced by the R&A will not diminish the greatness of the old gal, although it seems unlikely they will improve her.
The proposed ban on so-called anchored putting, announced jointly by the USGA and the R&A, is a pendulum swing the other way, trying to turn golf's calendar back to 1980, when long putters first started showing up on the senior tour. The governing bodies, fulfilling their mandate to give us a set of rules that will protect us from ourselves, are saying that a golf club should be held with only your hands. Bravo.
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On this putting matter, the R&USGA (saving space in these hectic times) is getting hammered by various modernists, who think long putters make a hard sport easier and more inviting. But golf is meant to be hard. It's Scottish! The real problem is that the R&USGA should have figured out that anchoring violates golf's fundamental nature three decades ago, before Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson and Ernie Els won majors by going long.
And then there's the real real problem, that neither organization has a decent staff futurist. The noise over the Old Course changes and anchored putting brings to mind the movie Wag the Dog, where political operators create a fake war to distract voters from a presidential sex scandal. Golf has two really serious problems clouding its future: It's way too expensive, and it takes way too long to play.
The R&USGA should be focused on how to make courses far shorter and easier to maintain. As modern layouts approach 8,000 yards, maintenance becomes incredibly expensive (a cost that's passed on to golfers), and the courses become excessively punitive and excruciating slow.
So, where to start? Brown, for starters, should truly be the new green. Augusta National, ridiculously verdant, sets a terrible example in this regard.
But where the governing bodies absolutely blew it was by allowing big-headed titanium drivers almost 20 years ago. It's because Dustin Johnson can use modern weaponry to drive the ball 370 yards that the Old Course is getting these pointless renovations. The proposed ban on anchored putting is the R&USGA's way of saying enough is enough, but it won't do a bit of good to solve the game's real issues. Psychology Today runs stories on overcompensation as often as GOLF Magazine runs stories about how to fix your slice.
The modern ball, coming off the face of the modern driver, flies way too far for golfers on TV trying to break 60. But it doesn't for us, shooting our newspaper 89s. The solution is two sets of rules. Rory and Co. should have a ball they can call their own. Bifurcation. That's the word they don't want us to use.
But as we saw last week, we, the tortured governed, will huddle in silence no more.