Golf

Golf gets it right with new rule

Belly Ache
Ernie Els anchors his birdie putt on the 18th green to win the 2012 British Open.
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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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After six months of talking about it, golf’s ruling bodies did the right thing on Tuesday and banned anchoring.

Clutching a putter against the body has long been against the spirit of the Rules of Golf. Now, finally, it’s against the letter, too.

Simply put, anchoring a putter is like a rifle shooter going to the Olympics and using a tripod. Anchoring helps sooth the nerves and makes it easier to sweep those little ones in, so it is a competitive advantage.

The anchoring lobby — led by Tim Clark and Masters champion Adam Scott — has done an admirable job of making a case that there’s no evidence of such an advantage. To them I’d simply say that if it didn’t work, then there would be no reason to do it.

The decision to ban broomstick-and-belly putters from being held against the body — which won’t take effect till Jan. 1, 2016 — is already being condemned as an act against the best interests of the game.

Not surprisingly, all the noise is being made by vested interests — either putters with the yips or manufacturers who want to sell them expensive long putters.

Cobra Puma Golf, for instance, issued a statement on Tuesday saying, “Golf lost today.” It should have more accurately read Cobra Puma Golf lost some sales today.

Be sure, no golfers are leaving the sport because they won’t be able to anchor. Golfers are an adaptable lot. They’ll find another way, and they will respect the rules, as they’ve always done.

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There is plenty of wiggle room left by the United States Golf Association in the new rule, including allowing a longer putter to be held against a forearm, like the stroke employed by Matt Kuchar.

Certainly, PGA Tour players who anchor won’t be suddenly looking for day jobs.

“I don't think there will be anything much for me to change,” Scott said at The Players championship two weeks ago. “If I have to separate the putter a millimeter from my chest, then I'll do that.”

So it’s that simple?

“Yeah,” he said.

The Australian even chuckled when asked whether three years would be enough time to prepare for the ban.

“Tomorrow is enough time for me,” he said. “I don't see myself putting any different looks-wise. My hand will be slightly off my chest, probably.”

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Tiger Woods, who usually avoids polarizing issues — Republicans and Democrats both buy golf equipment — has campaigned against anchoring and made the point on Monday that it won’t be as big a deal as some are making it out to be.

“There are different ways of making the butt end of the club move,” he said. “You've seen it with Bernhard Langer when he won the Masters putting against his forearm, what (Matt Kuchar) does putting against his forearm, as well.

“But it's not a fixed point; the butt end does travel.

“So I think that's where guys are going to try and go . . . (if) that's where they go, I think it's great.”

So that is that.

What’s most disturbing, however, about Tuesday’s announcement is the reaction of the PGA Tour, which buckled to the lobbying of some players and is against the rule. The tour issued a statement saying it would essentially think about whether to implement the ban.

Perhaps commissioner Tim Finchem needs to listen to his biggest superstar.

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“As far as the PGA Tour, I hope they do it as soon as possible, to be honest with you,” said Woods. “I've always said that. I've always felt that golf you should have to swing the club, control your nerves and swing all 14 clubs, not just 13.”

If the PGA Tour doesn’t institute the ban, it will be an unmitigated disaster for golf and its grand history and traditions.

Part of the greatness of the sport is that anyone can play the same set of tees and the same equipment as the legends of the game. None of us get to face Roger Federer on center court at Wimbledon, take Kobe Bryant off the dribble at Staples Center or swing at a cut fastball from Mariano Rivera at Yankee Stadium.

But we could get to the first tee at Torrey Pines or Doral and follow Tiger’s exact steps. And if that’s not reason enough, consider the anarchy that will ensue if the PGA Tour doesn’t go along with the USGA and R&A on anchoring.

The Masters will certainly follow the USGA, so three majors and the European Tour will ban anchoring while the US tour — and probably the PGA — won’t?

Talk about an asterisk.

“We know that not everyone will agree with our final decision,” wrote the R&A. “But we do hope that the care and love for the game that all have expressed through their participation in this process will facilitate acceptance of Rule 14-1b when it takes effect.

“Golf is a single, worldwide game of fun, skill, challenge, honor and integrity, which is best served by adherence to a single set of worldwide rules."

Amen.

And now, it’s over to you, Mr. Finchem.

Tagged: Tiger Woods, Matt Kuchar, Tim Clark

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