The following was written for the June 2013 premier issue of the new Backspin Magazine (www.backspinmag.com). This is a sneak peek.
The USGA has officially dropped the hammer on the anchor. Across the country, young players who’ve never putted with a 35” flat stick are dazed and confused while older players with shaky hands who have found refuge from the yips with the assistance of a broomstick are congregating in 19th holes and drinking like soldiers in a Civil War field hospital waiting for the doctor to operate. I don’t have a dog in the fight (personally) because I prefer the opposite approach—my putter is cut down to 32.5” because I like to extend my arms fully when putting—and I think it’s unfair to judge others based on the size of their equipment. I’ve used a short putter since my high school golf days in Indiana eons ago when woods were actually wood and balls were full of miles of rubber bands and covered with balata (pronounced bah-lah-tah for you youngsters). I do, however, find humor in the debate much the same as I find humor in anything where people draw arbitrary lines for the sake of…well, drawing arbitrary lines.
On one side, there are the “traditionalists” who claim that anchoring a club against one’s body takes the skill out of the stroke and is essentially a crutch for those who struggle with putting. Most stop short of calling it cheating, but if this were 1913 instead of 2013 and we weren’t all so politically correct I think there would be plenty of public name-callin’and finger-pointin’. But seriously, could you imagine Bobby Jones with a putter jammed into his sternum? It gives me the creeps just thinking about it.
One the other side, there are those claiming that loosening the rules helps to “grow the game” by making is more accessible and more fun. For years, I’ve countered that the unintended consequence of “growing the game” in this manner has actually been making it less accessible. Drivers and balls that fly farther have caused courses to be designed and built longer, necessitating the need for additional land, renovating great older courses, driving up the costs, and passing those costs along to the end user. Take a couple of decades, factor in supply out-pacing demand with the perfect storm of a down economy plus a dose of busted housing bubble and more courses are now closing than opening. But I digress….
I remember when Bernhard Langer started bracing the grip of his putter against his forearm in the early 1990’s to settle his putting stroke and everyone whispered that he would never be the same again. Remember when Rocco Meditate started using a long putter and the old guard could not believe what they were seeing? He started using it because of back problems, but his success with it brought it to the attention of others battling similar maladies. Then someone struggling with short putts started using a long putter by bracing it against his stomach or chest to create a pendulum stroke with no wrist action. Now there are major champions (read Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson) who have always used long putters since their days as junior golfers.
So just as the USGA is apt to do, they now ride in to town after sunset while the buildings are ablaze and announce that there might be trouble headed this way. Much like the failure to read the tea leaves of balls that travel like Tomahawk cruise missiles and driver faces with more spring in their step than a young Sergio Garcia at Medinah when Tiger may have actually had a reason to worry about playing him head-to-head, the USGA is about 10 years (give or take a biennial) too late in the anchoring ruling. Their ban on 60 degree wedges is due out in 2016…
Do I think bracing a putter against your stomach cheapens the game and gives you an unfair advantage over me? Not really. Notwithstanding players who grew up playing with a long putter, I think if you are using a long putter for any reason other than back problems, then you probably have more mental bats in your golf-psyche belfry than you know what to do with anyway. However, what I do think is ridiculous is some of the hypocrisy surrounding the issue. Like a certain PGA Tour player (whom I’ve always respected) who just a few years ago demanded that the USGA and R&A immediately ban belly putters, who did call those who used them “cheaters,” who then started using one himself, who later won a major with said putter, and who—when asked about his earlier statements—used the excuse that he would “keep cheating like the rest of them” while long putters were legal. That is what cheapens the game.
Copyright 2013 Nathan Crace. Nathan Crace (on Twitter @lipouts) is an award-winning golf course architect, published author, and member of the Golf Writers Association of America. You can purchase his book “Lipouts, The Best I Could Do From the First Two Years” from Moonbay Media on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and in the iTunes Bookstore. Nathan appears in Backspin by special arrangement.