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The anchoring argument and tradition

David Owen's recent post from a reader suggesting that the legendary Bobby Jones appears to be anchoring while putting raises one of the most inflammatory arguments in the roiling debate over whether the ruling bodies should have decided to ban a method of putting that has been around in one form or another for the last three decades--and, as it turns out, in other forms for maybe a century.

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The ruling bodies propose an answer to that specific question of what is tradition and what isn't when it comes to the golf stroke, anchoring and putting in their 40-page explanation for Tuesday's decision. Is it sufficient to sway entities like the PGA Tour, the PGA of America and the lawyer representing nine players who object to the decision to ban anchoring? Don't know, but I'm pretty sure it just might be the center of the debate going forward.

From the "Explanation of Decision to Adopt Rule 14-1B of the Rules of Golf, Section 2.b

B. Freely Swinging the Entire Club is the Essence of the Traditional Method of Golf Stroke

In adopting Rule 14-1b, the USGA and The R&A have concluded that freely swinging the entire club is integral to maintaining the traditions of the game and preserving golf as an enjoyable game of skill and challenge. The essence of the traditional method of golf stroke involves the player swinging the club with both the club and the gripping hands being held away from the body. The player's challenge is to direct and control the movement of the entire club in making the stroke. 

This traditional form of golf stroke has prevailed throughout the centuries since the game began. It is true to say that one can find isolated or episodic examples of anchored methods of stroke dating back into the early 1900s, just as one can find early examples of almost any method of stroke that creative players might invent or try, such as putting in a croquet style (seen as early as the 1900s or before). But it is only recently that a non-trivial and recurring use of anchoring methods emerged, first with the long putter in the 1980s and then with the belly putter at the turn of the 21st century - an extremely short time in the history of this 600-year old game and not reflective of any established tradition. 

The concept of intentionally immobilizing one end of the golf club against the body, in a manner equivalent to creating a physical attachment point to use as a fixed fulcrum or pivot point around which the club can be swung, is a substantial departure from that traditional understanding of the golf swing. Reduced to its most basic elements, golf involves a player swinging a club at a ball to move it toward and ultimately into a hole. The player's most basic challenge is to direct and control the movement of the entire club in making that swing. Anchoring the club while making a stroke also involves a challenge, but it is a different one, in which the player uses the immobilization and stability of one end of the club as an essential component of the method of stroke. It is not the same as freely swinging the club. 

A revealing point that emerged from the input received on the proposed Rule is that a great many golfers appear to agree that, ideally, golf would be played without an anchored stroke. A good number of those who oppose Rule 14-1b on collateral grounds, e.g., that it comes too late or may have undesirable effects at this particular time, say that the governing bodies should have prohibited anchoring at an earlier time; and many others acknowledge that, at a minimum, it would have been a reasonable choice to do so. The concept that a free swing is, or should be, the essential manner in which a golf stroke should be played is deeply ingrained in the traditions of the game. 

Seeking to avoid this conclusion, a few comments suggested that an anchored method of stroke must also be considered acceptable and traditional because it satisfies the definition of a "stroke" in the Rules of Golf. But such a conclusion does not follow from this premise. The question at hand is not whether playing the ball with an anchored club constitutes a "stroke" under the Rules; it certainly does, as it involves a "forward movement of the club made with the intention of striking at and moving the ball." Rather, the question is whether anchoring is a method of making a stroke that should be allowed. There are all manner of non-traditional methods of playing the ball that would constitute a "stroke," yet are not permissible under the Rules. For example, playing the ball in a croquet style on the putting green or in a billiards style is a "stroke," but the Rules provide that a player who does so must, in stroke play, both count the stroke and apply a two-stroke penalty for using an improper method in making the stroke. The same will be true under new Rule 14-1b, which provides that "in making a stroke" the player must not anchor the club. An anchored stroke will continue to constitute a "stroke," but Rule 14-1b will establish that it is not a permitted method of stroke and therefore is subject to penalty.

 


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