By Sam Weinman
As we debate every side of the proposed ban on anchored putting -- whether it's good for golf, whether it's necessary, whether the PGA Tour should follow the USGA's lead -- another important question has risen to the surface: Don't we have anything better to talk about?
The answer, even in golf circles, is OF COURSE. It's true, three of the last five major championships have been won by players with anchored putters, but it's still an issue that is relevant to only a fraction of the golf population. So when PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem took to national TV to declare the tour's stance against the anchoring ban, there was a sense that he missed an opportunity to talk about issues with far wider ramifications.
*You want to talk about important issues in golf? This is an important issue.
Photo by Cy Cyr
In case you forgot what those were:
- The ball.__ Again, this is more of a problem at the tour level than it is among recreational players -- when was the last time one of your buddies complained about his ball traveling too far? -- but it's still an issue that has influence over how the game is played, how golf courses are built, and of course, how golf balls are made. So even if the decision by golf's governing bodies is to leave the ball alone, it's a decision that will have real significance.
2. The cost. We have a hard time believing there will be scores of golfers who will stop playing the game because they can't anchor their putters. What we can believe is there are plenty of dormant golfers who no longer play because the game costs too much. Clubs, balls, green fees -- the expense of it all is a major reason why golf participation has been flat for the better part of a decade. If Finchem were to bend Johnny Miller's ear on ways the tour wants to help golf be more affordable, well that would be compelling TV. OK, maybe compelling is too strong a word. It *is *Tim Finchem...
3. Slow play. The same case can be made about pace of play, another obstacle in golf's fight for relevance. Imagine a scenario in which the USGA announced it was going to implement stiffer penalties for slow play while the PGA Tour said it didn't want to follow suit. Who would you side with? Who cares? The point is it would be a debate worth having.
4. All-male memberships. Did you ever think you'd be longing to hear the name Martha Burk? OK, maybe not. But there is an important distinction between the limited reach of the the anchored putting issue and the limited reach of the Augusta National membership controversy: the Augusta discussion had great symbolic meaning. It wasn't so much about the membership practices of an elite Southern club as it was about golf's lingering air of exclusivity and the rights of private entities. And seeing how there are still plenty of esteemed golf clubs with all-male memberships, it's an issue that influences the perception of golf in our society. Anchored putting, meanwhile, is mostly just about anchored putting.
- Cell phones.__ You laugh. But if an anchored putter isn't likely to factor into your Saturday game, there's a very good chance a cell phone will. Should you be allowed to make a phone call from the golf course? What's your feeling on texting? It may seem like a trivial matter, but given how prevalent technology is in our society, golf needs to reopen the conversation about what is and what is not appropriate on the course.
Because remember, at most courses, someone with a phone jammed in their ear is still a far more common sight than someone with a putter in their gut.