Let The Long Wait Begin

By Ron Sirak Photos by Getty Images
November 27, 2012

Webb Simpson and others will have to change how they putt -- at some point.

Long ago and far away, before I joined what many at The Associated Press derisively referred to as The Toy Department and became a sports writer, I worked in the world of news at the AP. I handled everything from prison riots to political conventions, which are really not all that different.

Among the glorious absurdities in the real world was a surreal but sadly deadly thing called the Falklands War. That conflict in 1982 between Argentina and the United Kingdom seemed at the beginning like a bizarre outtake from the Peter Sellers film "The Mouse That Roared," in which a tiny, impoverished nation declared war on the United States hoping to lose.

On April 2, 1982, Argentina occupied the disputed Falkland Islands, off its coast, and the U.K. declared war, saying essentially: "We'll be there in two weeks, see you then," which is how long it took for war ships to sail the nearly 8,000 miles to get from Britain to the Falklands.

Which brings us to the ban on anchoring the long putter. Golf is a game of rules, sometimes amusingly so, and in what other sport would a rule change be announced that goes into effect more than three years from now? The USGA and the R&A essentially said, "See you in 2016, our ship is sailing."

I suppose this is a little like baseball making the spitball illegal in 1920 but grandfathering in those already throwing it, which allowed Burleigh Grimes to load one up until 1934. Doesn't it seem just a wee bit silly to say, 'This is wrong, but it is not really wrong for another three years?"

The press release announcing the rule change is odd in itself in that it had a dual dateline: "St. Andrews, Scotland and Far Hills, N.J., USA," the location of the headquarters of the R&A and USGA, the governing bodies of the game in the known world.

For those of you scoring at home, the proposed rule, which becomes reality after a period of comments and suggestions, is Rule 14-1b. And here is how it is proposed to appear in the 2016 rulebook:

*14-1b Anchoring the Club *

In making a stroke, the player must not anchor the club, either "directly" or by use of an "anchor point."

Note 1: The club is anchored "directly" when the player intentionally holds the club or a gripping hand in contact with any part of his body, except that the player may hold the club or a gripping hand against a hand or forearm.

Note 2: An "anchor point" exists when the player intentionally holds a forearm in contact with any part of his body to establish a gripping hand as a stable point around which the other hand may swing the club.

Golly, that's good reading! It is important to note here that the rule specifically says "the club" and not "the putter," which keeps the devious among us from trying to execute an illegal stroke with a hybrid, for example.

Attached to the press release I got was a handy dandy illustration showing eight legal ways to grip the long putter, including the claw, resting the grip against the forearm and elbows braced against the body.

There were four examples of the methods that will become illegal during the last year of the Obama Administration, including resting the grip against the stomach, the hand against the chest or the chin.

Nate Silver says there is a 94.7 percent chance this rule change will lead to fistfights at your local club when someone loses a $5 nassau to a guy whose top hand appeared to touch his chest while making the winning putt. Gallup has it at 37.2 percent.

So for those currently anchoring the long putter, the announcement today created their own version of the Mayan calendar, which some say predicts the word will end Dec. 21 of this year, which is bad news for those currently leading their fantasy football leagues.

For those anchoring, the end of time is Jan. 1, 2016. Nate Silver says there is an 97.3 percent chance the upcoming Iowa Caucuses that month will get more news coverage than the rule change.

And I say there is a 100 percent chance that this ban is not an end but a means to an end, a beginning salvo in a battle by the USGA and the R&A to push back against some of the ways the game has changed in recent years.

All that talk from officials of both organizations about the need to build smaller, more cost-efficient golf courses is a veiled reference, it seems to me, about making chances that shorten the game.

I'm not smart enough to know exactly what that means, but I have been around the news business long enough to become quite skilled at reading between the lines. Yes, a rule was changed today that goes into effect more than three years from now. And that is a bit bizarre.

But look at it as a way of testing the waters for other changes to come. Stay tuned, this will get interesting, unless the world ends Dec. 21. And Nate Silver says there only a 13.7 percent chance of that happening.