The transition to the anchoring ban this year seems to be relatively smooth.
Adam Scott has won twice on the PGA Tour with a conventional length putter, and actually seems to be statistically better on the greens than he was with the broomstick and anchored stroke he used to win the 2013 Masters. Threats of a lawsuit against the tour by those who formerly used an anchored stroke never materialized. And even long-time anchorer Bernhard Langer has received the imprimatur from the USGA and tour rulemakers and officials on his modified long-putter stroke, despite some initial question marks.
But what Langer has said in the aftermath of his recent victory may now be the real test of the acceptance of the rule now known as 14-1b.
“We’re trying to grow the game,” Langer told the Arizona Daily Star this week. “Then they’re making a decision like that, which is hurting it. It’s hurting thousands of golfers around the world.”
That’s an opinion, but a survey suggests the thought isn’t his alone. Since the new rule was first proposed in late 2012, it’s not how it was going to go over with the best players in the world, but how the rest of the golfing public adapted to the ban that promised to be the real challenge. You see, the ban on anchoring isn’t a suggestion from golf’s ruling bodies and it isn’t something, like the groove rule, that for the time being only applies to elite competitions. The USGA and R&A’s ban on anchoring is a fundamental principle of the game, the very definition of what a stroke is. In the crudest of terms, just as kicking your ball out from behind a tree isn’t OK, neither is bracing the club against a body part acceptable either. And, contrary to the thinking of some, it is specifically against the rules to create a local rule allowing anchoring.
But it appears a small percentage of clubs and courses already have begun or have plans to look the other way when it comes to the ban on anchoring. Golf Digest contacted members of its 100 Greatest Courses ratings panel of low-handicap amateurs and club professionals, and after 283 responses, 6 percent indicated anchoring would be allowed where they play.
It’s not clear such action is being done out of ignorance, or even because there’s a belief that allowing anchoring is a harmless way to maintain enthusiasm for the game. But the USGA is unequivocal on the question, even providing detailed guidelines on implementing the rule. In part, the document reads:
“It should be noted that any such waiver of the Rule would create an uneven and unfair playing environment and likely would lead to significant confusion and controversy at the club level, such as:
▪ Disagreement and dissension among members who previously anchored but now follow Rule 14-1b and feel at a disadvantage as compared with those who choose to not follow the Rule; or among members generally regarding a decision to waive a Rule of Golf in club events; etc.
▪ Pressure on club officials to adopt other unauthorized Local Rules or Conditions of Competition, such as seeking permission to use non-conforming equipment; it would be awkward and difficult for a club committee to explain why certain Rules can be waived and others cannot.”
Of course, some of the comments from the Golf Digest panelists clearly reflect the struggle in adopting this rule at the local, non-professional level. Said one, “Principally, the ban is ridiculous for the average golfer who clearly needs all the help they can get, but we have no plan to make a local rule to allow it. Governing a diverse group of members, we inevitably side with the USGA as much as possible to avoid exceptions.”
But then there was this from another: “We will not be enforcing the rule on anchoring. We don’t feel like it’s a fair rule, especially for amateur play. This game is hard enough, and if you can find something that works, then so be it.”
One local pro even said, “My opinion is that these guys aren’t on tour so we allow it. It keeps people playing because they enjoy the game more.”
Others seem caught in the middle, which by USGA standards is no less an acceptable place than creating a local rule. Said one, “My clubs allow anchoring for daily play but do not allow it for tournament play and the ‘majors’—club championship, member-member, couples championship, senior championship, match-play championship, etc. Most of our players who play in the majors have converted to non-anchoring. The ‘old farts’ stay with anchoring because they only play recreationally.”
For its part, the USGA is attempting to make clear that even recreational rounds are subject to the anchor rule, at least when it comes to posting a score for handicap purposes. But even written documents only go so far when it comes to enforcing a rule that some don’t believe should apply to them.
Said one panelist in our survey, “By my unofficial audit, 5 percent of the amateurs approve of the new rule, 45 percent don’t care and at least 50 percent hate it. There have been disputes about who is and who is not anchored.”
Our survey found several examples of golfers who say anchoring will be allowed almost out of compassion. A senior interclub where anchoring will be accepted “for medical reasons because we have 80-year-old-plus players who couldn't play otherwise because they have the shakes.” A tournament where the anchored stroke will be OK because the only player in the field who does it asked and “because no one else playing in the tournament cares.”
Of course, neither of these, under the rules, is permitted.
Still, the results of the survey suggest nearly 95 percent acceptance of Rule 14-1b. That’s hardly an indication of golfers revolting in the streets. Fact is, even before the ban was proposed, the population of anchorers was quite small, and after the rule was made public, the market for long and belly putters basically evaporated—even though the rule doesn’t technically ban any piece of equipment.
The tone from the overwhelming majority of our respondents was simple and direct: The rules don’t allow it, so it can’t be done, not for tournaments, not for posting scores. Said one, “We do not have any current plans to create a local rule to allow anchoring. I think doing so would take us down a slippery slope in several areas.”
Said another, “We have an interesting dilemma. Our club intended to adopt a local rule to allow anchored putting. However, we checked with the USGA and were told that we were not allowed to have a local rule that was in direct conflict with the new anchor putting ban. Bottom line then is we do not allow anchored putting.”
It’s doubtful this small of an issue calls into question the USGA’s authority. Certainly, John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s senior managing director of rules, competitions and equipment standards, is confident that acceptance and adherence to 14-1b won’t be an issue. In a response emailed to Golf Digest, he wrote: “In rare instances when compliance is at question, not surprisingly, golfers tend to address such situations themselves and seek guidance at the local level from [state and regional golf associations], handicap committee chairs, and club professionals, and these issues tend to work themselves out.”
Whether it’s non-conforming clubs or anchored strokes, it seems generally clear that the overwhelming majority of golfers will play by the rules, as best they know them. But the fact that some of the most ardent golfers in the country seem to be questioning the validity of the anchoring rule is at least a little curious. That’s especially the case here, where unlike grooves or the spring-like effect, the ruling bodies have explicitly said anchoring “just fundamentally is not golf.”
For now, the transition to Rule 14-1b appears slightly less steady at the local level than at the pro level. Is that of any more concern than the tendency for a foursome of weekend hackers on the third day of a Myrtle Beach golf trip to not fully invoke the stroke-and-distance penalty? Maybe not, but anchoring seems to evoke more emotion, more of a taking sides mentality than where you should take a drop. It opens a genuine question whether the rules are a suggested way of playing the game or the only way of playing the game. It might be why Golf Digest course-ratings panelist Brian Knoetze came up with this novel, if fundamentally against the rules, idea:
“Many people go to the long putter after trying everything else, and it's sad to see it being taken away,” Knoetze said. “One issue with people moving back and forth between the anchored stroke and regular stroke may be resolved by allowing us to have two handicaps—one for each putter stroke. This way we will always have a fair handicap tied to the putter stroke we use. We could use the long one at home if we have a local rule and could use the short one, with our higher handicap, for competitive events and clubs that don't have a local rule.”