Anchored Putter Ban – My Two Cents

The PGA recently decided that it was against the proposed ban on the anchored putting stroke. The USGA responded. That’s the news.

I think this is a great opportunity to discuss the history of this ban (and others). The USGA recently proposed a rule change that would go in effect January 1, 2016. The ban is on anchoring the putter to your body while making a putting stroke. Here’s an infographic to help. Many PGA tour players, including Keegan Bradley, use this method. Phil Mickelson’s used it; Ernie Els uses it; Ian Woosnam; the list goes on. Thousands of amateurs use this method as well. In fact Dave Pelz, the short game guru, recommends using the method on short putts and a more “traditional” method on long putts (I don’t have a link for that. I just remember it from one of the Golf Channel Academy’s he hosted). It’s becoming more and more popular with the kids because the anchored style helps quiet other movements typically made during a putting stroke.

The USGA argues that anchoring is not consistent with the spirit of the rules of golf, specifically Rule 14-1. The gist is that, as Nick Faldo eloquently put it recently, “It’s called a golf swing, not a golf hinge.” Another argument is that, seriously, it looks funny. And, truthfully, it’s only in the short swings that this technique works — you wouldn’t, for example, anchor your driver to your belly and expect to pipe one down the center 250 yards. The proposed change to Rule 14-1 would, in effect, provide a bit of consistency through every shot on the course.

Opponents of the rule change suggest that the USGA, once again, is making an already difficult sport more difficult. By taking this option away from amateurs, some have said, people will be leaving the sport in droves because it’s far too difficult. The change will lead to people getting called cheaters, would be golfers staying away from golf because they can’t get that darn putting stroke down, golfers who’ve used this method for years will leave the game.

I played a round of golf a couple of weekends ago with a 20-year-old junior college player that uses an anchoring style putting stroke. He said that his putting has improved dramatically since changing to the belly putter. Like many junior golfers, he hit the ball a ton, far past me on every drive; he had no patience for hitting solid iron shots; and 100 yards and in, it was a guaranteed missed green. But, what struck me is his putting. He made one putt over 4 feet. In 18 holes he made one 6 footer. He missed countless 2-3 foot putts. In no way, shape, or form was he frustrated by this. After all, his putting improved dramatically since changing to the belly putter. To say that I was shocked is an understatement.

Before that round of golf, I was indifferent to the rules change. I hadn’t been convinced that a rule change was necessary or unnecessary. There’ve only been a few major champions to use that style and no one argued that they won because of prowess on the greens. Can you name me a great putter that uses the anchored style? Hint: no.

But, what to do about this kid? His putting improved and, yet, he was awful on the greens. watching him miss a 4 footer three inches outside and long by 2 feet, smile, nervously “tap in” – nothing was a tap in that day – and walk off the green as though this was something normal, made me ask myself, “What is wrong with the USGA?”

I’ve been a USGA member since 1994, going on twenty years here. They host some of the best championships out there; they’re affordable enough that, if you are a golfer of any stripe, you can qualify to play. They very much are the guardians of the rules of golf and have led the way in research on sustainable golf course design. They support a program that aims to speed up play, asking players to play from the tees that best suits their game. The mission and their overall actions demonstrate that they hold the amateur golfer in the highest esteem and consideration.

Recently, though, it seems like they’re going for the opposite. I was disappointed when they banned square grooves – technology that can generate more backspin on impact and leads to greater accuracy out of tricky lies. People flocked to golf stores and websites to purchase square groove wedges because it helped players keep approach shots on the green. I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on this one, though, because it’s the technology that leads to that ability (sort of…).

But, outlawing a swing is a little far fetched. I don’t believe that people will leave golf because they can’t use the anchored putting stroke. I don’t believe that professionals who use the putting stroke will fall from the top of the world rankings to the bottom when they have to use a more “traditional” stroke. I DO believe that golfers that use the anchored style will enjoy the game less – and that’s a problem. The more putts they have during a round of golf, the longer it takes – that’s a problem. People that were already complain about 5 hour rounds will be apoplectic about taking 6 hours out of their Saturday afternoon and likely will play less rounds every year – that’s a problem. Long story short, increasing the number of strokes on a golf course is not good.

The PGA Tour is making the right call in rejecting the proposed ban. The USGA should rethink its decision “for good of the game.”

Publinx Replaced With Fourball

Not that anyone asked but I’m positively thrilled with the decision by the USGA to change the championship roster beginning in 2015. The US Amateur Public Links has been around for a long time but, at this point, it’s basically the same competition as the US Amateur. Sure, some tour greats have won it, including one of the hottest players on tour, Brandt Snedecker (2003), but that doesn’t mean that we need to keep it around like it’s luggage handed down from our grandparents. Sometimes, it’s time for an upgrade; something a little more snazzy.

That’s why I’m thrilled with the announcement. For those of you who are just as confused by the term fourball as I am:

  • two teams of two players
  • each golfer plays his own ball through the round
  • A team’s number of strokes for a given hole is the lowest individual number of strokes of that team’s players on that hole.
  • Stroke play (the first 36 holes of the tourney): scores are added normally and the 32 teams with the lowest scores move to match play where
  • each hole is won by the team whose member has the lowest score on that hole, and that team is awarded a point for the hole. If the teams tie for a hole, the point for the hole is divided between the teams. At the end of the match, the team with the most points wins.

Further excitement: for men, the handicap limit is 5.4; for women, it’s 14.4. This opens the tournament up to an enormous number of people. What’s more, the team members don’t have to belong to the same club, live in the same state or country, and they can be substituted up until entries are closed.

Put all together, it means that I will likely get to qualify to play in a USGA tournament with my best friend and favorite golfing buddy.

Yesterday’s ruling was the most exciting ruling of the year. Yeah, that’s right anchored putting style, I’m including you here.

Get Golf Ready My Way

Every couple of hours on Golf Channel an ad pops up that asks, “Are you golf ready?” The point is to sell five hours of golf lessons from your local PGA Professional. I get it. It’s a really good idea for people that are just starting in golf or seasoned vets to have some guidance on the range and around the green before heading out to the course. And, in a business that’s losing interest among the public, it’s important to make sure that those in golf and those coming to golf get a good start to the season.

But, it made me wonder: what am I doing to be golf ready?

For years, living in Texas, getting golf ready meant calling my best friend, setting up a tee-time, and going to the course on a Saturday in December. There was no off-season. Now that I’ve  moved to the District-Maryland-Virginia (DMV) are, it’s a rare thing to even hit the range between the months of November and March. It means I’ve had to make some drastic changes to my life and to the way I approach the game.

Start with a stretch

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that my ass is in the worst shape of my life. I eat too much garbage and drink too much booze; I sit too long at work and don’t exercise enough; on a typical night I get nothing but “airplane sleep” and, on a typical weekend, I spend my time running errands in my car. My job is a whirlwind of confusion and there’s absolutely nothing steady about my life. Long story short: there’s no reason I should be alive today except that God has a twisted sense of humor.

But, when I get out on the course for the first time in March, I’ll be ready to go. Why? Because I swing a golf club every night. I just pick up the 6-iron in my living room, make a few practice swings and set it down. I don’t work on anything. My body knows what it’s doing and there’s not a ball on the ground so I can’t see the complete failure to produce. I’m reminded what it feels like to swing a golf club and that’s enough.

I hit a few putts on the carpet in my bedroom. I take a few chip-shots with my brand new 48 degree wedge. Sure, I’m aiming at a target, but I’m not putting any pressure on myself to make anything; I’m just going for a general area. I remind myself how to take a putting and chipping stroke.

All of that takes me around 5 minutes–every night. Why every night? Because, not only am I reminded about taking golf swings and hitting putts, I’m reminded that I really love the game and cannot wait until it gets warm enough for me to hit the links.

Read Something

I’m not a huge fan of reading instruction articles in Golf Magazine or Golf Digest. That’s not to say that they don’t offer anything useful–nearly every article does. I just mean, if you can’t get out on a range and try the tips out, you really aren’t going to get anything out of it. (Tip: If you read something that you really like, save it and wait until you can get to the range to try it. Do not try it at home.)

In those magazines, however, you’ll find a lot of good stuff on the rest of the game. Analysis of pros, discussion of life on tour, women’s golf, and this. Here’s the most important thing you’ll research on golf: The statistics page on the PGA Tour Website. If you enter into an office pool for the majors (as I do), this is your bible. Last year, using only these stats, I won my office pool for the Masters, US Open, The Open, and Ryder Cup. We didn’t do a PGA pool for some reason and I’ll admit my Ryder Cup win was mostly just because I prefer the Europe Team over the USA–shocking, I know!

Take the time off from playing golf to hone your fantasy play.

Finally, Plan Your Season

There are three course I want to play this season: Musket Ridge in Maryland, Kingsmill in Virginia, and anywhere in the Bay Area. Those are my must-plays for the season. However, there are ton of courses in the area that I’d like to play but, for one reason or another, I haven’t. So, I’m making a list of the courses that I’ve yet to play as a just in case my go-to’s aren’t available.

A friend of mine created a facebook group for our golfing buddies in the area. What a great idea! So, now, we can coordinate people for weekend tee-times without having to pick up the phone.

Budget: I’ve been setting aside money each weekend that I would otherwise be spending on a tee-time. Hopefully, this means that I’ll be able to play more golf…or not…