Blog 261, 5/21/13 - Weighing in on Anchoring and the Woods/Garcia Spat

By now, you anchorers surely know the R&A and USGA have announced they will indeed be implementing Rule 14-1B banning the anchored putting stroke, and that you now have two years and 223 days to come up with a new method for getting the ball into the hole. My advice is to get really good at chipping, or really really good at iron-play so you never have to use a putter, no matter how long, again.
We've had six months to stew over the issue of anchoring (double the amount of time the governing bodies originally gave us to voice our opinions) and while I've done my best to avoid stewing over it at all for fear of losing time I might use for something more important like watching Seinfeld re-runs, I have read enough on the subject to form a fairly well-educated opinion...two actually - 1) Anchoring the putting stroke is not the way the original rule-makers intended golfers to play, doesn't look right, gives a totally unfair advantage to those who putt that way, and absolutely should have been banned, and 2) Anchoring the putting stroke is not the way the original rule-makers intended golfers to play, doesn't look right, does not give anyone an unfair advantage and absolutely should not have been banned because we've all managed somehow to survive 40+years with anchoring in the world, and it's not even the sixth most-pressing issue the governing bodies need to address.
This is one of those instances where everybody is right, regardless of how deluded you think the other guy is. But one area where I think a lot of people have been a little misguided...that is to say completely wrong, is over the definition of this word 'advantage' and what constitutes an unfair one. Merriam-Webster defines 'advantage' as 'a factor or circumstance of benefit to its possessor'. Of course, anchoring the putter is a benefit to the person doing it because it enables him to putt better - he would not have adopted an anchored stroke otherwise. So, in that case, an advantage has certainly resulted. But might it not also be true to say everyone using a 460cc all-titanium driver, or five-piece urethane-covered ball, has an advantage because when combined, they allow the user to hit his approach from 10-50 yards closer to the green than he used to?
Everyone who purchases new equipment, be it a driver, set of irons, a glove, pair of shoes, a different brand of ball, wedges, putter etc, is looking for something that will enable him to play better and score lower than he did before. He is looking for a factor or circumstance of benefit. By definition, he is looking for an advantage. The man who chooses to anchor his putter to his belly or chest does so because he is not confident of making a solid stroke with both hands moving freely. Likewise, the man who persistently slices the ball, who grips the club so firmly he is unable to release it fully, whose swingpath moves relentlessly, inexorably even, from outside the line to the inside will purchase clubs whose heads are offset to counter the open clubface that inevitably arrives at his ball. The seven-time major champion having trouble hitting out of the sand might solder some metal to the bottom of his wedge and give the club bounce thus facilitating the explosion shot.
You could say that in the latter two cases, it’s the equipment that has changed not the manner in which it is used. But there’s too much grey area here. Some golfers prefer to stack and tilt, while others dismiss this method. Some golfers swing their drivers on plane, others are markedly above or below it. Some grip the putter with unsightly claw grips to minimize the impact of the bottom hand.
The problem comes, of course, when one player is given access to equipment or allowed to adopt a certain technique another player is not. Then it becomes an unfair advantage. The goal posts have shifted, the playing surface is no longer even, and the outcome of the event becomes as meaningless as baseball Spring Training results (I thought the Mariners might be World Series contenders after going 22-11 in Arizona, but after a four-game series defeat to the Indians and 12-0 loss to the Angels last night, they no more look like contenders than my eight-year-old son’s Boys & Girls Club team.)
But that obviously didn't happen. Everyone that wanted to try anchoring was able to. And, as many people that did give it a go discovered, it simply doesn’t work for everybody. You’d never call me Ben Crenshaw-like on the greens, but I putt a whole lot better with a conventional putter than I do with a longer putter anchored somewhere on my upper body. I’m awful with a longer putter and would consider myself hopelessly disadvantaged were I to use one.
If they were going to ban anchoring, the R&A and USGA should have done so 40, 30, 20, even 10 years ago. It is never too late to do the right thing certainly, but many remain unconvinced banning the anchored stroke was the right thing. I must say I have some sympathy with this view, and found the timing of the whole process somewhat bizarre.
It was clear the ruling bodies decided to take action after a period in which anchorers just happened to be winning major championships. I can’t be alone in thinking that Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Ernie Els, and Adam Scott winning their majors in so short a period was nothing more than coincidence. If there was some link to anchoring and improving your chances of winning a major, why did it take 46 years for an anchorer to win one (46 years was the amount of time between Richard Parmley’s patent for the long putter being approved and Keegan Bradley’s victory at the 2011 PGA Championship)?
When it comes to golf, I’m something of a Harry Vardon-revering, blazer-wearing old-schooler (I don’t actually own a blazer but you know what I mean). I totally understand why many similarly old-school types are celebrating the ban and never thought the anchorers had a leg to stand on. Indeed, my heart says banning the anchored putting stroke was the right thing to do.
And yet my heart is having a hard time convincing my head of that.

The other thing I found myself thinking about yesterday was this unsavory business involving Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods. Until last evening, the whole thing struck me as a light shower in a thimble that the media was clearly spinning way too hard. To be honest, I was really rather enjoying it. Golf is a gentleman’s game, but a little antagonism between two of its biggest names can’t hurt once in a while especially as the Woods/Phil Mickelson thing never really took off.
Then Sergio went and opened a big can of worms last night uttering his unfortunate ‘fried chicken’ remark at an awards dinner for the European Ryder Cup team who are all playing at this week’s BMW Championship (the British PGA Championship) at Wentworth near London.
The nature of the remarks meant the light shower became a storm and the thimble grew to the size of a tea cup, and companies associated with the Spaniard went into immediate damage control distancing themselves from what their player had said.
Sergio Garcia has won 24 professional titles around the world, played on six Ryder Cup teams, and banked almost $30m in prize money alone. He is a brilliant golfer. Unfortunately, he’s also a brilliant golfer prone to making dumb comments with remarkable frequency. He’s never given anyone in the public reason to believe he’s racist, and there’s no reason to doubt his apology this morning was sincere.
There are times when you have to laugh at his puerile whining and woe-is-me demeanor.  But, for a while at least, I really think it's for the best if he can manage to keep his mouth shut.

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