A decent proposal

Also published on the Golf Monthly website

I used to be something of a puritan with regards golf equipment. A few years ago I would have contested that everybody should still play blades and persimmon-headed woods. I would have scoffed at the idea of a hybrid, rolled my eyes at perimeter-weighted irons and retched at the prospect of a mallet putter.

But as my golf has deteriorated recently, I’ve increasingly turned to technology for a helping hand. I now have a hybrid club in the bag instead of a 2-iron, I use fairway woods and I can’t believe I ever got by with a driver head smaller than 440cc.

Technology makes the game more enjoyable for the average player and this can only be seen as a good thing. The sport is hard enough, so it makes sense to take advantage of advances in design and performance.

But, there’s a difference between using equipment that makes the game easier and using equipment that changes the game. That to me is what the long putter has been doing since it first appeared some 30 years ago. By anchoring the club under the chin, on the chest or in the stomach, you’re fundamentally altering the golfing technique. Moving away from a stroke that’s governed by the hands on the club.

So I was glad to hear the R&A and USGA announce a proposed rule change to prevent the anchoring of a club: A change that would effectively nullify the long putter.

I’m not all that good on the greens and I do suffer with nerves on short putts. But I’ve never considered going to the long wand because, in my mind, it’s not golf. I’ve always thought I’d rather be incompetent at golf than passable at another activity masquerading as golf.

The authorities let the issue of anchoring slide for a long time because it wasn’t really that much of an issue. A few older players and Sam Torrance moved to the long stick to counteract the yips and many were able to extend their careers as a result. But, recently, there’s been a rapid increase in the number of top players, and younger players, opting to use the anchoring method because they feel it gives them more consistent results.

Keegan Bradley became the first man to win a Major using a long putter at the 2011 USPGA. He was followed by Webb Simpson at this year’s US Open then Ernie Els at the Open. The South African snuck in to take the title as Adam Scott (also using a long putter) faltered.

There are golf programmes in the States that have been encouraging youngsters to adopt the long putter and 14-year-old Chinese amateur Guan Tianlang used one to win the Asian Amateur Championship and earn a spot at the 2013 US Masters. Such evidence of a significant rise in the numbers of talented golfers choosing to use a long putter has been sufficient to motivate the R&A and USGA to take action. It may have taken a little too long to happen, but at least it now has.

The best golfers will be able to adapt to the proposed rule change – Keegan Bradley used a regular putter until college and Webb Simpson has already been practising with one. Both Ernie and Adam Scott have been fantastic putters in the past with the short stick. Dealing with nerves is a great part of the game and it’s something that those at the very top level should be able to do. It’s also something that those at an amateur level should, at least, try to do.

Of course, players who have always used a short putter will welcome the proposed change and those who use a long putter will not. But, fundamentally it comes down to what’s best for the sport. We have to believe that the custodians of our game (the R&A and USGA) are best placed to make these decisions and I trust their judgement. When steps were taken to limit the coefficient of restitution on driver faces or the shape and size of grooves on irons, the governing bodies were acting in the sport’s best interests. The same goes for the proposed change to the anchoring rule.

It makes sense that technological and technical concepts in golf have to be monitored and, at times, checked. If they weren’t, we’d all be using drivers with faces delivering such a powerful “trampoline-effect” that they spring the ball 400 yards down the fairway, we’d have range finders that calculate the wind and slope and tell us what club to hit, we’d have clubs with grooves so sharp they could stop the ball dead on a wooden floor, and we’d be wielding long putters anchored to the body that eliminate the potential for yips on short putts. It might still be fun, but would it still be golf?

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