Golf Editorial

20130314 Bellies, Broomsticks & Anchoring

It’s many years too late but the powers-that-be have been woken up to reality and seem certain, once a formal consultation process has completed, to finally rid the game of the blight of legalised cheating. Better late than never is the best that can be said about this scenario!

Firstly, I think it’s important to understand what going to be outlawed and that’s not belly putters or broomstick putters, which are merely pieces of equipment amongst a plethora of constantly evolving choices. For example, when I learned to play golf there was no such thing as a rescue club, no flop wedges; steel shafts were the only choice and the putters were all short!

What’s going to be banned is the anchoring of the putter to the body. Anchoring turns a golf stroke into a pendulum stroke and that means if the putter is anchored to the body the ensuing putt is no longer a golf stroke because it doesn’t require you to swing your arms. If you play a stroke without swinging your arms, it’s cheating. Simple, right?

Anchoring has many proponents, both amateur and professional, and a lot of that support arises because it helps players to control twitchy nerves; it makes putting easier for them. Well, here’s a newsflash, a lot of golf is about controlling muscles and shakiness – and so it should be! Who hasn’t nervously stood over a 4-footer that had to be holed for a half or a win?

Jeez, how many more regular tournaments, and Majors, would Ben Hogan, Harry Vardon or Sam Snead have won if they’d been able to cheat their way through the yips? Allowing anchoring to gain a foothold has seen the great game of golf effectively thumbing its nose at these former champs, thus devaluing their records and their legacy!

Ask Bernhard Langer whether anchoring was the way to prolong what in his forties became a yip-ridden horror show. He’s banked a lot of millions in his fifties since he found the solution to his woes; and good luck to him, he wasn’t breaking the rules. It’s the rule makers who deserve condemnation over this issue!

To be honest, few people care what happens in seniors golf, or amateur golf for that matter, because the professional game for players in their prime is where the money, television audiences, gambling and spectator interest is strongest. However, just like football or tennis or most other sports, it’s preferable to have a uniform set of rules and equipment. That uniformity allows us to measure ourselves against the best, even when hacking around an obscure course with three mates trying to break a hundred.

I’ve heard the argument put forward that anchoring allows amateurs to gain, or maintain, an enjoyment of the game of golf that would otherwise be impossible and that without anchoring they’d be lost to the game or never even start playing in the first place.  Well, who cares I say, let’s lose them! They’re probably the types that don’t repair their pitch marks or fail to let you play through, anyway!

Besides, it’s not only putting difficulties that cause players to lose their love of golf! I once threw all my clubs, bag, trundler and ancillary equipment into a pond beside the 6th hole, walked out on my foursome and didn’t play for two years after failing to accept, or eliminate, a chronic slice!

What brought the anchoring issue to a head was undoubtedly a brief period when the main pro tours experienced a sudden and unprecedented run of high profile victories by players wielding long, anchored putters: Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley & Ernie Els. That level of exposure of persons succeeding via untraditional means, that looked for all the world like cheating, was simply too embarrassing for the game’s controlling bodies to ignore any longer! They already knew it was wrong but it was ‘under the radar’ of the broader public until those three wins put it on the front pages.

Why was it embarrassing? Because it looked like these guys were different or had some unfair advantage.  And, what’s more, they were getting away with it! Of course, these guys didn’t necessarily have an unfair advantage, they were just surviving and progressing in the game the best way they could – within the prevailing rules. Simpson had been putting that way since he was a teenager anyway, but let’s face it, something that looks like cheating is not a good look for a sport such a golf.

To those who say, get over it, anything goes, I say go and watch Caddyshack2 and take note of Rodney Dangerfield’s golf equipment. Ponder for a moment what could happen to the sport if golf were to abandon its equipment rules and adopt a more laissez-faire ethos. Anchoring is merely the thin edge of the wedge.

Darts legend Eric Bristow might have solved his yips via some sort of zimmer frame. Snooker champ Stephen Hendry might have got over his yips if he had been able to use some innovative form of anchoring, say via an elbow brace. Charles Barkley would have been a far superior free-thrower if he’d had some form of anchor. But these champs didn’t have the luxury of a radically new piece of equipment and its accompanying new illegitimate technique!

Finally, imagine if Tiger Woods had been afflicted with the yips a few years ago and had found a way back via an anchored belly putter and gone on to win 5 more Majors to surpass Nicklaus’s record. I can imagine some howls and screeches about how the rich heritage of the game and Jack’s Major legacy was being desecrated by a cheat!

Well, folks, that desecration is occurring now, every time an anchored putting stroke is made on any tour. An end to this madness, on 1 January 2016 or hopefully sooner, will not come a moment too soon!

Cheers and good luck with your punting, and your putting!


©  Copyright  MJ Miller (Mike)  14 March 2013