THE controversy surrounding the long putter has become an anchor around the neck of the golf community — literally.
Since the USGA and R&A announced their intention to ban the anchored stroke Nov. 29, all hell has broken loose. We are currently two-thirds of the way through the 90-day comment period that was created by golf’s ruling bodies, and nothing has been accomplished, except the creation of more controversy.
Most golfers had never heard the term “bifurcation” before November. In a simplistic golf sense, bifurcation means that amateurs and touring professionals could play by two different sets of rules. That has never happened in the history of the game. But the proposal to ban anchoring has caused some of golf’s leading advocates to speak in bifurcation tongue.
“We have had this ongoing discussion about anchoring at a time when we think it’s a terrific time for golf,” Tim Finchem, PGA Tour Commissioner, said last week in Orlando, Fla. “I hate to see distractions …. I think it’s a tough issue for our players. … But you are affecting a lot of amateur players and a lot of players at the elite level who grew up with it.
“In certain situations, I think (bifurcation is) something you should consider and look at. I also think that, generally, when something like this comes up, you should evaluate what it does at the elite player level, but also, what impact it has on the average player. And certainly that is the situation with anchoring,” Finchem said.
Interestingly enough, this week in GolfWorld, David Fay, former executive director of the USGA, was quoted as saying, “Bifurcation? Sure, but so what? Adding one or two specialized equipment rules … will not signal the end to the game.”
In the February edition of Golf Digest, Jerry Tarde, the magazine’s longtime editor, expressed the following comments in the closing paragraph of an editorial titled “Anchored Putting + What’s Next.”
“I don’t hit the ball far enough to want my ball rolled back, and my pals who anchor say they’ll give up the game before giving up the long putter. Bifurcation is the imperfect answer we’re looking for, and 2013 might be the year we decide.”
That same editorial indicated that in a recent Golfdigest.com survey, “almost 40 percent of respondents are indicating that golfers who use the anchored method will continue putting that way past the 2016 rules change, and almost half favor a different set of rules for amateurs than for pros.”
I have to be honest. Before Nov. 29, I couldn’t even spell bifurcation. It was nowhere on my radar, but the anchoring topic has been so polarizing that it has brought bifurcation to the forefront. Never in my wildest imagination, and probably the USGA’s, did we ever see a day when the likes of Finchem, Fay and Tarde would be speaking bifurcation.
For centuries golfers have all played by the same set of rules. This is now threatened because golf’s ruling bodies don’t like the way the anchored stroke looks, and they say it violates the integrity of the intended swing.
And, oh yeah, banning anchoring is now about protecting the difficulty of the game — as if the game isn’t hard enough now for most recreational players? Ask the lapsed and beginning players their thoughts on golf’s difficulty.
The most practical fix in my opinion is to have the USGA and R&A drop the proposed ban on anchoring. If this is done, the bifurcation waters calm down, unless the ruling bodies tackle limiting the distance that the golf ball travels. That promises to be the next hot topic and, quite frankly, that could lead to the biggest revolution in the 600-year history of golf.
Sadly, anchoring has become a personal issue for many who use the technique.
Tim Clark has been a successful Tour player for 16 years. He has been forced to anchor the putter all of his professional life due to a physical problem with his wrists.
In the past three months, Clark has had many sleepless nights worrying how he will support his family after 2016 if the anchoring ban is imposed. Admittedly, he has started thinking about a second career. Clark feels that his successful career has been tarnished by the anchoring proposal.
According to a recent article in GolfWorld, the USGA has a $274 million investment portfolio. USGA president Glen Nager, an accomplished attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based law firm of Jones Day, has said, “It’s there so that when we have to make a move when somebody challenges us, we have the resources to defeat them, to put it bluntly. And, if someone wants to take us on, we are prepared to take them on.”
But what about a guy like Mike Coombs from Greenwood? He is a 9 handicapper in his mid-60s who was forced to anchor a long putter several years ago after a chronic case of the yips (missing short putts).
Will Coombs even continue to play if he loses that opportunity to use the anchored putter? Will his buddies label him a cheater?
There are thousands of recreational golfers like Coombs all over the world. They are the real victims in the anchoring firestorm.
Tour players represent less than 1 percent of the world’s golfers.
Bifurcation seems to be the only rational solution to the most perplexing quandary golf has faced in recent times. From my seat, I can only hope that this 90-day comment period has truly caused golf’s ruling bodies to take a step back and analyze the effects.
In my opinion, it will be better for the game to see Clark holing a 20-footer to win a major than to see golf have two sets of rules.
But if the ban is imposed at the elite level, then Coombs should be allowed to compete in the senior club championship at The Legends Golf Club anchoring his long putter. Golf cannot afford to lose the Mike Coombses of the world.
The USGA and R&A certainly have a tough job in administering the rules. This is not a popularity contest. Hopefully, the comment period has been meaningful and the ruling bodies are listening.
If the proposed ban on anchoring is dropped, bifurcation probably goes away, and that’s the best thing for golf.
Ted Bishop is PGA of America president and director of golf and general manager of The Legends Golf Club in Franklin.