Should anchored putters be banned?

Tim Finchem and Tiger Woods

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem and Tiger Woods (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

It’s been a few months since the USGA and R&A jointly announced their plans to ban the anchoring of putters, as is their apparent right as the gatekeepers of the Rules of Golf. Ever since the ban was announced, it was assumed that even though the major tours may not agree with the decision, that they didn’t really have much of a choice in the matter. As a quick refresher, this is what is being proposed:
anchored putter diagram
They had to deal with it, right? Well, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem clearly didn’t think that way. On Sunday afternoon, while in the middle of a tournament, Finchem announced that the PGA Tour disagreed with the potential ban, and hoped that the USGA and R&A would reconsider. Finchem then took to the airwaves, joining NBC’s Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller, to discuss the rationale behind his earlier statement. Finchem made it clear that after discussing the situation with the player advisory council, it was agreed that the ruling was not in the best interest of not only the PGA Tour, but the game of golf as a whole. The logic behind the defiant stance by the PGA Tour, according to Finchem, came down to four basic principles:

  1. The USGA and R&A presented no proof and/or statistical data that showed definitively that anchoring was actually an advantage for those who use it.
  2. Anchoring has been prevalent for 30 years, so there’s no point in going down that path now.
  3. Lots of amateurs use an anchored putter, and removing it could deter involvement in the game.
  4. Many players on the PGA Tour have grown up using and perfecting the method when the USGA had approved it in previous years.

Taking to a national audience on NBC to make his point was an obvious power move by Finchem. He knew that most of the eyes in the golf world were on the WGC-Accenture Match Play, and he decided to take that opportunity to stick it to the USGA and R&A. He wouldn’t tolerate it if one of his players upstaged an event, but hey, I guess one of the perks of being the commissioner is that you can do whatever the hell you want. As for his points:
1. No statistical data
On this point, he’s correct. The USGA and R&A declined to produce any evidence that proved anchoring was a more effective way to putt. They looked at recent major winners in Ernie Els, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson, all of whom use anchored putters, and decided that they needed to do something. If they come back at the PGA Tour with some proof, Finchem may not have a leg to stand on.
2. Prevalent for 30 years
Finchem’s correct that it’s been prevalent for 30 years, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored based on history. When they first became prominent, the only players who used them were the ones who had the yips. Now, while it’s true that players use them today because of the yips, there are two main reasons why most would use an anchored putter. First, they’ve grown up using them, and that’s simply what they’re used to at this point. You’re going to see one example of this at the Masters this year when 14-year old Guan Tianlang will be in the field. The other reason why a player would use one is that they think it makes them a better putter. The PGA Tour like to point out that none of the best putters in the world use these things, but that’s because they don’t need to. Tim Clark, Carl Pettersson and Adam Scott are not known as good putters, but when they use an anchored putter, they go from below-average to average, which makes a huge difference at the pro level.
3. Too many amateurs use the long putter already
Finchem made reference on the broadcast to the fact that 20% of amateur players use an anchored putter. I play a lot of golf, and there’s no shot that one in every five players are using one, but for the sake of argument, let’s take him at his word. I’m in full agreement that we should be doing everything we can to keep as many people as possible on the course, but are there really going to be that many people who quit the game if they can’t buy a putter that they can anchor to their body? I find that hard to believe. This is one of the many reasons why there’s been a lot of talk recently about bifurcation, the idea that there should be two sets of rules for pros and amateurs. Again, based on what I’ve seen, I believe that most people who play golf at your local course have no idea what the rules are anyway, so really that shouldn’t be much of a consideration. I wouldn’t care if I saw someone in my group use an anchored putter, and I doubt that many others would either.
4. Current pros have perfected it when there was no talk of a ban
Finchem’s backing of his players is what was most shocking here. In his nearly 20 years as commissioner of the PGA Tour, he hasn’t exactly been known as player friendly, but it’s obvious that in the time that the proposed ban was announced, Finchem received feedback that he better do something about it, especially from prominent players like Bradley, Simpson and Els. Of course, there are players who say that it should be banned as well, most notably Tiger Woods, Luke Donald and Ian Poulter. After Finchem made his announcement, Bradley made his thoughts clear as well:

As for my own opinion on the matter, I’ve mostly been of the mind that the ban doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We have a bunch of people arguing about what constitutes a proper golf stroke based on what the game was when it was first being competed, instead of focusing on what the game is today. When there are enough issues in the game that should be dealt with, namely slow play and how far the ball travels, those who make the Rules of Golf seem to have their priorities out of order.

Despite Finchem’s best efforts, I don’t think it’s going to matter much. The USGA and R&A will probably do whatever they want, and even though Finchem carries a lot of weight, I can’t envision a scenario in which he stands in their way if they decide to go through with the ban and it’ll be up to the players to adapt, whether they like it or not.
Maybe once the governing bodies are done with this, they can tackle things that actually matter.

4 Comments on “Should anchored putters be banned?”

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