For those of you who follow the PGA and PGA Tour Champions regularly, you’ve no doubt heard chatter over the last few years about the anchoring ban. Rule 14-1b states, in simplistic terms, that the putter cannot be directly anchored to the torso, or indirectly anchored by a forearm when making a stroke.
Recently most of the dialogue (and the criticism) has been directed toward Scott McCarron and Bernhard Langer, mainly because of their consistently high finishes in events, despite the fact that there is no scientific proof to suggest long putters produce better results (seriously, look it up – there isn’t a single statistic that even remotely signifies that using a long putter and/or anchoring to your body helps you putt better). They are being scrutinized by their peers, officials, governing bodies, media and fans, but the scrutiny is unfounded in my opinion, because they are following the rules.
It all started harmlessly in 2013 when the ban on long putters was proposed, and then took off at the start of 2016 when it was put into play. The USGA and R&A gave the players the benefit of the doubt, based on the integrity of professional golfers in general, by ambiguously using the word “intent” to distinguish the difference between abiding and disobeying.
This poorly written rule has opened up both sides to debate the issue. “Yes you are”…“No I’m not.” But that’s all it is – a debate. If a player thinks another player is anchoring and tells an official, the official will ask the player if he intended to anchor the putter. If the player says no, then there is no breach of the rule.
Paul Goydos came up with a great analogy regarding this issue: Let’s say the USGA decided to ban white shirts using the same language as rule 14-1b, and you showed up in what appeared to be a white shirt. An official would say that you’re not allowed to wear that white shirt. And your reply would be that it’s not white, it’s eggshell. You would then be allowed to wear that shirt. That’s how narrowly written the rule is.
The media outlets have done their part to fuel the discussion, largely because Langer and McCarron are often times being shown on television. Inevitably, the major broadcasting companies and the Golf Channel won’t just show them hitting shots or putting, they’ll zoom in on their hands or the putter close to their shirt. And, admittedly, especially in Langer’s case, it sometimes looks close. He often times will take a practice stroke with the putter anchored and then move it away for his actual stroke, but it may be hard to see that with the naked eye on television.
The next thing you know, anyone with a DVR can take a screenshot with their phone, and post it on Twitter and Facebook for everyone to see and comment on. The golf analysts grumble about the intent and whether they’re breaking the spirit of the rule, if not the rule itself. But that’s their job, creating interest in their programming, and they won’t be stopping anytime soon. But Langer and McCarron are two of the most honorable, trustworthy guys we have on the Champions Tour, and to not take what they are saying as truth seems a bit insulting.
To avoid all this back-and-forth and uproar, there are a couple things that can be done. One seemingly viable option in directing the USGA and R&A to reword the rule is for the players, officials, and the PGA executives to stop responding to the criticism of fans and the media. Every time a seemingly incriminating photo or derogatory statement appears, it needs to be ignored or delegated to the governing body that wrote the rule, not addressed by every player on Tour and brought up in every media session. There are only so many ways players can answer the exact same question. And, if a player has an issue with another player, don’t attack the player; his intent is to follow the rule. Bring all your queries to the USGA.
As far as I’m concerned, the anchoring ban really is a moot point unless a clarification of the word “intent” is changed. Right now, everything falls on the word of the player using the long putter. The gray area is far too large … we need a concrete, definitive rewrite that leaves everyone certain about what you can and cannot do.
It would be easier for the players to follow, easier for the officials to enforce, and would eliminate all conjecture and media speculation (and criticism, fair or unfair). As far as McCarron and Langer are concerned, Goydos offers a simple statement to use when they are asked about anchoring – “I don’t write the rules, I follow the rules.” And honestly, what more can you do?
Chris Mazziotti is a veteran Tour caddy of more than 20 years. He currently loops for Paul Goydos. He has worked all four majors on the PGA Tour, and has caddied for players such as Brian Henninger, David Gossett, Brandt Jobe and others.. Mazziotti currently resides in Milwaukee, Wis. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.