We are just days away from Rule 14-1b regarding the anchoring of a golf stroke going into effect, some three-plus years after it came on everyone's radar.
And I am more convinced than ever this is a bad move.
Not because of the impact it will have on senior golf at every level, or championship golf, or even teaching the game. It's because of the exceptions within the rule, the lack of clarity it provides and the more important issues the ruling bodies should be focusing on rather than anchored strokes. Rule 14-1b, as officially announced in May 2013, prohibits anchoring the club either directly or by use of an anchor point in making a stroke. This is fine on the surface, but let's take a more in-depth look at the layers of this ruling and the long-term impact.
For decades, golf's ruling bodies approved of the anchored method with many of the thoughts being:
1. It will be pretty much confined to senior golf (quickly proven untrue on all professional tours and top-level amateur golf around the world).
2. No one will win a major championship with a long or anchored putter (see Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley, Ernie Els and others).
3. No one will ever teach the anchored method to youngsters. (USGA President Tom O'Toole Jr.'s young son was encouraged to learn this method by his professional, thus sending Mr. O'Toole, by his own admission, to his breaking point to take the side of the anchoring ban.
The information about implementation of the rule on the USGA's website is seven -- yes, seven -- long pages when printed. The rule itself reads like the tax code and includes exceptions that undercut the strength of the rule, like Matt Kuchar's method of putting where he braces the putter grip against his forearm. I have yet to hear an explanation of this particular method that dissuades me from thinking it is an anchored stroke.
Why not say a player might only have up to two points of contact with the club, those points being either one or two hands? This certainly would make it much cleaner and simpler, especially when the big scream about the rules of golf (and the decisions) are centered on their complexity and difficulty to understand.
Furthermore, the reversal of the previous decision and the course of action with the "because we said so" air undermines the authority of the ruling bodies. I applaud the current USGA and R&A leadership and committees for being more active in protecting the integrity and future of the game, but not like this.
I also disagree with the USGA's announcement just prior to Thanksgiving that "scores made while playing alone will no longer be acceptable [for] handicap purposes." Unless the USGA has a larger motive for a global handicapping code (the United Kingdom, among others, does not allow for solo scores to count toward handicapping), then the organization talking about making itself more inclusive has done exactly the opposite.
From a personal standpoint, one of the biggest attractions to the game was the opportunity for solitary participation. There was no need for someone on the other side of the net to return a shot or even to practice with me. I was raised in a very average, working-class family where both parents held jobs and I played at a working-to-middle-class club just a mile from home. I could ride my bike back and forth to McGregor Links with my eyes closed and knew every blade of grass on the course.
It would have been nearly impossible to find people to play with during regular hours in order to verify my scores by "peer review." Scores are needed to be eligible for entry to the local, regional and statewide competitions that paved the way for what has become an incredibly blessed life in and around the game. My life would have taken a very different course if I had to have someone sign every time I needed scores.
Par and personal bests were better than any "peer review" I could ever imagine, my own measuring stick for my dreams of earning a college scholarship and degree, becoming a professional, a major champion and ultimately someone who is still involved in the game more than 40 years later.
Good on Golf Canada for feeling much the same way and not enforcing the USGA's "peer review" ruling. We need to be putting ourselves in the position of growing the game at every level and not putting up more roadblocks.
As a game, golf has a number of issues that need much more attention and energy than the two just addressed, such as speed of play, green speeds, the huge distances today's golf ball travels in concert with the current club technology, and caddies lining up their players during competition.
Pace of play
At last month's pace-of-play symposium held at St. Andrews, Martin Slumbers, the R&A's new chief executive, said he believes it is time for the slow players at all levels to be named and shamed. Bravo!
Now that is peer review that will have a positive effect.
Toward the end of my LPGA career, there was a regular locker room posting of all players, the number of instances they had been timed for slow play, the "bad times" they had racked up, as well as any fines levied. Talk about a list you didn't want to be on or a check you didn't want to write!
That was a powerful, positive motivator to pick up the pace and could be used nearly anywhere to get people moving quicker.
No greater example of green speeds getting out of control (golf is not played in a dome, after all) came on the Old Course at St. Andrews during July's Open Championship. For the third straight time (the last two Opens and the 2013 Ricoh Women's British Open), a major championship held on the Old Course was suspended because golf balls could not be put into play or kept in play without moving due to the conditions Mother Nature presented.
This might be a reach, but why not have a conversation between those who conduct the four major championships about a maximum allowed speed for a two-year cycle? Do the research, analyze the results. Let's propose 9 feet on the stimpmeter for seaside courses and 10.5 for less exposed inland courses.
What players really want aren't necessarily fast greens, but rather true and consistent greens.
Agronomic practices and turf grass technology have come so far that sometimes we've really outthought ourselves. In the process, we've decreased playability, lowered the number and variety of available hole locations and have driven up the time of the round by sweating over treacherously fast 3-and-4 footers.
Golf ball go far
The overall statistics might not say it, but I can promise you in the 12 years I have covered live golf, the ball travels much farther than ever. Sadly, in combination with today's metal woods and stronger iron lofts, the ability to conduct major championships on classic sites without acquiring more land and resorting to trickery and compromise is quickly shrinking.
I use Oak Hill Country Club's East Course as a prime example. Before hosting its past two PGA Championships, the club had to purchase additional property to stretch the 17th hole to a 501-yard par-4, hoping the players would then land their drives on the fairway upslope to set up a demanding approach rather than just a short iron.
Longer walks to back tees (more time), longer courses (more area and cost to maintain), more classic courses being "tricked up" (Merion in the 2013 U.S. Open, for example) and you might begin to see why it is time to look at reining in the ball for the top levels.
Let club-level amateurs still have their fun. The game is hard enough as it is, but let's put more skill, shot-making and creativity back into ballstriking while letting the classic courses remain relevant.
Caddies lining up players
I was one of those players who did it for a while and thought it was helping me when, in fact, it was slowing me down while not making me take complete ownership of my shot decision or execution.
Lining up the shot is the player's responsibility. Period. It is part of being a golfer, part of playing the game. You can have all the help you want on the practice range, but get at it and get at it by yourself on the course. It not only looks bad to the television viewer, but also gives the impression that the player isn't in command of his or her game.
Scotland's Catriona Matthew has been very vocal about this issue, and I applaud her for it because it is not an easy or popular stand to take. Caddies lining up players is a much bigger threat to the integrity of the game than anchoring, as well as the other issues mentioned here.
We're all looking out for the good of the game and what we hope will be its vibrant and healthy future. A tough examination of the issues and establishing thoughtful priorities will be a win for everyone, whether they are just entering the game or playing it at the highest level.
Let's hope the next four-year cycle of changes to the rules of golf does more of just that.
Dottie Pepper was an independent member of the PGA of America board of directors from Nov. 2012-Nov. 2015.