We have come to the point that has been building for almost two years regarding whether belly or long putters will remain legal, or to be more specific, what constitutes a stroke according to the rules of golf. As has been the case with other rules changes, this is a reactionary change. It could be Sam Snead dropping putts from everywhere while straddling his putting line, or Johnny Miller going on and on during a broadcast about how much spin the tour players are getting out of the rough with the old grooves. Because of the recent success of a few tour players that use the longer putters anchored to the body, once again the USGA and the R&A have responded to the publicity. After over 120 years of golf in the modern era (post 1890), we are still defining what constitutes a stroke. Personally, I agree that tour players should not be allowed to anchor the club. My disagreement comes with the rules organizations not allowing for different rules for the average golfer. In a publicly released statement, the PGA of America has taken a strong position against the change based on the premise that we should not do anything to make the game more difficult because of the shrinking number of new golfers. My question is, why do the most talented players in the world, the elite few, have to play the same rules as Joe Hacker just trying to have fun playing the game? Every sport adjusts their rules to the competition. College football rules are different than NFL rules. Amateur baseball was different than Major League Baseball for decades because of the allowance of aluminum bats. Length of games, equipment, and many other differences exist depending upon the level of competition and talent in every sport. Why not pressure the tour into making the change on their own instead of rewriting the rule book for everyone? Or, write a separate rule book for competitive golf? The precedent was set already with the groove rule being implemented with different timetables between the competitive versus the non-competitive golfer. I have seen research done citing the lack of difference in putting stats with conventional versus anchored on the tour. The flaw in this research is that it only looks at stats on tour as a whole, lumping together all players. In other words, yes, maybe the percentage of missed 8-foot putts is the same, or the number of putts per greens in regulation is the same. But, what the research didn’t cite was the difference between a tour player that switched from conventional to anchored. In those cases, there are some dramatic improvements. Therefore, my contention is that it does make a difference. This is great for the average golfer who struggles to putt well, but it’s not a fair advantage for the millionaire tour player. To purists, the club should be controlled from both ends, grip and butt. The club should be swung as an extension of the arms freely away from the body. I completely agree with this argument for the tour player or high-level competitive golfer. But, I also agree with the PGA and others who say, why change something that might discourage participation among the masses? So, should we continue to teach juniors who have professional aspirations the conventional method? Of course. But, I am very confident there are not a lot of 40-year-old new golfers that will become tour players. Unfortunately, the average golfer will junk his belly putter and the image presented to the non-golfer is the same as it has always been – a bunch of stubborn old guys unable to see that we need to make the game easier for the average person, not harder. Although this may not be reality, perception is reality. So, the perception will still exist among the general public. When the image of the game is changed to be more inclusive and less stringent, maybe we will see growth in the game. In the meantime, let’s continue to make the game as difficult as possible for Joe Hacker. Why make it easy for him…golf is supposed to be hard, right?
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