Seen & Heard – Wednesday, May 22, 2013

by Rob G

It’s been some time since I’ve posted anything besides the afternoon lineup, not because of a lack of stories, but rather real life gets in the way. No excuses, just a fact, and here we are.

Listening to Bob McCown yesterday on Prime Time Sports work himself into a lather on the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the Royal & Ancient (R&A) bi-lateral move to ban the anchoring of a belly or long putter was humourous. It’s often difficult to determine how genuine McCown is when he goes off on his rants, but what really surprised me was for a guy that started his career in the golf industry and remains to this day a very good player (my conjecture based on his chats with Ian Leggatt, Sportsnet golf analyst and former PGA Tour player), it shocked me that he didn’t understand that the long putter wasn’t banned, but rather it was the anchoring of the putter to the body. In other words, you can still use a belly putter or a long putter, but not the way it is used today.

To be clear, what has happened is the USGA and the R&A have jointly banned the anchoring of a belly or long putter, as it creates a fulcrum, as opposed to a free swing of the club. For those watching golf these days, players such as 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley, 2012 Open Championship winner Ernie Els, or 2012 US Open winner Webb Simpson anchor the putter in their belly. Players that anchor a longer putter on their sternum include 2013 Masters Champion Adam Scott and 2010 Player’s Champion Tim Clark. As of January 1, 2016, they will not be able to putt with their current putter as they currently do.

While it was surprising that McCown didn’t understand the new rule, it was more surprising and bothersome that others in the media, such as TSN Drive host Dave Naylor, didn’t understand the new rule. What was apparent was they didn’t take the time to get a clear understanding of the new rule before having a chat about it on the radio. I don’t know about you, but I always appreciate when it’s clear the host has taken the time to do some research prior to going to air. I don’t think that is asking too much. Listening to Naylor and Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun discuss the debate yesterday on TSN 1050 was literally amateur hour.

For those not as versed on the issue, the crux of it is this. There are a small percentage of PGA Tour players that anchor slightly longer than normal putter in the belly, or an even longer putter that is anchored on the sternum. This not so recent development (the longer putter began on tour back in the 80s) has gained some traction, and created controversy, as it flies in the face of the tradition (and rules) of the game that the club shall be swung without being anchored to the body. The belief is anchoring the putter gives an advantage. This is the controversy, as it is debatable whether an advantage is gained. Frankly, it is an argument that could go on forever. Bottom line is the vast majority of PGA Tour players don’t use a belly putter or a long putter. My opinion is if it was such an advantage, more would use one of the two.

What is driving some of the anger amongst those that don’t agree with the ban, is what has been ignored by the governing bodies’ for years. Technology advances in equipment (raw material such as titanium, grooves) and technological advances with the golf ball have been largely ignored over the last 20 years, but suddenly a few PGA Tour pros win some major tournaments, and the barn door has to be closed. The governing bodies’ actions and inactions are utterly perplexing. This was McCown’s beef, and while I don’t always agree with him, he’s spot on with this issue.

What will be interesting over the next month is the fallout, as the PGA Tour (the guys we watch on TV on the weekend) and the PGA of America (the club pros at golf clubs throughout the USA – I know, it can be confusing) are taking the next 30 days to assess the governing bodies’ decision before deciding what their next step is. The tour doesn’t necessarily have to follow suit. If they choose not to enforce the ban, what could happen would be what is termed bifurcation of the Rules of Golf, where the PGA Tour and/or the PGA of America would decide to play by a different set of rules than amateur golfers that are governed by the USGA and/or the R&A. Though not the best example, think of Major League Baseball. They only allow wooden bats, whereas aluminum bats are allowed in most other leagues.

That is truly the heart of the issue. Why are the rules of golf still managed by the two largest governing bodies of golf (USGA & the R&A) that have the amateur golfer in mind? At the very least, the PGA Tour and the PGA of America should have some say into the rules of the game.

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