Klein: A bit late? Yes. But effort is welcome.

A USGA flag

A USGA flag

Reader poll

Should anchoring your club be banned?

  • Yes, I would favor a ban on anchoring a golf club 51%
  • No, I would not favor a ban on anchoring a golf club 45%
  • Doesn't matter, I will use an anchored club anyway 3%

2586 total votes.

Use a long putter? Never tried it.

• • •

The old adage in tree care is that there are two times when you should plant a good hardwood: now and 20 years ago.

The same could be said for major rulings in golf. The U.S. Golf Association and the R&A missed the boat on a lot of revolutionary equipment 20 years ago. Now they’re catching up. The odd thing is that, with the long putter and the decision to ban the anchoring stroke, golf’s rulesmakers are picking on a pretty obscure and insignificant target. The effort, while overdue, is welcome. At least to me.

No doubt there are plenty of golf libertarians who resent rulesmaking by big governing bodies and who would prefer the game’s equivalent to laissez faire on equipment. But the beauty of golf is that it’s basically the same game as has been played for centuries, and this despite the considerable evolution of technology during which the game has advanced from featheries to gutta-perchas to rubber-core golf balls to the modern high-performance multi-layered ball. We’ve also gone from hickory shafts to steel to various composite configurations and graphite. But all of that has been monitored, governed and ruled upon by the game’s watchdog agencies: the USGA for the U.S. and Mexico, the R&A for the rest of the world.

Shamefully, they got timid and backed down in the face of ferocious industry lobbying and did not find their way back before 300-yard drives became quotidian and players could spin the ball out of the rough with impunity. Then along came these geeky, pendulum-like objects for putting, and after a while the game’s guardians decided – rather sensibly, I think – that the tools didn’t look like they belonged in the game.

If there’s any scientific evidence that the anchoring stroke and the long putters afford an advantage to players, I have not seen it and they have not shown it. Apparently, enough players think it’s an advantage – or at least feel as if it’s an advantage to them – and they’ve decided to learn to use them.

The curious thing is that the newly announced rules banning anchoring represent a new effort by the USGA and the R&A. Nowhere in my handy-dandy book “The Rules of Golf” is there a word about how to grip a golf club or how to make a swing. The rules, until now, have been all about the hardware. This is the first effort at addressing the software, so to speak: the position of hands in relation to the body.

So, the USGA and R&A finally are defining tradition. In the process, they are engaged in an act of interpretation, one that is inherently contestable. The very nature of tradition is that the boundary between acceptable and verboten is nebulous, not clearly delineated. But at least this time in deciding what’s proper and what’s not, the game’s ruling bodies are doing what they should have done 20 years ago – or more. They are helping to define the game and to establish what makes golf special.

It’s an approach that is long overdue. And because they didn’t do it 20 years ago, they finally are doing it now.

• • •

Editor's note: Check out all of our in-depth stories on the anchoring issue here.

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