WEST CALDWELL, N.J. — I fear for the future of golf.
The game’s rulesmakers, in the name of history and tradition, are stuck in the past instead of looking forward.
If we, the members of the golf community, are serious about growing the game – and if they, the governing golfers who make the rules, are serious about growing the game – then why are we even considering a rule that could eliminate belly putters and long putters that people actually enjoy using?
Growing the game means attracting more people. How do we do this? By making them feel comfortable, by making them feel good. The everlasting challenge of golf will be obvious to newcomers if
we can just get them through the gate and past the initial intimidation.
Yet, in spite of all the rhetoric about expanding the game’s shrinking population, golf remains the world’s greatest sport at taking things away.
I know, I know. Any ban by the USGA and R&A would be on the anchoring method and not the putters themselves, but let’s be honest: The abolishment of anchoring would be a death knell for belly and long putters.
Do I think this will happen? Absolutely. Whether the announcement comes in December or next March, anchoring appears to be headed for the golf graveyard.
In the past 15 years, drivers have been a favorite target of rulesmakers. We’ve seen new limits on head size and spring-like effect. We’ve seen the banishment of drivers longer than 48 inches. We’ve also seen the banishment of wedge and iron grooves that were said to produce too much spin.
Yes, golf is great at taking things away. Still, despite all these prohibitions on performance, many of our oldest, dearest and shortest courses remain obsolete because modern golfers are driving and wedging them to death.
Sure, golf has given us adjustability as a counterbalance for all these things that were taken away. Credit USGA senior technical director Dick Rugge for that one, but perhaps nothing can prepare us for what could happen in the future.
At the recent USGA Senior Amateur, Steve Foehl, executive director of the New Jersey State Golf Association, talked about the sport he loves. Foehl is a smart, articulate man who has taken a long look at golf and is worried about what he sees.
What he sees are belly putters in the hands of kids. Lots of kids. “I mean, golfers of college age or younger,” Foehl said. “I have been very, very surprised at how many of them are using belly putters. It’s a delicate situation, and I worry any time a golf club is conforming one year and then the next year the same club is nonconforming.”
Far beyond the anchoring controversy, Foehl sees an issue that could divide many golfers and drive a stake through the heart of the game. This would be the shortening of the golf ball.
As long as golf refuses to endorse any form of bifurcation – separate equipment rules for touring professionals and everyday amateurs – there are only two possible distance solutions: Accept the fact that more and more golfers are capable of driving the ball 350 yards on PGA Tour courses with dry, firm fairways, or tell golf-ball manufacturers that they must produce balls that don’t fly as far.
Taking the air out of the ball would mean shorter drives for everyone, whether it’s your young child just learning the game or your grandfather who has played the game for decades. Just imagine the outcry and uproar.
“Apart from the putter issue, they (the rulesmakers) have other problems that they have let get out of the barn,” Foehl said. “The length that some people are hitting the golf ball is mind-boggling. You could make a strong argument that something has to be done.”
But we’re stuck on putters for the moment. Chip Lutz, No. 1 in the Golfweek/Wilson Golf Senior Amateur Rankings, said, “I assume it (a ban) is coming. We’ve all heard it.
My question is this: Why? It has helped a lot of people. That’s not a bad thing; it’s a good thing. It’s fun. It helps some people conquer the yips. It keeps golfers in the game.
It makes them happier with their putting. I think it would be a bad decision. I think the USGA has other issues they should deal with before they worry about long putters and belly putters.”
Lutz is a measured speaker who doesn’t talk loudly or outlandishly. When he talks, others listen.
“I think such a ruling could result in a bunch of disgruntled golfers,” he said. “We need positive developments in golf. If we really want to grow the game, eliminating long and belly putters just seems to be the wrong way to go.”
Simple words for a complex situation.
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Editor’s note (added since story publication): It’s clear that the USGA and R&A are getting close to a decision on anchoring, at least the PGA of America believes so. Before the turkeys hit the Thanksgiving table, new PGA of America president Ted Bishop sent an e-mail to all of its members with a simple question?
With regards to anchoring a golf club:
a. Yes, I would favor a ban on anchoring a golf club
b. No, I would not favor a ban on anchoring a golf club
How do you feel about the same questions? Vote below!