I’ve written in the past about the rules of golf. The powers that be (the USGA and the R&A) have the task of establishing a set of rules that can be applied and honored by the rankest of amateurs to the greatest players in the game. This can certainly be a daunting effort as the ruling bodies need to consider such aspects as course maintenance and advances in equipment technology, all while writing rules in such a way that do not require a contract lawyer to decipher.
Prior to this past year, the most controversial ruling that the ruling bodies made in recent times was the banning of “anchoring” while putting. Anchoring came in vogue in the late 1980’s when longer putters were introduced, allowing a player to rest the butt end of the putter against one’s chin, chest, or belly button (depending on the length of the putter) to provide stability and reduce shaky hand movement (commonly referred to as “the yips). I’m not sure if this is an apocryphal story, but it’s been said that the USGA was ready to ban the practice altogether until it was learned that then-President George H.W. Bush, whose father was once president of the USGA and who was also a notoriously terrible putter, found solace in anchoring the long putter.
Anchoring probably saved a number of player’s careers and made putting tolerable for many recreational players. The most extreme use of anchoring that I encountered was a fellow named Martin, a fellow member at a club to which I belonged in Virginia. Martin actually slid the end of the long putter under his left armpit.
Nonetheless, there was enough of a stink (sorry, Martin) raised about anchoring that led to the USGA & the R&A to ultimately ban the practice. There was some grumbling within the ranks of the PGA Tour, but the players accepted the decision. As for recreational players, they saw a sudden spike of long and belly length putter availability of eBay and slashed prices for same in golf shops.
I used the phrase “prior to this past year” a few paragraphs back because the ruling bodies introduced a number of rules changes for 2019 that would hopefully have the effect of speeding play and removing nebulous judgement regarding things like double-hitting the ball (no longer a penalty, which comes about 30 years too late for T.C. Chen ) or accidentally striking the ball with a practice swing (also no longer a penalty, which only cost Zach Johnson embarrassment at this year’s Masters).
But there are a couple of rule changes that have come under fire from the pros, reactions that frankly baffle me.
One is a rule that requires that when taking a drop for relief, the ball must be dropped from knee-length and land no closer to the hole. This is a departure from the practice of dropping from shoulder length and is intended to keep from having to drop more than once and speeding play. Pros are complaining that 1) it’s a hard habit to break, and 2) it looks silly.
Both of which are ludicrous arguments, and in my opinion masks the real reason why they don’t like the rule – that being, after two unsuccessful drops, the golfer gets to place the ball where it initially land, which usually results in a favorable lie. The likelihood of an unsuccessful drop decreases the closer one drops to the ground.
The other rule change that has stirred the pot is the one that allows the flagstick to be left in the hole while putting. Now, for my friends and me, this has been a great aid to pace of play. Generally speaking, most of us will leave it in on longer putts, and then maybe take it out for shorter efforts (for what it’s worth, noted short game guru Dave Pelz has conducted exhaustive research and concluded that one should ALWAYS leave the flagstick in. The Mad Scientist of Golf, Bryson DeChambeau, agrees).
Many pros disagree on both points, arguing that 1) the flagstick takes up room in the hole, decreasing the chance of the ball going in, and 2) because players have preferences of having the flag in or removing it, that act actually adds time to the round.
As for point 1 – ignore science at your own peril.
Then again, I don’t play the game for a living. Which is a good thing. Although it would likely do wonders for my waistline.