Okay, so the Great Debate of 2013 has ended, pretty much. This week The PGA of America and the PGA Tour both announced that they will fall in line and follow Rule 14-1b, which when implemented in January of 2016 will ban the anchored putting stroke. Golf's professional bodies did ask the governing bodies, the USGA and R&A, for one thing and that was to extend the implementation date for recreational amateurs past 2016.
The mentality behind the extension for amateurs was simple. The feeling by The PGA and the Tour was that there was no pressing reason to force the ban on the amateur body so that older amateur golfers might conceivably be able to phase out of their careers by anchoring. Many of these golfers have resorted to anchoring as a defense against the yips, which is a nervous condition that results in consistent misses of short putts. Some players in this group have also developed tremors with age and anchoring has been their only salvation for staying in the game.
How many people among the 26 million golfers in the United States will be effected by Rule 14-1b? No one can accurately answer this. The USGA has said the number is 2-4% and the PGA Tour estimates it could be as high as 10%. Let's pick a number in between and say its 5%. That would be 1.3 million golfers in the U.S. who currently anchor the long putter.
"Anchorers" are typically golfers who play a lot of rounds each year. Rarely, if ever, do you see the occasional player who tees it up once or twice a year show up with a long putter. Never do you see a beginner have the long stick in their bag.
There is an adage in golf that says "twenty percent of the golfing population is responsible for driving eighty percent of the revenue at golf courses." So, if you take the 26 million total golfers in this country, approximately 5.2 million of those account for the vast majority of golf course revenues each year. The "anchorers" are clearly in that group of spenders and are classified as part of the avid or core golfers by operators.
The summary of all of this is that the anchored putting population could represent as much as 25% of the core or avid golfers. That is why PGA club professionals have been so vocal throughout the anchoring debate. This rules legislation will impact a substantial portion of our customer bases.
Whether or not the USGA and R&A concedes to extend the deadline of implementation for amateurs remains to be seen. They did grant a 14-year phase-in period when the grooves rule was changed in 2010 and gave amateurs until 2024 to purchase conforming equipment. The difference here is that Rule 14-1b is not an equipment rule, but a rule that governs the stroke.
When Rule 14-1b does eventually come into play for the recreational amateur, here's what it means: Anyone who still wants to compete in club events must abandon the anchored stroke. Any scores shot and posted for handicap purposes using an anchored stroke will be invalid and not recognized by the USGA. This is important for the golfer who thinks they can acquire a handicap with an anchored stroke and go to a member/guest at another course, switch to a short putter and participate.
Less than 5% of all golfers in the U.S. actually have handicaps. The vast majority of golfers play the game for fun and it probably won't matter what they do. Golf Digest polled a segment of "anchorers" and 41% said they would continue to anchor even after the rule is implemented. For golf professionals, that's our version of citizens telling local government officials they don't like a law and don't intend to follow it.
For PGA golf professionals there is a human side to all of this. Our golfing customers are our friends. We depend on these avid or core golfers for our livelihood. Certainly, it is our job to be the teachers of the game. We are counselors and even psychiatrists at times when it comes to our golfers. These golfers are our extended families. In fact, many golf professionals see these players more than they see their families during the busy months of our seasons.
Recently, I received this email from Eden Foster, the PGA professional at Maidstone Club on Long Island.
"I spent a long time thinking about the way this ruling will affect my membership. I am going to have a hard time telling an 80-year-old member that wants to play in a One Day Member Guest that he can't use an anchored putting style for the event. He just won't play and that is not what we want. I personally do not think the USGA did its homework on the yips to see how many people are actually fighting this disease.
"I have been teaching golf for over 25 years. During my time I estimate that about 25% of the members and guests playing in our member guest tournaments have the yips. The owner of the club I work at in Naples during the winter months has a tendency to get the yips and they will only get worse. He will at some point want to anchor and there is no way that he will adopt Rule 14-1b at the club. My golf chairman at Maidstone uses an anchored putter because of the yips and I doubt we will adopt the rule at Maidstone.
"A few months ago I was sent an email from Golf Magazine (I am currently a top 100 instructor) about options to replace the anchored putting method. I was copied on all of the responses. Most of them had to do with getting a better fitted putter, set up, stroke technique, etc. If a person has the yips none of this matters. Bottom line is you have to anchor if you have the yips. Using a long putter without anchoring DOES NOT WORK and I don't see any player on tour or anywhere else using a long putter and not anchoring.
"Only option is to anchor against the forearm or switch the opposite way (righty to lefty). I know all of this because I have the yips and there is no getting rid of them. People who say they have cured the yips never had them to begin with. For now the debate has gone away, but just wait until 2016."
Eden Foster's words very eloquently summarize the human side and the effect the final verdict on the anchored putting stroke will have on recreational golfers and their PGA club professionals. Since 1916, PGA members have taught and promoted the game of golf. We will continue to do that and if 2016 is the implementation date for banning the anchored stroke by recreational golfers it will result in one of the biggest challenges we have faced in the past 100 years.