HOORAY FOR THE BAN ON THE ANCHORED PUTTER

The anchored putter makes the game of golf easier for some players.  That is indisputable.  As the USGA put it so well, we do not need statistics for that one, it is self-evident.  No one is forced to anchor, but 100% of those who elect to anchor, do so because it makes the game easier for them.  Whether they make up a majority of the pros, 10%, 1%, whatever, those pros who use the AP use it because it works for them.  Ask the 6 latest Major-winners, a majority of whom (4 of the 6) used the anchored putter.  For that matter, ask the competitive juniors. High-level competitors don’t do it for style, or convenience; the long putters are heavier, clumsier, and awkward in the bag, and they are hardly a guaranty of pain-relief for those with back problems.  No, the fundamental fact is that the anchored putter makes the game easier for some.  Maybe not all, but some.

So, what is wrong with that?  Plenty.  And when you think about this, remember, we are only talking about the pros (plus any other competitive group that opts to adopt the ban); your average 15-handicapper, the person we are trying to court as a continuing consumer of golf, remains free to anchor, use illegal grooves on the wedges, buy a 500 cc driver, and pump up with as much in the way of steroids, alcohol, and other game-improvement techniques as the player – and his or her playing companions – will tolerate.

The problem with making the game easier is simple:  it makes the game less interesting, less attractive, to its audience.  Anything that makes the game easier is, in effect, reducing the significance of the skill component of the game, leveling the difference between the better players and the not-better players.  Improvements in equipment or techniques do not make the game more attractive.  Sure, it is fun to watch what the big bombers are now able to do, but how many people attend your typical long-drive competitions – how many of you have ever seen, or even heard of, Jamie Sadlowski?  For that matter, have you ever been to a professional putting contest? (Did you know the winners are often children?)  A competition in hitting lobs or flop shots with wedges?  No, golf is interesting precisely because it is excruciatingly difficult, and the very best players are almost unbelievably superior to the best amateurs – and even to many of their fellow pros.

Think about this example:  How would you feel about watching pro football if the rules were changed to make it harder to sack the quarterback, kind of like scrimmages where the QB wears a red shirt and cannot be touched?  It would make the game way easier for some (namely, everybody on offense but especially the quarterback), but it would also take away one of the key factors that make pro football such a great game:  it would nullify the “escapability” factor.  RG III, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick (each of whom uses speed and/or elusiveness to escape the pass-rush) would no longer be so special, or so interesting – nor would players like Aaron Rogers and Tom Brady (who use an extraordinary combination of athletic skills and general savvyness), Peyton Manning (who has no speed at all but reads defenses instantly), and old-timers like Dan Marino (no speed or elusiveness but phenomenally quick release).   Once you reduce a skill component of a game, you reduce some of the differentiators between the great and the not-so-great, and we, the audience, are the losers.  We don’t want perfection when it is achieved through messing with the equipment or the rules, we want difficulties overcome.

The same logic could be applied as well to the 460 cc driver with a trampoline club-face, to the 7-iron with the loft of an old 5-iron but the design and weighting to make it fly higher than an old 8-iron, and – most of all – to the modern ball.  Sadly, that genie left the bottle so long ago that we will never put it back in, but the logical support for putting a stop to golf’s arms’ race is at least as compelling as the logic of the ban on the AP.  With every little advance, there is less of the game left to differentiate the stars from the journeymen.

By the way, can we please stop hearing from the Adam Scotts, the Keegan Bradleys, the Webb Simpsons, all of the AP addicts on the Tour?  This has nothing to do with fairness to them, it is about the welfare of the sport as a whole.  If they cannot learn to putt and win without the AP, that is neither a tragedy nor even an injustice.

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