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Narrowly Avoiding The Anchoring Ban

By Lewine Mair – Global Golf Post

CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND | There was a crossing of wires ahead of last week’s Senior Open Championship at Carnoustie when a media man suggested to Bernhard Langer that he was “kind of breaking all the rules at the moment.”

“What rules?” countered Langer, who can only have thought that he was about to be quizzed on his long putter. After all, everyone has been asking if Langer and his fellow long putter users have made enough in the way of an adjustment since the non-anchoring rule was introduced on Jan. 1.

The golf writer at Carnoustie had in fact been thinking along altogether different lines. His query had related to how Langer was doing the seemingly impossible in leading the PGA Tour Champions money list at 58. How come those young things in their early 50s had not succeeded in shoving him aside?

Langer put it down to extra years spent working on his technique, to a growing maturity – and to having avoided injury problems.

Bernhard Langer (photo by YouTube)
Bernhard Langer (photo by YouTube)

Yet the long putter question was as much to the fore last week as it has ever been. Especially when, last Tuesday, the rain was slamming down and the players were so heavily wrapped that it was tough to discern whether the tops of long putters were anchored against chests or merely tangling with waterproofs.

John Paramor, the chief referee, had intended to study film of Langer’s putting at the start of the Carnoustie week in order to be fully conversant with how it worked. As it was, his opposite numbers from the US had confirmed that the two-time Masters champion was anchoring the putter only for his practice swings and that he was moving it away before he putted for real. Not by much but enough.

Paramor was well satisfied with the explanation, and well satisfied with the resolution to a long-putter incident which occurred in Senior Open qualifying. When one player noted that his companion appeared to be doing a spot of anchoring, a referee had wasted no time in quizzing the alleged offender who said at once that if he had anchored the club at any point it had been inadvertent. In such circumstances, he was allowed to proceed without a two-shot penalty.

“So if it’s inadvertent it’s OK,” shrugged a disbelieving Barry Lane, a Ryder Cup man in 1993.

No-one, repeat no-one, thinks that Langer and the Langer putt-alikes are breaking rules. “They’re only doing what they’re allowed to do,” said Lane. “I blame the governing bodies. Though you can see from studying the top of the putter whether the hands are free, the rule is far from clear. They need to change it and it needs to be changed straightaway rather than in four years’ time, which is what usually applies.”

English pro Phil Golding said much the same. “I would trust Langer with my life. In fact, I trust them all. Apart from anything else, there’s too many TV cameras around for anyone to risk doing the wrong thing, but why would you want a situation in which spectators are having doubts?”

Mark O’Meara talked about calls coming in every week from suspicious viewers. “I guess it’s a bit of a mess,” said the former Open champion, who usually goes along unthinkingly with any rules notification from the governing bodies.

Jean van de Velde, meantime, is up in arms in that he sees the situation as “an open door to controversy.” He believes that there should be an immediate ban on long putters: “Why wait four years? We’re hardly talking about the Ten Commandments.”

“Golf,” he continued, “is a gentleman’s game and I like to think that no-one’s taking advantage. Sooner or later, though, this is going to be a major problem.”

Colin Montgomerie talked of golf as “a game of absolutes. The ball is either in the hole or it’s not in the hole; you shoot a 72 or you shoot a 73. There’s no grey in golf – and this anchoring rule is grey.”

Paramor does not deny that some among the long-putting brigade have adjusted their actions by no more than “the smallest of margins.” Going on from there, he refers to “the huge vein of trust” running through the game and to how, when a referee does come across someone breaking the anchoring rule or any other, “trust is broken and the transgression is taken seriously.”

He likes to look at the anchoring ban from another angle. “I’m happy,” he says, “that it hasn’t resulted in vast swaths of players leaving the professional game because they can’t putt.”

Also, he can see an end to the debate in that today’s young golfers are not being tempted by long putters, even though these are mostly on sale at a 70 per cent discount. As for the senior citizens, he suspects that the “former anchorers” are just hoping that such revisions as they have made will see them through till the end of their careers.

The latter, though, is hardly going to satisfy the Jean van de Veldes of this world. They want to see this “open door to controversy” slammed shut straightaway.

Republished with permission by Global Golf Post.