With anchor ban, more at stake here

The USGA Rules of Golf are the bible of the game. I have had a copy of the 34 rules and decisions in my golf bag since I was an 8-year-old beginner.

Sometimes over lunch during hot summer days in the late 1980s, my friends and I would quiz one another about various rules. I listened closely to bow-tie-wearing, former USGA executive director David Fay every time he came on the U.S. Open telecast to give one of his rules lessons.

At the Forsyth (Ga.) Golf Club, we weren't fundamentalist. We had our local rules, but we tried to adhere mostly to the letter of the law. Still, the elite world of the USGA and R&A often felt a million miles away from our tiny village of public golfers.

On Sunday when PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announced during the WGC-Accenture Match Play that the tour was going against the proposed ban on anchoring, I tried to juxtapose that remote golf world, my growing up in middle Georgia, with the one that was now splintering over what constituted a stroke.

What impact, if any, would the rule change have on the retirees, civil servants, farmers, pharmacists and second-shifters who played most weekdays at noon in Forsyth?

Wouldn't these players still anchor their midlength putters on their chins or bellies if they wanted to regardless of whether the ban became law?

Who has the best interests of the game at heart, the ruling bodies or the tour?

Does the tour have a responsibility to abide by the rule-making bodies to show unity around the game and a good example for the recreational golfer?

Finchem used some very clever stage crafting in the middle of the Match Play finals between Matt Kuchar and Hunter Mahan to defuse the notion of a burgeoning civil war between the tour and the USGA.

Yet there is no right or wrong on the issue. I fall somewhere in the middle, much like Phil Mickelson, who has said that he's not really for anchoring but is not for the ban, either.

On a tour that has a strong libertarian impulse, Mickelson's position is probably shared by many. This was the guiding philosophy that likely pulled the support on the side of the anti-ban contingent that pushed Finchem to make this announcement on Sunday.

The USGA's case is straightforward: Anchoring, in its formulation, doesn't constitute a stroke.

The tour, in its rebuke of the ban, looks at it from the vantage point of a good criminal defense attorney. In his remarks on Sunday, Finchem, a trained lawyer, seemed to say that the USGA doesn't have a compelling case for why anchoring should be banned.

In the spring, the USGA plans to come back with a rebuttal, but based on its response to the tour's rebuttal, the Far Hills, N.J.,-based organization isn't backing down from its position.

Over the years we have made some very hard but satisfying decisions over equipment.

Persimmon woods have found a permanent place in garages and museums because the game moved on to metal, titanium and 400cc heads.

The balata ball that I once had to retire after one mishit was long ago replaced by more durable urethane covers.

Blades got dumped for cavity back irons.

Hybrids have rendered long irons unnecessary, even for most tour players.

While this matter of what is a stroke is a very different issue from those equipment innovations, it's all performance-related. The message from the USGA to the equipment manufacturers is that you can continue building putters for anchoring, but your consumers shouldn't use the method with these wares.

That's like telling a person you can buy a Porsche, but you have to drive it like a tractor.

The manufacturers have come up with other legal means similar to anchoring that give golfers less conventional ways of improving their putting. That's a good thing for all golfers, tour players, elite amateurs and the municipal-playing fella who buys the newest thing out every spring.

Average Joe golfer is going to be fine with or without the ban on anchoring. The tour and the USGA don't need to worry about the noon foursome at Forsyth Golf Club.

But if the two bodies can't come to some agreement soon, both might damage their reputations with the very golfing public that makes them possible.

Recreational players won't divorce the game, but they might lose confidence in the public faces of the sport over this controversy.

The game will outlast the fighting.