Long-term effects of anchoring ban

7/2/2013 - Golf Bo Van Pelt

On Monday, the PGA Tour policy board voted to support the USGA and R&A's ban on anchored strokes, backing away from a battle with the game's ruling bodies.

"In making its decision, the policy board recognized that there are still varying opinions among our membership but ultimately concluded that, while it is an important issue, a ban on anchored strokes would not fundamentally affect a strong presentation of our competitions or the overall success of the PGA Tour," commissioner Tim Finchem said. "The board also was of the opinion that having a single set of rules on acceptable strokes applicable to all professional competitions worldwide was desirable and would avoid confusion."

This may have been the most sensible choice for the tour. But what could be some of the long-term ramifications of the decision?

The nine U.S. Supreme Court justices have been deliberating the past few weeks over some of the most contentious social issues of our times. The decisions they made on affirmative action and marriage equality will set a precedent for jurists in the next century.

While the stakes are much lower in the anchoring ban, this ruling could spark the USGA into taking more actions that affect the way golf is played for millions across the world.

"What will do the USGA do next?" said Bo Van Pelt, who will begin a three-year term in January 2014 on the PGA Tour's policy board. "Where does it stop? Are we going to have every couple of years a distraction because the ruling bodies get together and decide that something needs to change?

"The USGA started with the grooves three years ago, and statistically, it really has made no difference in the scoring and how we play. And anchoring I don't think at the end of the day is going to make all that big of difference one way or the other in terms of the scores that the guys shoot."

Van Pelt, who doesn't anchor his putter, believes the ban is a diversion from more important issues that the game is facing, such as the costs and access to the game and the amount of time it takes to play a round of golf.

During the U.S. Open, the USGA unveiled a public service announcement on slow play. It cares deeply about the growth of the game and access.

For the Far Hills, N.J.-based organization, the ban is simply about what constitutes a stroke. In a detailed, 40-page report, it has forcefully made its case for why the ban should be put in place, beginning Jan. 1, 2016.

It's time for the pro-anchoring group to come to terms to a world without the controversial technique. But the tour, which asked the USGA on Monday to consider extending the time period for amateurs to use the method beyond the January 2016 cutoff date, has to be vigilant about protecting its future interests and its players, even if it means a long, protracted battle with the ruling bodies.

You don't need to a supporter of anchoring to see how this ruling could open the door to the next big trend that comes under assault by the ruling bodies.

"David Stern and Roger Goodell don't have an independent committee that tells them the rules to play by," Van Pelt said. "And the NBA and the NFL are going along just fine.

"I don't know why guys were so scared that we couldn't come up with our own rules. And why that would be the end of the world."

The tour should strongly consider implementing the rule sooner than January 2016. With changes to the PGA Tour schedule, the season will now start in the fall and go into the following year. Players could start their seasons using one kind of putting method and then have to change a few months into the schedule.

Ultimately, Van Pelt believes the long-term consequences of the ban might not be felt for decades.

"This isn't about me and my career," said the 38-year-old former Oklahoma State All-American. "I'm looking 30 years down the road. We are in the entertainment business. It's a global game. It's not what it was 35 years ago.

"Sports evolve, business evolves, life evolves. And when you take a step backward, it hurts the evolution of the game."

Van Pelt pointed to his own imperfections as an example of why players, regardless of their skill level, should have the right to anchor their putter.

"It's a hard game," he said. "I feel like I'm a pretty decent golfer, and I shot a 79 last week at Congressional that looked pretty easy. I don't think we need to do anything that makes golf harder than it already is."