News & Opinion

A rule that's adrift: Overturn anchoring ban

Congress needed 14 years to repeal one of the silliest laws enacted in the U.S.: Prohibition.

Golf’s leaders shouldn’t take nearly as long to overturn the game’s legislative equivalent: the anchoring ban.

Prohibition, enacted with the 18th Amendment in 1919, proved to be unpopular from the start and soon became unenforceable. It was overturned in 1933 with the 21st Amendment.

The ban on the anchored stroke, initiated Jan. 1, 2016, with Rule 14-1B (http://bit.ly/2tEKv5a), follows the same absurd thinking as a ban on the production and sale of alcoholic beverages. It’s an unpopular rule that is wholly enforceable as written and, like Prohibition, harms others in its wake.

Consider Bernhard Langer. He adapted to the rule, which prohibits making a stroke by anchoring the club to any part of the body. Langer continued using his long putter, which remains legal under the rules, holding it away from his body. That stroke has come under criticism recently as Langer won the first two major championships on the PGA Tour Champions.

Why should it be necessary for Langer, a two-time Masters champion and one of golf’s most prolific winners worldwide, to have to state publicly that he is not a cheater?

Langer’s integrity should be above reproach, and the fact that he uses a putting stroke that merely resembles an anchored stroke should not in itself condemn him to character assassination on social and digital media.

Instead, look to the rule. In this case, Langer stands as judge and jury. If he maintains that he isn’t anchoring or didn’t intend to anchor, then that’s it. Without the mens rea, taken from the law, Langer is not guilty (statement: http://bit.ly/2u1qpUO).

Yet, this issue continues to crop up, and not just among TV commentators but also players on the PGA Tour Champions, where Langer, 59, has amassed 32 victories and $22.7 million in earnings.

In discussions with players on the 50-and-older tour, the issue of anchoring comes up repeatedly. The consensus is that there is a rift on the tour between those who think that Langer and Scott McCarron are anchoring and others who don’t care or don’t believe it to be true.

The rules officials have a policy that if a player is going to accuse another player of a rules violation, the accuser must state exactly when the incident happened, and officials will approach the player to inquire about it.  

Unlike asking a player where he thought a ball crossed a hazard or whether he thought the ball was embedded before taking a drop, the anchoring conversation focuses on intent. Did you intend to anchor your putter on the third green? It’s an absurd question.

So why are we here?

Look no further than the U.S. Golf Association and the R&A. The leaders of golf’s governing bodies were offended by the anchored stroke and its appearance in the game, so they resolved to ban it.

They are responsible for this mess. The USGA and the R&A need to make this right: change the rule or repeal it.

Because the likelihood of repeal is unlikely, a change to the rule would be the logical option.

The change could come in different forms, but what makes the most sense would be to require the putter to be the shortest club in the bag, eliminating the long putter and any possibility of an anchored stroke.

It also would take the subjectivity out of the rule by not asking about the player’s intent.

In the end, the USGA and R&A need to step back and examine whether the rule change has garnered the desired effect. If not, do what Congress did with Prohibition in 1933 and repeal the anchoring ban. At the very least, change the rule so that a player with the integrity of Bernhard Langer is not questioned.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli