It’s only a matter of time before another storm over anchoring arises. Steve Carroll asks those who formulate and implement the rules about the row and whether we are actually the ones who need to think again
As the charge came with a swish of the long putter at the PGA Championship, social media – never the calmest of places – was descending into an ever more rancorous pit of fury.
Adam Scott has yet to win since being reunited with the broomstick he delivered to such devastating effect a few years ago, and he narrowly missed out at Bellerive in August, but Bryson DeChambeau’s won plenty with his unorthodox approach to getting the ball in the hole.
Bernhard Langer and Scott McCarron have also found themselves under attack as armchair viewers get excited about whether the quartet are breaking the rules by anchoring their putting stroke.
It’s all quiet at the moment but this is a row that’s merely festering. As soon as a player who is perceived to have a stroke that could be anchored wins a major tournament there is going to be an outcry of almighty proportions.
But are we justified in getting so cross? Could it actually be that we simply don’t fully understand the anchoring rule as it is written?
“There is no doubt that a misunderstanding of what the rule allows and prohibits is part of this debate,” says David Rickman, the R&A’s rules chief.
“We also recognise when we introduced the rule that we deliberately allowed a number of variations of a putting style. Our focus was on anchored methods of stroke, particularly where the club is used in a kind of pendulum fashion.
“That has been the focus of the regulation. That has meant that belly putting was removed from the game.
“We did believe it was right to not be too prescriptive and a number of these other methods that are now employed – whether it be by Matt Kuchar or Bryson DeChambeau – have the putter grip shaft extending beyond their hands and resting against their forearms. That is all fine.”
The anchoring ban was brought into place in January 2016 and the simmering tension hasn’t shown any signs of dying down since.
In the new Rules of Golf, which came into effect at the start of this year, the R&A and USGA further clarified exactly what is and what isn’t allowed.
There is a simple diagram which tells readers that it’s fine for the grip to rest against the forearm, a la DeChambeau, but that the club can’t be held against the stomach and neither can a forearm nor gripping hand be held against the chest.
Where it has been complicated in practice, as we’ve seen with critics of the stroke of Scott and Langer for example, is the perception that the hand has come into contact with clothing or the body – either before or during the stroke.
Social media has cried foul but, as far as the rules are written, this isn’t classed as anchoring unless it’s deliberate.
Rule 10.1b clearly states that “if the player’s club, gripping hand or forearm merely touches his or her body or clothing during the stroke, without being held against the body, there is no breach of this Rule.”
The interpretation adds that this might occur when a player is wearing loose fitting clothes or rain gear – or has a stroke that holds the club “extremely close to the body”.
So the key thing is that the contact has to to be intentional for it to be a breach.
And this is the nub of the argument for many critics. How can you tell what’s deliberate and what’s inadvertent?
Integrity is the key. When a player tells us they are not anchoring, we’re going to have to try and trust them.
John Paramor, the European Tour’s chief referee, is often quizzed when accusations of anchoring arise in the cauldron of top competition.
And while we might still be unclear what does and does not constitute an illegal stroke, he is in no doubt.
“The rules are very clear,” he explains. “It’s anchoring against the body and doing it wilfully and doing it deliberately.
“If you happened to accidentally touch part of your body with your hand on a particular shot that would not be anchoring. It would be accidental and there would be no problem at all.
“If you wilfully do it then it is a problem.”
None of this ire is the fault of the players either. They are following the rules to the letter.
But if you are expecting the game’s rules makers to suddenly outlaw the different putting strokes that you might perceive to sail close to the wind, you are going to be disappointed.
“Largely what we were trying to achieve with a difficult rule, that was tackling an issue that had been in the game for some time, has been reasonably successful,” Rickman declares.
“Are there elements of it that people don’t like? We understand there are, but we write the rules for people to abide by and we believe in the integrity of players.
“That has served us well here and I think it continues to help us when you have tricky areas of the rules such as anchoring.”
We may not like the long putter, but it seems like we are just going to have to get used to it. And trust that our heroes aren’t taking us for a ride.