Now that the perceived scourge of anchored putting has been addressed by golf’s ruling parties, ending it by 2016 –by which time desperate golfers will have found another way to duct-tape their putting strokes together – perhaps the more serious issues facing the game can be addressed.
It’s way past time to do something about distance.
That means rolling back how far a golf ball can go, even when it’s hit by Bubba Watson. It means making sure that the shiny new driver some of us want for Christmas doesn’t magically add 12 to 15 yards to our tee shots as much as we might like that, especially if those extra yards were of the straight variety.
If that new driver adds 12 yards to our tee shots, think about how much it might add to Rory McIlroy’s tee shots, like he needs it.
Power has always been a big part of golf and it should be. But what has happened over the past 15 years or so has changed the game far more than anchored putting threatened to.
The proof is in the 500-yard par-4s.
It’s in the before and after photos of Augusta National.
It’s in the work underway on the Old Course, which supposedly isn’t being done to combat distance but is certainly being done to add defense to a course too short for the modern professionals should the wind lay down.
But it’s not just about how far players can hit the ball now. It’s about the overall negative effect it’s having on the game.
Classic courses can be overpowered. New courses – if there are such things any more – require more land to build. That drives up costs and greens fees and the time it takes to play.
Banning anchored putting isn’t going to drive players from the game, not many anyway. But five-hour rounds, too many long par-3s and greens fees that look like a 26-handicapper’s score are doing it.
In a teleconference to announce the rules change related to anchored putting, both USGA executive director Mike Davis and Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A, were asked about the problem of distance in the game and both suggested the possibility of aggressive steps to combat it. There are studies under way about the impact of distance on the game. Everybody knows how much fun studies can be.
Neither said change was coming, however.
Acknowledging the problem is easy. Fixing it, not so much.
Dawson pointed out that distance has stabilized in the professional game but it’s still out of control. Jack Nicklaus has talked for years about fixing the ball. So have others. Augusta National considered a tournament ball at one time rather than lengthening the course again. It would be fun to see the Masters create its own golf ball for use one year.
The threat of litigation from equipment companies intent on selling new toys every year and the inevitable evolution in technology has become golf’s 800-pound gorilla. The issue may ultimately be forced by land and water concerns.
Golf’s leaders are right that we should get accustomed to seeing courses that aren’t emerald green from horizon to horizon. That’s unrealistic and unnecessary unless you’re Augusta National. Water costs will continue to climb and there aren’t many developers rushing out to build new golf course communities.
A 300-yard drive used to be extraordinary. Now it’s what someone named Bobby Gates, the 21st-longest hitter on the PGA Tour, averaged this year.
Golf’s rules makers did the right thing about anchored putting. Now it’s time to take on the bigger issues.