Are the courts the next stop in the belly / long putter debate
Wednesday's decision has shown you can mess around with a lot of things in this perfectly imperfect game, just don't touch a golfer’s putter.
Published on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012 10:08AM EST Last updated on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012 10:16AM EST
Prior to the proposed change on the anchored stroke, there was some sabre rattling among players who used the long and belly putters about taking their case to court. While some softened their stance in advance of Wednesday’s announcement, at least one legal observer thinks any court challenge would ultimately fail.
Lester Munson is a legal analyst with ESPN and he says while players would certainly have the money and the means for a protracted fight against golf’s governing bodies, they are missing a key ingredient necessary for a fight - a legal basis for their claim.
“They can talk about due process. They can argue about the elimination of anchoring as a wrongful interference with their pursuit of a living. They can claim a violation of American antitrust laws. But none of these legal theories, or any other legal theory, are likely to work,’” says Munson. “The vast majority of legal precedents say clearly and unequivocally that governing bodies such as the USGA and R&A enjoy unfettered authority to determine the rules of the games they oversee.”
Munson adds there may be more of a claim if the governing bodies had banned the actual club, but that might play more into the hands of the manufacturers than the players.
Given that the USGA and R&A have decided to wait until 2016 before implementing the change, Munson says that may be an opportunity for the players to use the leverage of legal action to work out some sort of compromise or better still, begin some sort of public relations campaign.
If you think the governing bodies are worried about being sued or did not factor that possibility into their decision, USGA boss Mike Davis set the record straight: “Shame on us if we’re scared of litigation in doing the right thing,” he said.
If you think the governing bodies left themselves an out by using the word “proposed” and by soliciting submissions from the public over the next few months, think again. Golfweek’s James Achenbach says no matter what arguments or protests come forward, this is a done deal.
PUT DOWN YOUR CLUBS: One of the arguments against a ban on anchoring floated on Wednesday was that it would force players to abandon the game altogether. While noted golf writer Lorne Rubenstein doesn’t think golfers will put away their clubs en masse, most of the comments we received in our inbox would seem to suggest otherwise.
“While I favour universal rulings in golf, I think on this rule it should only apply to those under 50 years of age. Otherwise you are going to, in effect, take those out of the game who can’t for health reasons use the long putter,” said Lynne
"I am over 65 years old and I started using a long putter earlier this year,” writes Brian Reynolds. “I have a very bad back and have had surgery twice. I tried the long putter and found that I could practice for an hour without pain. I putted with a conventional putter for 50 years and can return to it but don't want to. Also given my age who knows I may not be playing by Jan 2016.”
"It is a shame that more effort is not put into amending or eliminating the silly rules which create slow play instead of worry about putters which do not seem to impact the overall competitiveness of the sport,” says Warren. “In a time when we are seeing a decline in the number of golfers do we really need to create more reasons for the amateur golfer to be peed off about equipment and now watching to see if the putter was anchored intentionally or was it accidental.”
DON’T TREAD ON ME: Will the ban on the anchored stroke finally push the door to bifurcation (two sets of rules) wide open? One of the things we’ve seen in the last day or so since news of the anchoring ban is the belief that the rule is appropriate for the professionals but should not be extended to the amateur and weekend warrior ranks. As Bill Pennington of the New York Times writes, you can mess around with a lot of things in this perfectly imperfect game. Just don’t touch a golfer’s putter.
While there are pro golfers who have protested the ruling, that’s not where the real donnybrook is taking place. I don’t feel terribly sorry for the pros. They’ll adjust and they certainly won’t quit in droves because their favorite putter is banned.
The clamorous brawl enveloping golf today is being fueled by the recreational golfer who has for one reason or another turned to an anchored putting stroke because it makes the game more fun.
BUSINESS BUST: Karen Crouse in the New York Times has the story of Mark Cokewell, who a year ago at this time founded Rosemark Golf and began selling his Krutch II belly and long putter. Interesting to note that Cokewell spent two years tinkering with his designs, constantly submitting blueprints to the USGA for their approval, and even went to a 2010 rules conference in Vancouver which was attended by USGA and R&A officials. Cokewell says the issue of the long putters came up and that the rules makers told him they did not have any plans in the near future to make any rule changes. Cokewell went ahead with his product launch in 2011 and sales were brisk, especially in the wake of victories by long putter advocates Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Adam Scott. But once talk began to surface about banning the anchored stroke, which included comments from Tiger Woods, Cokewell says it became apparent where this was headed. “If they [USGA and R&A] had said they were seriously reviewing it, I obviously would have held off on going forward with my putters.”
Today's final word is a compilation of quotes from Wednesday's decision to ban the anchored stroke:
“It’s one of the worst rulings in the history of golf for the average player who uses the long putter because of a bad back or some other ailment. People don’t go to the long putter because they want to. They do it because it’s a necessity. I’m 66 years old and my right hand shakes, and there are a lot of people with little disorders like that. If those people have found a way to still enjoy golf, why try to run them off?” -- John Elliott, a teaching pro in Ocala, Fla., who was named one of America’s top 50 instructors by Golf Digest, in an interview with the New York Times
“I think it’s in the best nature of the game. The game was not intended to be played that way (anchoring the putter). The game was intended to be played in a way that you control both ends of the club with every shot.” -- Matt Kuchar, who uses a mid-length putter and employs a putting stroke which would not be outlawed by the rulemakers’ proposal since his putter rests against his left arm and not against his chest, stomach or chin.
“In the next couple of years, I’m really going to have to figure out a way that’s best for me to putt. I’m obviously not happy with the ruling, but I respect the USGA. They make the rules, and I’ll adjust appropriately. I’m going to accept the challenge and hopefully do well when they do ban it.” -- Keegan Bradley, the first player to win a golf major using an anchored stroke
“Is Keegan Bradley the best putter on tour? Is Webb? So it’s a look. They can say all they want, but it’s a look. An advantage? You think guys out here are dumb? What’s an advantage? You would think if this was such an advantage, everyone would be using it. ...So far they (rulemakers) haven’t screwed up the game of golf, and I don’t think this will screw it up. But I feel bad for a lot of the younger players who have never done it (putt) any other way.” -- Fred Couples, who uses a belly putter on the Champions Tour
“I’m right down on the middle on this. I don’t want to make anyone angry. I’m just going to leave it to them (the rulemakers) to make a decision, which they have, but I know there’s a lot of guys that are going to be angry about it. That’s how it goes.” -- Jason Day, who uses a conventional putter
“It was the only decision that could be made, and no one is really all that surprised. It’s a very considered and intelligent sort of decision, I think, from the R&A and the USGA. It’s the right call. This is an ‘integrity of the putting stroke’ issue. Anchoring has become a way of putting, teaching pros are putting long putters into the hands of kids, and I think that the putting stroke is kind of moving in a wrong direction sort of for the future, really.” -- Graeme McDowell