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Old Tom (Watson) On Gov Bodies: "If they were going to do something about it, they should have done something about it a long time ago."

A packed Toshiba Classic press room (well, four of us) enjoyed a lively session with Tom Watson revealing a key to his Ryder Cup selection process and also some surprisingly strong words for the governing bodies he has long supported.

The Ryder Cup stuff I'll save for later.

Here's the part on anchoring:

Q   Your friends with the PGA of America, and you've been a strong proponent though of the USGA and the R&A and you've also suggested you have some mixed feelings about anchoring.  What do you think of how things have played out?
TOM WATSON:  I do have mixed feelings and have direct, you know, feelings because my son Michael was a very poor putter with a conventional putter.  He went to a belly putter and he makes everything, and he loves the game because of it.  The game is fun.  He can play lousy and then gets on the greens and he makes everything.  And, yes, I don't think it's a stroke.  I'm still in that camp, but the reality of the situation is this.  This has been allowed to go on for X number of years, 30 years, 40 years.  It's unlike I think the croquet putter you saw Sam Snead, I think the USGA made a very quick decision on that, said you can't do this, Sam.  I'm not sure whether Sam was the only guy doing it, but made a very quick decision on that particular stroke.  They didn't wait 30 years to make a decision on the stroke.  So I think that's the crux of the issue.  There's too many players who have been using it, and the USGA hasn't done anything about it.  USGA and R&A haven't done anything about it.  If they were going to do something about it, they should have done something about it a long time ago.

What does everyone think of this "settled law" argument? It's certainly stronger than some of the arguments put forth, though it would be nice if the PGA Tour and PGA of America commissioned a study to provide some data that backs up the suggestion that we'll lose a lot of golfers over this.

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Reader Comments (77)

I don't buy the "it's been this way for a long time" argument. What difference does length of time make as to whether something is wrong or right? If they manage to carry that argument and keep anchored putting, it's likely your crusade to reign in distances is also doomed. "The long ball has been in play since 2001 (or whenever the PV1 came in), it's been fine for over 10 years, it's too late to change it now." there some sort of time limit where you can still make a change and if so, what is that? if it's been around 15 or less years, it's still able to be changed but once it hits 16 years, it's off limits. And who decides that? Length of time is a BS argument, in my opinion.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterGlyn
I think the number of golfers who give up over this will be absolutely minute.This needs to go through in my opinion because if it doesn't then you can wave goodbye to ever sorting out the ball etc.If you can't even get a rule change through then the equipment manufacturers really have won and our great game of skill will be much the poorer for it.The game has never been easier-FAR easier than 25 years ago but the resultant carnage wreaked on golf courses and their set up has not made it more fun!I know the long putter is not the no.1 culprit but that shouldn't stop this change going through.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterChico
Only 40-years? Written rules and laws have been with us since at least the 4th millennium BC. And they've been changed or modified on a regular basis so suck it up and adapt accordingly as we've always had to do. Its not like we're talking Moses's Top-10 or dealing with a law such as gravity. Just the number of putts it will take to confirm the effect.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterD. maculata
Here's the problem with the argument: golfers have been challenging the use of these putters and their style of use as against existing rules from the very start, and have been clamoring for an explicit rule for "a long time, 30, 40 years" themselves. It took a long time for the anti-stymie crowd to finally get their way on that little rule, but you can be sure the stymie was argued against almost from the first. I believe the 'settled law' argument would apply to things that have been explicitly ruled on in the past, such as the stymie. A movement to bring it back would have to overcome "that's settled, we argued about it for hundreds of years and made a rule 60 odd years ago against it."
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterF. X. Flinn
What Glyn said.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBobby D
As a general rule of thumb the argument: it's been this way for a long time, should never be a valid reason not to do the right thing in the present. In fact it's incredibly dangerous

Now obviously long putters is not exactly a life & death issue
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterElf
Geoff, you ask for data on how many people will quit, but you appear to be fine with the lack of data on players putting better with anchored strokes. Pick one, data or no data.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterWritten Off
Everyone, great points!!

Tom's son can still play the game and anchor and make putts like crazy. He can still enjoy the game, just not in competition.

And if Tom says "well, he doesn't want to break the rules so he has to comply" then I am sure his son will never ever take another mulligan, will always walk back to the place of the previous shot after a lost ball, will always putt everything out, will penalize himself if he moves a loose impediment in a hazard and on and on.

And I am with everyone on the "settled law" argument. Just because something is around for a while doesn't mean it can never be touched. How someone as knowledgable as Watson can say he doesn't believe it is a stroke yet say leave it is astonishing and diminishes him in my eyes.

I wonder if Tom thinks the laws and regulations put in place by the government this year, last year etc shouldn't be because the other way was allowed for so long. Forget that maybe they are trying to make things better or more fair.

Come on Tom.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJim
I wonder why Tom is taking this approach. Guys like Tom respect the game and want to do what is right. Is it to be liked among other players? Is it pressure from equipment companies (thinking banning anchoring which will hurt long putter sales could lead to the ball, clubs etc)? I am trying to figure out why people are trying to oppose the ban. I understand Langer, Scott, Clark etc because they can't putt with the short putter and their careers are over. And I can understand keeping quiet or not supporting it vocally but opposing?
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJim
If they woulda just banned the anchoring of anything we wouldn't be where we are. Review and comment periods suck!
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmen Coroner
Watson said,'' son Michael was a very poor putter with a conventional putter. He went to a belly putter and he makes everything.'' Well, there ya go. Any more reason needed to ban? Poor putter now makes everything.

On another note, Geof, what happened to getting some response to the original ''ok'' being to allow the POTUS to use it? No response from Frank> What about some of the Champions players?
03.15.2013 | Unregistered Commenterdigsouth
I read this from someone else but it bares repeating. "It's never too late to right a wrong".
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad
Americans literally owned other humans for over 200 years. Women weren't allowed to vote. Mixed race couples couldn't get married. Thankfully, people didn't say "'s been going on so long, we can't change it now!"

Watson says "it's not a stroke." Enough said.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterChris from DE
Old Tom (Watson) has never been wrong - his streak remains unbroken.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
If anchoring is banned because it's such an "advantage" (that's available to EVERYONE, by the way) we also need to ban 460 cc drivers, lightweight shafts, multi-layer balls, cavity-back irons, adjustable drivers (talk about being "non-traditional"!), GPS, laser range finders...
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoey5Picks
Why now?
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
Chris From DE

We're talking about rules of a game. To compare it to moral law is a bit much. If we want to go that route, stare decisis is good enough for Roe v Wade.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad S
I wonder how Tom feels about illegal immigration regarding this same statement: "This has been allowed to go on for X number of years, 30 years, 40 years."

Obviously there is a difference as anchoring has/is currently allowed (legal). But if you are against something (as he states), does the fact that it has been done for a long time mean you shouldn't bother to change it?
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteve
Written Off,
No, I'd love some data on the number of anchorers, some of the startling putting leaps they've made and anything else the USGA would like to put out. But it would single out players and that would not be pretty. So I understand why they don't do it.

The Tour and PGA of America want data, but they also need this "data" to back up their points. At least the PGA of America surveyed their members and shared that. The PGA Tour Commissioner, who threw out some bogus numbers, needs to back up some of his claims if he's going to ask for data at the same time. Seems only fair, no?
03.15.2013 | Registered CommenterGeoff
Anchoring ... Schmanchoring...

The long ball is ruining the game... the anchoring is ruining the game... game improvement irons are ruining the game...

If you misread a putt .. how you putt is irrelevant.
If you yank a T-shot a 460cc Driver can be a big detriment.
If you generally hack up the course your GI irons are useless.

You start taking all this out of the game and you take players out of the game... Pros no... not immediately... but you will start taking Amateurs out and two sets of rules is not a real solution... No Amateur wants to be told its okay you suck so you can "cheat legally" They want to feel like they are playing the same game with the same kind of equipment.

When you shrink the number of Amateurs playing you will eventually reduce the talent pool of the pros. Most pros have a passionate weekend Amateur that started them in the game. Very few 2nd generation tour Pros. So if you have fewer Amateurs you have fewer kids exposed to the game and very likely some of those kids missing out have what it takes to become a touring pro... so you lose out on talent at the top end.

It smacks of elitism. A problem golf will struggle with for quite a while due to its roots.

It still takes a modicum of ability in golf to use an anchored putter.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterShane
As an attorney, settled law does have some merit. Nevertheless, just because something has been "settled law" doesn't mean that it is a good idea. At one point, slavery, Jim Crow, and executions of children were allowed in the United States. Thankfully, the relevant authorities changed "settled law" and we are all better off for it.

In the case of anchoring, the "settled law" argument has very little merit in my opinion. Like 460cc drivers and juiced golf balls, anchoring should never have been allowed.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Ford

You are so right. It would be fair. But the commish doesn't have the facts. When one doesn't have the facts in a debate they use other things and we saw it sadly.

The biggest problem (beyond singling out players as you mentioned) is how does one control a test for data. Time spent practicing matters, etc. It is not like Iron Byron can be used. Humans have nerves that react differently at different times. Anchoring down the stretch among the leaders in a major would probably be different performance than 1st round at Innisbrook.

I think the USGA approached this correctly. They focused on the anchoring and why it is not right.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJim
Why now?

Geoff, I'll take credit for repeatedly harping on the point that simply moving the left arm 1" (or even 1/16") away from the body satisfies the "ban" seem to believe this also.

My questions are how much of an impact do you think this will have on the putting stats of players like Adam Scott and Bernhardt Langer? If they employ this method would you then be satisfied? Does this accomplish the goals of "the ban"? If Adam employs this method and continues on with the same putter and putts well will there be call for further rules changes to eliminate this version of the stroke? Have you tried it? If Adam uses this technique and left hand or arm is touching his shirt are you going to trust him that nothing is anchored?

I have tried it and can assure that (i) nothing in the stroke changes, (ii) same right hand grip, (iii) same left hand grip, (iv) same putter head movement, (v) movement of butt of club is identical and (vi) I personally believe Adam and Bernhard will easily adjust. I also believe the Aesthetics Patrol will be mad about it and then we will have another crusade on our hands.

The belly putter is an entirely different issue, the proposed rule affects belly putters WAY more. Is this fair?
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
Steve, you and many others maintain that..."anchoring should never have been allowed."

Please support your statement. If that's a true statement why was it in fact allowed, accepted, and deemed by the USGA President to be a non-issue, right up until Webb Simpson won the US Open?
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
How many politicians have changed their stance on social issues after their past stance butted heads with the interests of one of their kids?

If Tom's kid could putt, Tom would remain against anchoring.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterWillie
Lose golfers because the game is hard? We should have lost them long ago.\

It is ok to use a broom because it has been done for 30 years??? Poor defense. Time does not make a wrong a right and the game should not be changed just because a few were afraid to speak up earlier.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMulligan
I suspect Tom is mellowing in his old age. He doesn't like anchoring, doesn't think it is a stroke, but intends to live with his fellow seniors on the senior tour for a few more years in peace.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterLynn S.
If the proposed anchoring ban is abandoned how will the game suffer? Be specific. Please quantify.

Flip-side, if the proposed ban is implemented 1,017 days from now how will the game benefit? Be specific. Please quantify.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
"Lose golfers because the game is hard? We should have lost them long ago."

Smug, elitist and arrogant statement. That is the precise attitude that keeps a lot of people from gravitating to the game.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterShane
<< If anchoring is banned because it's such an "advantage" (that's available to EVERYONE, by the way) >>

Can we take this dog out back and shoot it? It's not an advantage for everyone. Good putters like Woods, Donald, Stricker would putt worse if they anchored. It's a crutch for terrible putters to close the competitive gap. Ernie said it out loud, it's cheating. Everybody knows it. Scott and Clark, getting all lawyerly, process-oriented and senatorial about it, who is that fooliing? It's thinly disguised terror.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterSnoozing Marshall
''Flip-side, if the proposed ban is implemented 1,017 days from now how will the game benefit? Be specific. Please quantify.''

The game will benefit by being played in a manner it was designed to be played. No Laying on the ground with a pool que shot; no between the legs croquet shot, and no sweeping the ball with a broom handle.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered Commenterdigsouth

That's absurd. An insane comment.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
digger, please quantify your purported benefits.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
It's amazing how these hardline conservative types like Watson suddenly feel empathy when the issue hits close to home. I could call it narcissism and hypocrisy but I won't since we are just talking about a stupid putting method.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterOB
The "it's been allowed for 30 years" argument is nonsense. Why? Because it's been allowed for 600 years! In fact every method of swing, no matter how effective or ineffective, fast or slow, simple or complex, beautiful or hideous, has been allowed for 600 years.

THAT is the argument. They argument is that no method of swing has EVER been outlawed. And the reason is crystal clear: because it has always been up to The Player, and The Player alone, to determine what swing will work best for him!

This is meddling at its worst. The anchored swing presents NO THREAT to the game as a whole. It only presents a threat to 0.00001 percent of all golfers in the world who happen to be good enough to sniff winning a major and don't like the idea of somebody using a long club to beat them! That's all this is about. It has nothing to do with anchoring.

The proposed rule is a fraud. It is borne of fraudulent analysis. It is implemented under a fraudulent rationale. And it is benign peddled using fraudulent arguments. This is nothing more than a midnight coup de tat by the USGA, usurping the power to decided how to swing from every golfer on the planet.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterShivas

Bottom line, it's about aesthetics -- hence they can't quantify anything.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
@Shivas - Please see history re: Sam Snead and croquet style putting; there have been rules in the past with regard to the definition of a "stroke". Now personally, I am rather amused that these large golf entities are in a snit about what should be or should not be allowed under the rules. I happen to favor bifurcation though I thought it would be the amateurs allowed to use equipment and balls to make the game easier; not vice versa.
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterHBL

Moving away from the body any amount will satisfy the rule. It sure would satisfy me that it is not anchoring even if 1/64 of an inch separation. Now if at any time during the stroke it would make contact with the body then there is a problem. And I would trust any pro that he is complying.

I just don't believe this is an aethestic issue for the ruling bodies. It is about nerves and performance imo.

If you are correct that there is really no difference between anchoring and non-anchoring then Langer and Scott have nothing to fear from the anchoring ban. I believe your nerves are better than theirs and my guess is you have not had a chance to test it while in the lead of a final round of a major where the nerves might be a bit ummmmmmmm different. (And I surely do not mean that as any slight against you personally, it is just an example as you believe there is no difference. I respect your posts here).
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJim
DTF, the PGA of America quantified its stance by a poll of members, the people who are closest to the game and to recreational players. They believe it will affect participation. Of course, belief is not hard science, but belief is all there is when it comes to any projection. And the PGA club pros are in the best possible position to offer this number.

And the PGA members' belief that the game will be affected is just as if not more valid than ban proponents' opinions that anchoring is not a valid stroke. Can you please provide hard data that it is not a stroke?
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterWritten off
Shiivas.1-Sam Snead 2- read rule14-1 and then tell me that no method of stroke has ever been outlawed.3-think before you post!!
03.15.2013 | Unregistered CommenterChico

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