Much Ado About Nothing

ST ANDREWS, SCOTLAND | A week in the British Isles during the great anchoring debate proved to be very insightful. The sojourn began in a London hotel room, watching the WGC Match Play event and listening to the delightful, low key British coverage. Suddenly, in pops Johnny Miller, Dan Hicks, and PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem for the now famous televised statement about anchoring. And all I want to do is watch golf. Very irritating. The next day, a visit to the European headquarters of one of the leading equipment manufacturers revealed that long putter sales of any kind in this region are insignificant. So much so that if the instrument disappeared from the line, no one would really notice. Later in the week, a check of the famed Auchterlonie’s golf shop in St. Andrews, just a few hundred yards up the street from the iconic R&A edifice, confirmed this. Granted, the store is a tourist mecca, but it displays and sells a wide variety of the most current golf equipment from all the leading brands. Few of the putters on display are of the long flavor. I continued northward toward Scotland and began to sense that the “great debate” was raging mostly in the United States. That notion was clearly driven home when I talked to several denizens of St. Andrews, the spiritual home of golf. Golfers there, serious in their pursuit of an ancient and honorable game, were positively indifferent to the dust-up. Most I spoke to had never contemplated the use of the long blade, and few had ever played with someone using one. I checked my theory with Jack Willoughby, the American-born proprietor of the famed Dunvegan Hotel in St. Andrews, and he agreed. Now a 20-year resident of St. Andrews and almost as much a local as anyone born in Scotland, Willoughby said none of the guys he plays with each week seem to care about the ban at all. “We’re more purist here, I think, and so we don’t find anything wrong with the ban.” A born and bred St. Andrean and a skilled player, listening to the conversation echoed the same sentiment. “We live and breathe golf here, and yet no one is all that concerned about the issue.” I encountered much of the same in Ireland. No one, according to Golfing Union of Ireland executive director Pat Finn, was talking about the ban. And he couldn’t remember the last time he saw a long putter in play. And then later in the week, like dominoes, one by one the major golf entities around the world came down in favor of the ban. When the notice and comment period ended, America’s PGA Tour and PGA of America stood as the only voices in this global game opposed to a measure put forth by the USGA and the R&A. And really, they were rebuked. The R&A issued a statement that said, in part, that “We note that this matter has proved particularly sensitive in the United States, while the proposed Rule change has been received more favourably across the international golfing community.” The comment from Johann Rupert’s Sunshine Tour was even more harsh. “The issue here is not whether we, as the controlling body for professional golf in Southern Africa, agree with the proposed ban or not. It is about respecting the bodies who are tasked with the sometimes unenviable job of making changes to the Rules of Golf from time to time.” Given time to contemplate all that I heard, it seems to me that Finchem might have done more harm to his cause than good. He interrupted television coverage around the world when viewers simply tuned in to watch golf, not be lectured. His logic was flawed, and he tapped into a sentiment that clearly exists outside the U.S. – the USGA and the R&A look after the good of the game, while the commissioner of the PGA Tour looks after his players and the money machine he sits atop. It is clear no one in Great Britain looks forward to a day when the rules of golf are made by an American businessman. What do they care about across the pond? Slow play. I played a round at Prestwick one day with Ian Bunch, the former secretary of the club and a much admired man in Great Britain golf circles. At 76, he carried his own bag and we played a proper four-ball match in a shade more than three hours. “What are we going to do about slow play? It’s killing the game.” I could not help but wonder what might happen if Commissioner Finchem took to the global airways and announced that the PGA Tour was going to eradicate slow play. How much better he would serve the game, rather than just a few highly compensated athletes. But then, Finchem doesn’t think slow play is a problem. And so it isn’t. And so now the quiet, the waiting, as the notice and comment period has ended. My guess is that the rule stands, that the game survives, that we all move on and forget about the past few months.


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