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Dermot Gilleece: Anchors erased but ball change likely to be sunk

No administrative body will knowingly institute a policy battle they cannot win. And indications are that, despite considerable sabre-rattling from the game's professionals, the Royal and Ancient and the US Golf Association have calculated correctly in banning anchored putting from January 1, 2016.

They should prevail, because the issue is simply not big enough to warrant a split, much as their decision will rankle with tournament professionals such as Keegan Bradley and those in senior ranks.

One could imagine a different reaction had the decision been to limit the golf ball, which would have far greater implications, especially from a commercial standpoint.

As it is, leading manufacturers don't seem to be too concerned. Chris Koske, global director of Odyssey Golf, said last week: "We've anticipated the anchoring technique ban and have already introduced products, including the Odyssey Tank #7, which has won on Tour, that promote stability in the putting stroke in accordance with the USGA rules."

And Acushnet, manufacturers of Titleist equipment, pointed out: "The rule change regarding anchoring, as explained by the USGA and R and A, concerns only the definition of a stroke, and does not alter any current equipment regulations or impact any equipment that we manufacture and sell."

Eamonn Brady has been the professional at Clontarf GC for six years. How many long putters has he sold to his 1,200 members during that period? "Two," he replied. "One belly and one broomhandle."

Still, we must concede it seems easier for a tournament professional to switch to anchored putting than back to a conventional method. Remarking on two US Champions Tour victories by Des Smyth in 2005, Bruce Lietzke, a leading exponent of the broomhandle, said: "Given his quality as a player, I wasn't surprised Des won. But I was surprised by the fact that as a player who used the long putter, he switched over to a short putter and had success. That surprised me."

As to whether he himself might be tempted to make such a change, Lietzke added: "I'm kind of a low-maintenance guy and if I switched putters I'd have to practise. That wouldn't suit me."

However, recent Major winners, Bradley, Webb Simpson, Ernie Els and Adam Scott, could be forced to make it suit them. As Smyth pointed out: "When you play golf for a living and experience putting problems, you've simply got to find a way of getting the ball into the hole."

In explaining their decision, the R and A seemed more concerned by the idea of young players coming into the game using anchored putting as a method of choice, than its proliferation in professional ranks. Either way, the PGA Tour and the PGA of America will now have to consider the implications of last week's decision. As Tim Finchem put it: "We'll turn around and have a conversation with our players and our board about the position we should take."

Meanwhile, can the game's ruling bodies offer anything in return for legislative peace? One solution would be to abandon thoughts of limiting the golf ball, which many leading observers, including Jack Nicklaus, believe should have been restricted years ago.

Over the last century, the two most significant developments in golf equipment have been the introduction of steel shafts and replacing core-wound rubber with the modern synthetic golf ball. During a memorable press conference at St Andrews in 1958, Bobby Jones claimed that greenkeeping and general course maintenance had also played a part in lower scoring.

Most important of all, however, was the introduction of steel shafts which were legalised only shortly before Jones retired in 1930, his Grand Slam year, and were used by him for the first time in 1931. Emphasising the difference, he talked of the way steel allowed a player to hit with full power all the time, whereas hickory had to be handled with far greater "discretion". As a consequence, low scores in all four rounds

of a 72-hole event were rarely achieved with hickory, even by Jones himself. In his view, steel gave players an advantage of one to two strokes per round. And he also suggested that the development had been responsible for a levelling of standards at the top, thereby making it more difficult for any individual to dominate as he had done.

Those of us of a certain age, will remember the balata golf ball for the ease with which an unwanted smile could be imparted on it by a poorly-hit iron shot. Which made the more durable modern ball especially welcome. For seasoned tournament professionals, however, it brought remarkable improvements in consistent flight, soft feel and spin control. And distance. Significantly extra distance.

As a simple illustration, Nicolas Colsaerts led the driving distance on the European Tour last season with average launches of 318.3 yards. During the 1986 season, Seve Ballesteros, who could move it out there with the best, led the same category with 272 yards. That's an increase of 46.3 yards, or 17 per cent.

Looking at Bradley's fragile putting over the closing holes of the Byron Nelson last Sunday, it was difficult to imagine anchored putting achieving a comparable advantage.

In the immortal words of Sam Goldwyn, a lot of people have passed water under the bridge since golf was deflected down some inappropriate turnings. Among these, retracting the one taken by the putting stroke shouldn't be unduly painful.

Irish Independent