Golf Adds Another Rule To Its Repertoire

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Anchor or long putters, like the one used here, won't be permitted in U.S. professional play starting in 2016. (Ted Richardson /AP)

One of golf's rules isn't dumb. Golfers are expected to repair the field upon which they play, even as they are playing.

"Replace your divot" is one of the first rules a golfer learns. Even some pros do it, rather than leaving the repairs to their caddies. If we'd all been replacing our metaphorical divots over the years, we'd have avoided all sorts of problems.

And no outrage from polo players, please. Spectators at polo matches wander around the field between chukkers and engage in a practice called "divot stamping," but the polo players themselves don't do it. Neither do the horses.

But golf's other rules are curious and arbitrary, albeit not quite as goofy as they used to be. For example, until 1954, on various occasions, a player had to pick up his ball and drop it over his shoulder while pretending to have no idea where it would go. Nobody informed me of the rule change, and on the rare occasions when I played golf through the '60s, I continued to drop the ball over my shoulder and look like a fool.

Even now, golfers sometimes must pick up their golf balls and then drop them. This must be done according to a series of regulations. And if somebody watching the tournament on TV thinks the player has dropped the ball improperly, the viewer can call in and ruin the day for the golfer feckless enough to have botched his drop, and perhaps bollocks up the whole tournament.

And this week Glen Nager, the President of the U.S. Golf Association, announced that as of 2016, "Rule 14-1b" will take effect, thereby protecting "one of the most important challenges in the game – the free swinging of the entire club." Has the adjective "important" ever been so fatuously employed?

"We are disappointed with this outcome," said Ted Bishop, the president of the Professional Golfers Association of America, thereby creating what has been called "a split in the golf world," or even "a schism," which makes the golf world sound like a church with battling pontiffs.

The outrage against "the free swing" is called "anchoring," which means jamming the handle of the long stick with which some golfers putt into their bellies or chests.

Glen Nager feels that anchoring "diminishes obstacles inherent in the traditional stroke." Lots of people, some of them good at golf as long as they're allowed to rest the ends of their putters against their bodies, wish Mr. Nager would find something else to worry about. Those more familiar with the oddities of golf's rules merely nod. Or nod off.

This program aired on May 22, 2013.

Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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