Anchored putter ban the right decision?

By Jason SobelNovember 28, 2012, 5:20 pm

The USGA and R&A announced Wednesday a proposed anchored putting ban that, if approved, would take effect January 1, 2016. writers debate whether or not golf's governing bodies made the correct decision in issuing the ban.



The decision to ban anchoring is the right one, albeit a few decades late and with far too much of a pause between enactment and enforcement.

Of course the act of anchoring makes putting easier, just ask any of the PGA Tour types who use them. It is not, as U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis pointed out on Wednesday when the news was announced, a true swing if the business end of the implement is burrowed deep into one’s belly.

Officials also had a litany of statistics to prove the point, but that was all window dressing to the larger reality. Just ask Ernie Els, “As long as it’s still legal I’ll keep cheating like the rest of them,” he once said.

Of course, it should be pointed out the Big Easy won this year’s British Open “cheating” . . . eh, anchoring his putter.

The USGA and R&A acted correctly just not quickly enough. If approved next spring, the ban on anchoring would begin in 2016, which means we will play three seasons and 12 major championships under the cloud of an impending ban.

Every time a player wins a PGA Tour event or major anchoring a long putter the conversation will be dominated by minutia and asterisks. Do the right thing and do it now, nobody likes to watch lame duck golf.



I’ve spent the past few years attempting to form an opinion on the anchored putter debate. I have spoken with major champions who were for the proposed ban and major champions who were against it. I’ve heard arguments from professionals as to why they’d never touch a belly putter and arguments from those who never want to give it up.

Call me anchored to the fence, but I couldn’t make up my mind. I could see everyone’s point; nobody didn’t make sense. I was my own personal hung jury.

And then I changed my strategy. Instead of speaking about it with golfers, I spoke with those who don’t play it at all.

In a series of conversations with friends who understand the game but don’t play, I often had the following exchange:

“They’re probably going to ban anchoring the putter soon.”


“Well, it’s against the traditional stroke that’s been used for hundreds of years.”

“So what? It’s called progress. Evolution. Times change. We should change, too”

Sometimes it takes someone completely removed from an issue to lend a voice of common sense. I wouldn’t suggest that people outside of the game should be making the rules for those involved, but they can provide a stance that we may only view too narrowly.

Maybe I’m radically progressive, but I don’t think change is such a bad thing. Everything else in the game – from courses to equipment – has evolved over time. Anchoring the putter has been a natural evolution and provided diversity amongst the golfing masses. The game’s governing bodies shouldn’t be dissuading either of those ideals.



The game was at a crossroads and a decision needed to be rendered. Thankfully, the correct, and only ruling, was made.

It was time to ban the anchored stroke, it had gotten out of hand. Kids everywhere are growing up thinking that anchored putting is the preferred way to putt. Many teachers are telling students to make the switch. A 14-year-old just won the Asian Pacific Amateur with a belly putter that he's wielded for only six months. Good putters are turning to anchored putters because they think it helps make them better.

The governing bodies say they made this proposal to more clearly identify a fundamental golf stroke, saying this decision was not made for performance reasons. Not sure if I completely buy that spiel but I do know that putting is a test of nerve and skill. An anchored position takes more nerves out of the stroke. Sure, you can still be nervous with an anchored putter in your hands, but it eliminates the odds of producing an extremely yippy stroke.

Besides, if the new proposal doesn't ruffle Jack Nicklaus' feathers, it doesn't ruffle mine.

'They'll get use to it,' Nicklaus said Wednesday. 'They'll get over it.'



I don’t have a syrupy swing like Rory. I don’t flush every iron shot like Tiger. I don’t drain every putt like Brandt Snedeker.

So remind me: Why am I playing by the same set of rules as them?

I understand that the governing bodies’ proposed rule to ban the anchored stroke is intended to give structure to the game. But this ruling hurts those at the recreational level. My level. Your level.

Most of us don’t play so that we can someday compete in the U.S. Amateur. We play because of the camaraderie, and the thrill of a crisp shot, and the possibility that, just maybe, today we will break 100, or 90, or 80.

There are roughly 50 million golfers worldwide. Many have found that anchoring a putter makes the game more enjoyable. People who enjoy the game will play more rounds. That grows the game.

Alas, the governing bodies – in their brazen attempt to determine, once and for all, what is a true stroke and “what is the right thing for the game” – seem to have forgotten that. 



The USGA and R&A got this right, but the rule change is so long overdue that there's going to be collateral damage in the transition to the new rule. Golf's governing bodies got this right in proposing to take anchored putting out of the game, but in doing so they expose their failed watch in allowing anchored putting to become so vital to so many players for so long. That's going to cause pain and make this feel unjust to the players who have built their games around anchored putters.

They got it right because the game is as much about a test of nerve as it is a test of skill. The hands are the great transmitters of nerves, and the anchored putter allows a player to diminish the importance of the hands in the putting stroke. That makes for an uneven playing field with prized trophies on the line. That, I acknowledge, is an opinion, and a rule change based on an opinion seems arbitrary, but sport is filled with arbitrary decisons. Why are the bases 90 feet from each other in baseball? Why is the rim 10 feet off the ground in basketball. Why is a football field 100 yards long?

Explaining why anchored putting is wrong stumbles into the same trouble the Supreme Court encountered in defining pornography. Like Justice Potter Stewart said in 1964, we purists may not be able to articulate exactly why we think a stroke is improper, but 'we know it when we see it.” That makes accepting the rule change hard to accept for folks who use anchored putters. It's even harder given they were allowed to build their games around anchoring.



While I can understand the issue from both sides, at the end of the day – and forever into the future – this was the right move.

The question everyone should be asking themselves is how anchoring the putter to the body was ever allowed in the first place.

Ask any golfer – professional or amateur – what the key to playing good golf is. What's that saying? 'Drive for show, putt for dough.' Yes, that's it.

It's the touch, the finesse, the mental ability to control your nerves over a 3-footer that makes golf the game that it is. It's what one does with the flat stick that separates an individual from the pack. So why would we anchor the putter to the chest and help control the very thing that makes golf so maddeningly beautiful?

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.