USGA, R&A announce ban on anchored stroke

By Ryan LavnerMay 21, 2013, 11:50 am

After an extensive and sometimes contentious comment period, the USGA and R&A formally announced a ban Tuesday on the anchored stroke.

Rule 14-1b will take effect on Jan. 1, 2016, when the next edition of the Rules of Golf is published. After the rule was initially proposed on Nov. 28, 2012, the governing bodies opened a 90-day comment window that allowed industry leaders to address any lingering concerns.

When first announcing the proposed rule, the governing bodies cited a “tremendous spike in usage” and “growing advocacy” among pros and instructors. Though long putters have been around for decades, USGA executive director Mike Davis said in November that the percentage of players who have used the putters has increased from about 2-4 percent in the 1980s and ’90s to close to 20 percent.

However, according to USGA president Glen D. Nager, recent surveys now indicate that anchoring is used by only 2-4 percent of golfers in the U.S. and Europe.

This ban will affect the estimated 18 percent of PGA Tour players who anchor their putters, including four of the last six major winners (Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Ernie Els and Adam Scott).


What's banned? USGA, R&A infographic

Timeline: Long and anchored putter

Anchored-stroke debate: Articles, videos and photos


It’s important to note that the new rule still allows those players to use their long or belly putters, so long as the butt of the handle is not affixed to a part of the body (stomach, sternum, chin, etc.).

“The new rule upholds the essential nature of the traditional method of stroke and eliminates the possible advantage that anchoring provides, ensuring that players of all skill levels face the same challenge inherent in the game of golf,” Nager said.

During Tuesday’s announcement, the governing bodies jointly released a 40-page document that explained their decision to adopt the rule.

Their main findings:

• The new rule should not negatively affect participation

• It is not too late or unfair to require players to comply with the rule

• The new rule will remove potential concerns about any advantage that anchoring provides

Said R&A chief executive Peter Dawson: “We recognize this has been a divisive issue but after thorough consideration, we remain convinced that this is the right decision for golf.”

Now, the PGA Tour must decide if it agrees.

In February, commissioner Tim Finchem announced the Tour’s opposition to the then-proposed rule, saying that the ban was not in “the best interest of golf or the PGA Tour.” (The European Tour, LPGA, Ladies European Tour and Sunshine Tour each publicly supported the ban, furthering the notion that the issue was more controversial in the States than it was overseas.)

At the time, Finchem stopped short of suggesting that the Tour would break from the Rules of Golf and create its own set of rules. Now that the anchoring ban has been passed, it was not immediately clear which direction the Tour would take.

In a statement after the announcement, the PGA Tour said the Player Advisory Council and Policy Board would meet in the coming month to discuss their next step.

“We will announce our position regarding the application of Rule 14-1b to our competitions upon conclusion of our process and we will have no further comment until that time,” the Tour said.

PGA of America president Ted Bishop has been perhaps the most vocal dissenter. In March, he warned that the ban could result in separate rules for amateurs and professionals. “Bifurcation seems destined if Rule 14-1b is implemented,” he said.

In their 40-page report, the USGA and R&A stressed the need for one set of rules for the “future health of the game.”

“If there was some type of schism, we don’t think that’d be good for golf,” Davis said Tuesday. “We are doing what we think is right for the long-term benefit of the game for all golfers.”

Some players have hinted at potential legal action if the ban was passed. Tim Clark, for example, has used a long putter since college because of a congenital problem with his arms in which he can’t supinate his wrists.

“In the event that any litigation is brought, we’ll respond to whatever the claims are,” Nager said. “But I can assure you of this, we have looked at this from the legal perspective and feel confident of our position.”

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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.