USGA announces ban on anchored putting

By Randall MellNovember 28, 2012, 1:30 pm

Mike Davis was back in action Wednesday cleaning up another mess.

You remember the U.S. Golf Association’s executive director springing into action this summer after the Jungle Bird barged into the U.S. Open trophy presentation at The Olympic Club. Davis looked like a professional wrestler putting a modified crooked lariat on the goofy cuckoo while strong-arming him into a bunker on national TV.

Davis is boldly stepping up to protect the game yet again this week, this time tag-teaming with Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson to bounce another obnoxious intruder off the sport’s stage.

They’ve teamed to rid the game of all anchored strokes, most notably anchored putting.

USGA and R&A infographic: What's legal and illegal

Photo gallery: Players who use anchored putters

This time, though, the squawking won’t be so easily muzzled.

This time, the mess won’t be cleaned up so swiftly, not with so many untidy questions left in the wake of a proposed new rule.

Quite cleverly, the USGA and R&A are not specifically banning anchored putting. Instead, they have proposed a new definition of what constitutes a swing or a stroke, Rule 14 1-b. Essentially, the new rule doesn’t allow anchoring a club to the body while making a stroke, though it provides an exception to resting a club against the forearm, the way Matt Kuchar does when he putts.

The new rule would prohibit sticking a belly putter in your abdomen the way Keegan BradleyWebb Simpson and Ernie Els did while winning three of the last five major championships. The new rule would also prohibit a player from pinning his hand against his chest while using a long putter the way Adam Scott does.

“For decades now, there has been controversy over this issue,” Davis told Golf Channel. “It’s been a divisive issue.

“Fundamentally, it is really important to have this structure, to have this definition in the game, and once and for all, put this controversial issue, that just won’t go away, to bed.”

It should be noted that the governing bodies won’t officially move to adopt this rule until the spring. They have placed a three-month period in place to allow for more conversation and commentary on the proposal. But don’t be fooled, it will be a huge upset if the proposal doesn’t become law on Jan. 1, 2016, when the Rules of Golf are scheduled for an update.

“Our objective is to preserve the essential skill and challenge of the game of golf,” Dawson said.

Writing this new rule is the right move by the USGA and R&A, but it’s also an indictment of both of those organizations. It’s an indictment of a failed watch in allowing anchored putting to become so vital to so many players’ games for so long.

“We have looked at this from all angles, and we really do believe as the governing bodies this is what we should do,” Davis said. “If we don’t do something we know is right, shame on us.”

Yes, admirably stated by the USGA chief in his second year at the helm, but there ought to be some shame in the fact that it took this long for the guardians of the game to make their stands. How long do you get to fix an incorrect scorecard before the nobility in doing so is diminished?

Still, there’s courage in finally stepping up to get this right.

It’s the right move because the game’s great championships are as much a test of nerve as they are a test of skill. Explaining why anchored putting is wrong in that regard 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.”

The hands are the great transmitters of nerves at the end of championships, 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. We can’t prove it, and neither can the USGA and the R&A, and that’s probably why they aren’t even trying.

Quite cleverly, the USGA and R&A aren’t making their argument for the rule change based on the fact that players using anchored putters are winning more big events. Smartly, they’re avoiding the complications in doing that.

“We cannot honestly say to you that for some players in some situations, it is not an advantage,” Davis said. “What we are really saying is when we write the playing rules, it is never about the advantages or disadvantages, or whether something is making the game easier. We are just defining the game. We are trying to get back to where the game used to be [before anchored strokes].”

If you believe the USGA and R&A, the fact that three of the last five major championships were won with anchored putters is coincidental.

“This is not a performance related decision,” Dawson said.

Huh? Double huh?

So what prompted the rule proposal?

“The `Why now?’ answer is there really has been a change the last two years,” Davis said.

But the change, according to the governing bodies, isn’t in so many PGA Tour pros winning with anchored putters. They say it’s in how many PGA Tour pros, amateurs, juniors and recreational players are beginning to use anchored putters.

“In the last 18 to 24 months, there has been a tremendous spike in the usage of anchored strokes,” Davis said. “That is really why we have taken a fresh look.

“All of a sudden, we not only have seen usage on the PGA Tour go up dramatically, we have seen it in amateur events and junior events. It’s like everything else, it starts with elite players and works its way into the recreational game.

“There are a lot more long putter and belly putter sales, and there is also a growing advocacy as well. We are hearing prominent instructors say this is a better way to putt.”

The USGA can cite research showing how many more PGA Tour pros use anchored putters today. Davis said 2 to 4 percent of PGA Tour pros used them in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but that went up to 6 percent a few years ago and jumped to 11 percent last year and 15 percent this year.

The USGA cites no controlled studies or experiments or research to support its argument that a new definition of a stroke is needed, and that will make the decision feel arbitrary to critics. It’s the Justice Potter Stewart deal. The USGA and R&A know wrong when they see it, and they saw the game changing quickly in ways they don’t like.

They saw a future with a lot more long putters in it, and they didn’t like it, didn’t think it was where the game was meant to go. The bottom line is that the rule change is based on that opinion.

“To be honest, we are concerned the anchored stroke could supplant the traditional putting stroke,” Dawson said. “We don’t feel this is a golf stroke.”

That’s the right call, even if it makes the USGA and R&A look like they were asleep at the switch in guarding the future of the game. They’ve awakened us all with this long overdue move.

Getty Images

Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

Getty Images

Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

Getty Images

13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

Getty Images

McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.