Citing a “tremendous spike in usage” and “growing advocacy” among pros and instructors, golf’s governing bodies announced Wednesday that they have proposed a ban on anchored putting that would become effective January 2016.
“We’re not doing this because we said (anchoring) is a great advantage,” U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis told Golf Channel. “It may be advantageous for some, but this is fundamentally about what we think is the right thing for the game.
“Rules changes are about the future of the game, and we really do fundamentally think that defining a stroke is the right thing for the future.”
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Rule 14-1b is expected to be finalized this spring, after a 90-day window that will allow industry insiders to address any lingering concerns. But the new rule won’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2016, when the next edition of the Rules of Golf is published.
“We’re not going into a 90-day comment period lightly,” R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. “We want to listen to what people have to say, and if something new comes up, we will certainly consider it.
“But I would stress this is not a popularity contest, not an election. As the governing body we are doing what we think is best for the game of golf, and this is our responsibility.”
The unprecedented decision came as little surprise, after it was reported last month that Davis held a presentation at The McGladrey Classic to explain how a ban would be implemented and to ask players for their support. In a statement, the PGA Tour said Wednesday that it would review the rule change at the next annual player meeting, scheduled for Jan. 22 in San Diego, and it is expected to be reviewed by the Policy Board in March.
The proposed rule states that during a stroke, a player cannot anchor the club, either “directly” or by use of an “anchor point.” Among the prohibited strokes: a belly putter anchored against the stomach; anchored long putter to the sternum; the end of the club anchored against the chin; and an anchor point created by the forearm.
Worth noting: A stroke made with the putter resting against the forearm – a method used by Matt Kuchar – was deemed to be a form of grip, not anchoring, which is permitted by the USGA.
It is also important to note that the ban outlaws anchoring, not the putters themselves. So a player would still be able to use a long putter, so long as the butt of the handle is not affixed to a part of the body (chin, sternum, stomach, etc.).
This decision affects all levels of golf – from the recreational level to the professionals – as the governing bodies have decided against bifurcation, or separate rules for touring pros and amateurs.
“One of the great things about golf is that everybody plays under the same set of rules,” Davis said. “It really gives structure to the game. For those people who think we should bifurcate, I’m telling you, you haven’t thought through the ramifications. Once you open Pandora’s box, it will forever change the game. We are steadfast on this one. People who want to bifurcate don’t understand what they’re asking.”
Long putters have been around for decades, of course, but Davis said the percentage of players who have used the clubs have increased from about 2-4 percent in the 1980s and ’90s, to 6 percent from 2006-’10, to about 15 percent this season.
But the controversial issue has taken on heightened importance after three of the past five major winners won while using an anchored putter. Most recently, 14-year-old Tianlang Guan won the Asian Amateur (and thereby earned an invitation to The Masters) while wielding a belly putter, a club which he began using only six months prior, Dawson said.
Asked if this was merely a reaction to those recent successes, Dawson said emphatically, “This is not a major-championship issue. This has been about the upsurge in general usage.”
Added Davis, “We are looking to the future of the game and saying that we don’t think golf should be played this way.”
In 1991, Rocco Mediate became the first player to win a PGA Tour event with a long putter, and the club quickly gained popularity among the over-50 set on the Champions Tour. At that time, the long putter was viewed as a sign of weakness, an aid for players with back problems or putting woes.
The narrative has shifted, the battle lines on this issue clearly drawn.
Those who support a ban – which includes Tiger Woods, Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer, among others – essentially claim that pressing the butt of the putter against the stomach, chin or sternum provides an unfair advantage because it reduces pressure and nerves while making a stroke. Webb Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open, rebuffed that notion, saying Tuesday, “Well, I was shaking in my boots on that last putt.”
Dawson, however, said that an anchored stroke “takes one of the frailties out of the stroke that is an inherent part of the game.”
Those against a ban point to the fact that none of the top 20 putters on the 2012 PGA Tour used an anchored putter, according to the Tour’s strokes gained-putting statistic. And they also contend that not only is the technique within the rules of the game – and has been for decades – it caused an uproar only after Keegan Bradley (2011 PGA), Simpson (’12 U.S. Open) and Ernie Els (’12 British) each won major championships while using a belly putter. There has been some suggestion that their accomplishments will now be viewed with a mythical asterisk.
“Absolutely not,” Dawson said. “They won fair and square with the rules that existed at the time.”
Does the debate end here? Hardly.
Players such as Carl Pettersson, Tim Clark and Simpson have each used the long putter since college. Anticipating this decision, however, Simpson revealed that he has already begun practicing with the conventional putter, and will use that club in tournament play “as soon as I feel ready.”
Though it had been previously reported that Bradley was prepared to challenge a potential ban, perhaps to the point of legal action, the 26-year-old squashed all notions Tuesday at the World Challenge. Yes, he will continue to use the belly putter until the ban is implemented, but added, “I have total respect for Mike Davis and the USGA, and they are doing what they think is best for the game, and I respect that.”
Said Davis: “We legitimately believe it’s the right thing to do for the game of golf long-term. We know short-term there is going to be some angst over this. We accept that. We don’t like it either. But we want to, once and for all, put this controversial ruling to bed.”