It’s an issue that gained traction in 2011 and one that won’t be fully resolved until 2016.
Among golf’s governing bodies, though, 2013 will be remembered as the year in which a stand was taken against the anchored stroke.
The success of players with anchored putters, be they hinged at the belly or chin level, didn’t skip a beat in 2013. Although Keegan Bradley failed to lift a trophy this past year, he was regularly in the mix, notching eight top-10 finishes in 27 PGA Tour starts. Likewise, former U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson was a leaderboard fixture before anchoring his way to a win in Las Vegas in October to begin his 2013-14 season in style.
But if Bradley was the poster boy for anchoring in 2011, when he won twice, including the PGA Championship, and Simpson shared that honor along with fellow major winner Ernie Els in 2012, the distinction was inherited by Adam Scott in 2013. Scott wielded his chest-high putter to roll in a dramatic birdie on the 72nd hole of the Masters, then won a sudden-death playoff for the first of his four worldwide wins this year.
By the time Scott lifted his lengthy putter in triumph at Augusta National, though, an anchoring ban was already being debated. The USGA and R&A proposed Rule 14-1b in November 2012, and it wasn't long before golf’s governing bodies appeared to turn against each other.
In a televised interview in February, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said the proposed ban “was not in the best interest of golf or the PGA Tour.” PGA of America president Ted Bishop followed suit, terming the proposal “one of the most divisive issues that modern-day golf has ever seen.” "Bifurcation" - different sets of rules for pros and amateurs - became a hot topic.
But seemingly as quickly as the two factions split apart, a settlement was reached.
Five weeks after Scott holed the final putt at the Masters, the USGA made Rule 14-1b official. Six weeks after that, the PGA Tour and PGA of America agreed to recognize the rule change when it goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2016, a move that effectively started the official countdown to the end of anchoring.
With the rule change in place, affected players must adapt.
Some, including Bradley and Simpson, continue to use an anchored stroke, while others are utilizing the three-year window to get a head start on a new putting style. Bill Haas, who won the 2011 FedEx Cup with a belly putter, used a standard-sized flat stick en route to winning the AT&T National in June. Teen phenom Guan Tianlang made a similar switch, dabbling with conventional putters just months after becoming the youngest player to make the cut at a major when he played the weekend at the Masters, anchoring his putter into his non-existent belly all the while.
Still others appear poised to fight for a right to anchor.
Tim Clark is the most outspoken critic of the ban, having used a long putter for his entire professional career because of a genetic wrist condition. Carl Pettersson, a longtime anchorer who like Clark played his college golf at North Carolina State, also has been a vocal opponent of the rule change.
The duo headline a small group of players who have retained a lawyer and may take legal action against the PGA Tour over Rule 14-1b.
While the USGA has often told golfers what equipment they can (and cannot) play, the ban is a notable step into the realm of how they are allowed to play. The rule change, the opposing professionals claim, threatens their ability to effectively earn a living as independent contractors.
The second aspect that rankles the anchoring contingent is the timing of the ban. When it officially goes into effect in two years, nearly 25 years will have passed since Rocco Mediate became the first player to win a PGA Tour event with a long putter. More than 15 years will have come and gone since Paul Azinger won the 2000 Sony Open using a belly putter.
While players like Clark and Pettersson may soon have their day in court with the PGA Tour, Rule 14-1b stretches far beyond the professional game. Some amateurs will soon have to choose between playing by the Rules of Golf and utilizing a stroke that isd popular among those with physical limitations or those who struggle on the greens. Equipment manufacturers will have to adjust to changes in demand.
With many questions still unresolved, one thing remains clear: 2013 may be remembered as the year that anchoring was put on extinction alert, but the debate will continue far into the future.
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