Coming to Grips With Anchoring
The USGA and R&A's proposed ban affecting play with long and belly putters draws immediate praise and fire. Question is: What's next?
A day after Ernie Els dropped a 15-foot putt on the 72nd hole of the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in July, giving belly putters wins in three of the last four majors, the R&A conducted its annual post-Open press conference, where the topic of anchored putters was quickly brought up.
"We appreciate that there is much speculation about this and that we need to clarify the position as soon as possible," said Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A. "I think you're going to see us saying something about it one way or the other in a few months, rather than years."
On Nov. 28, Dawson and USGA executive director Mike Davis jointly announced a proposed rule that would prohibit the anchored style of putting. Rather than ban belly or long putters, it would ban any stroke where the grip or hand is anchored "directly" or by use of an "anchor point" on the body.
The ruling bodies are seeking comment from golfers and the golf industry over the next three months before making a final decision. Assuming the timeline remains unchanged, the rule will be approved by both the USGA and the R&A in the spring, and the anchored-stroke ban would go into effect with the next official revision of the rules in January 2016.
"It's been a polarizing issue, and for many years you've had people who genuinely care about the game sit on both sides of it," said Davis. "It's been fairly divisive, and it's only gotten more so in the last year."
Although overlength putters have been around the game in a small way since the 1930s, long and belly putters have been used in 15 victories in the last two years on the PGA Tour, including the 2011 PGA Championship (Keegan Bradley), the 2012 U.S. Open (Webb Simpson) and the 2012 British Open (Els). Davis also pointed to data that suggested belly and long putters were used by 3 to 4 percent of tour players from the 1980s through the mid-2000s before a sudden jump to 11 percent in 2011 and 15 percent this year.
Once an opponent of anchoring, Els' career received a kickstart from the belly putter, including his fourth major at this year's British Open. Photo: J.D. Cuban
"We're nervous about where this could lead, not just in putting. We're starting to see people do it with chip shots, and we just think fundamentally that is not golf," said Davis, noting it is not just a tour trend. According to the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA), approximately 2 percent of its roughly 5,000 members use long or belly putters. Tianlang Guan, 14, wielded a belly putter in winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and, with it, a spot in next year's Masters.
Judging from early reaction, the road from proposal to actual rule is likely to be littered with conversation and debate. Response to the possible ban on anchoring was swift -- as to be expected in this day of 24-hour news cycles and social media outlets where anyone with an opinion and a computer or cell phone can chime in instantly.
"I knew the wording of the rule was going to be key, and you know, it's a very considered and intelligent sort of decision," said Graeme McDowell at the World Challenge. "I think it was the only decision that could be made."
Brandt Snedeker went a step further, not only endorsing the proposed rule, but the USGA and R&A's authority as the game's rulesmakers as well. "I say this all the time, we as tour pros, we all think we're very, very smart," said Snedeker. "We're not when it comes to governing the game of golf. We have no clue how to do that. The USGA and the R&A do. Peter Dawson and Mike Davis are extremely intelligent people. They know what they're doing when it comes to the game of golf."
Those on the other side were equally passionate.
PGA of America president Ted Bishop cited his organization's online survey in which 63 percent of respondents were against a ban on anchoring. Bishop, making an appearance on Golf Channel, is concerned that a ban might affect the growth of the game and could possibly impact the enjoyment of those already playing.
"Let's face it, when people are playing better, they play more golf," said Bishop. "Fundamentally and philosophically to the PGA of America, it's disappointing that anything would happen in the sport of golf that would have any potential negative impact on enjoyment and number of rounds played."