USGA, R&A ban anchored putting

David Cannon

The USGA and R&A announced Tuesday that they will move forward with a ban on anchored putting. The rule will take effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

The USGA and R&A announced Tuesday that, as of Jan. 1, 2016, the anchored putting stroke favored by major champions Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, and Ernie Els will be prohibited.

“The R&A and USGA announce final approval for Rule 14-b that prohibits the use of anchored strokes,” the R&A website announced early Tuesday morning.

The USGA website concurred that the prohibition against anchoring would take effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

Under new rule 14-1b, players who use long putters may no longer affix the handle end of the club against their bodies during their strokes. The clubs themselves will not be outlawed.

“Rule 14-1b protects one of the important challenges in the game -- the free swing of the entire club,” USGA president Glen Nager said during a press conference. “The traditional stroke involves swinging the club with both the club and gripping hands held away from the body, requiring the player to direct and control the movement of the entire club. Anchoring is different: Intentionally securing one end of the club against the body, and creating a point of physical attachment around which the club is swung, is a substantial departure from that traditional free swing.”

“Having considered all of the input that we received, both before and after the proposed Rule was announced, our best judgment is that Rule 14-1b is necessary to preserve one of the important traditions and challenges of the game – that the player freely swing the entire club,” USGA president Glen Nager said. “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.”

The USGA, which made its remarks in conjunction with a simultaneous news conference by the R&A in the U.K., released a 40-page report as part of Tuesday’s announcement.

In Nager’s remarks, he noted that anchoring provides “demonstrable advantage” to golfers who employ the method.

“Anchoring creates potential advantages, such as making the stroke simpler and more repeatable, restricting the movement and rotation of the hands, arms and clubface, creating a fixed pivot point, and creating extra support and stability that may diminish the effects of nerves and pressure,” Nager said.

Objective evidence was not needed to make such a rule change.

“What matters here is whether, by diminishing obstacles inherent in the traditional stroke, anchoring may advantage some players at other times,” Nager said. “Statistics are not necessary to resolve that issue.”

He also said the increasing use of anchoring was “a particularly worrisome trend now that beginners and juniors are being taught anchored strokes." Nager noted as well that prohibiting anchoring would have no negative impact on the growth of the game.

“No meaningful data suggest that anchoring plays any material role in driving participation rates,” said Nager, who urged all levels of the game to continue playing under one set of rules.

"An integral part of the game's appeal is that golfers at all levels can play the same course with the same equipment under the same rules," Nager said.

The announcement came as no surprise, since golf’s governing bodies proclaimed in November their intent to ban the stroke, which players make by jamming belly or longer putters into various parts of their bodies, and which the regulators believed inhibited the “skill and challenge” that was “integral to the traditions of the game.”

The November proclamation came on the heels of Bradley (2011 PGA Championship), Simpson (2012 U.S. Open), and Els (2012 British Open) cadging three of the previous five major championship titles. Since then, Adam Scott wielded a chest putter on his way to winning last month’s Masters.

While many golfers -- Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy among them -- embraced the edict, others grumbled about potential lawsuits and witch hunts. During the 90-day comment period that followed the announcement, most professional tours circled the wagons around the planned ban while the PGA Tour and the PGA of America voiced opposition to the scheme.

“In the absence of data or any basis to conclude that there is a competitive advantage to be gained by using anchoring, and given the amount of time that anchoring has been in the game,” tour commission Tim Finchem said during the final round of February’s match play championship, “there was no overriding reason to go down that road.”

Based on a survey of its 27,000 members, PGA president Ted Bishop implored the rules-makers to reconsider their proposed ban and threatened to implement separate anchoring mandates for professional and everyday players.

“PGA members are extremely opposed to the ban on anchoring,” Bishop said in March about what he termed “one of the most divisive issues” facing the golf business. “Bifurcation seems destined if Rule 14-1b is implemented.”

The proposal divided golfers into “for” and “against” camps, with Bradley -- the first player to win a major with a belly putter -- becoming the de facto spokesperson for anchoring, and a target for its critics.

“I feel like the USGA has really put an X on our back and really shined a light on us, and I don't know if that's exactly fair,” Bradley, labeled a cheater by at least one spectator, told reporters during last year’s Tiger Woods’ World Challenge.

Bradley has said he would resist changing his putting method as long as possible, Simpson has tinkered with a shorter putter, and recent converts to the dark side like Els and Padraig Harrington believe they’re practicing legal cheating with their belly sticks. Meanwhile, older guys like Carl Pettersson and Tim Clark, who have used broom-handled putters for their entire careers, have discussed the possibility of legal intervention.

With the ban on anchored putting now a certainty, it remains to be seen whether anchorers will fight the proscription on their putting strokes or resign themselves to their fate, as Bradley appeared to do in November.

"I'm obviously not happy with the ruling, but I respect the USGA, and especially Mike Davis," Bradley said in reaction to the proposal. "They make the rules, and I'll adjust appropriately. I'm going to accept the challenge and hopefully do well when they do ban it.”

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