On Wednesday, the Royal & Ancient and the United States Golf Association (USGA), golf’s governing bodies, announced changes to the Rules of Golf that would prohibit anchoring the club in making a stroke.
The following three paragraphs are from the USGA released statement.
“The proposed Rule 14-1b, which follows an extensive review by the R&A and the USGA, would prohibit strokes made with the club or a hand gripping the club held directly against a player’s body, or with a forearm held against the body to establish an anchor point that indirectly anchors the club.
“The proposed rule would not alter current equipment rules and would allow the continued use of all conforming clubs, including belly-length putters, provided such clubs are not anchored during a stroke. The proposed rule narrowly targets only a few types of strokes, while preserving a golfer’s ability to play a wide
variety of strokes in his or her
“The proposed rule change would take effect on Jan. 1, 2016, in accordance with the regular four-year cycle for changes to the Rules of Golf. This timetable would also provide an extended period in which golfers may, if necessary, adapt their method of stroke to the requirement of the rule.”
The game of golf has existed for more than 600 years. During that time, players have been allowed to anchor the club on any stroke. It begs the question, why now?
Keegan Bradley, the 2011 PGA Champion, had these comments.
“To say they will ban this after we’ve won majors is unbelievable,” Bradley said. “It’s the way we’ve practiced and made our living. Some players have put in 15 to 20 years of practice, and all of a sudden they’re going to make up a rule. That’s harsh.”
In the past couple of years, the number of players using long, anchored putters has surged dramatically both on the professional tours and in the amateur ranks. Three of the past five major championship winners used long, anchored putters. Webb Simpson, who won the 2012 U.S. Open, joins Bradley and Els as the three major winners since August 2011.
At this year’s PGA Championship, an estimated 50 of the 156 competitors used long putters, although not all were anchored. That being said, there is clearly no statistical data from any professional tour that would indicate there is any advantage to anchoring a long putter. In fact, the average ranking of those players using long putters among the top 100 in the World Golf Rankings is over 50.
There does not appear to be any data that suggests that anchoring a golf club results in an unfair advantage.
Long putters have been around since the 1930s. Johnny Miller topped Payne Stewart by a stroke to win the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 1987. Orville Moody won the 1989 U.S. Senior Open using a 50-inch putter that he tucked to his chest. Shortly after, the USGA approved the use of long putters, deciding the method is not detrimental to the game. Moody had threatened legal action if the club was banned.
The list goes on. Rocco Mediate won at Doral in 1991 using a 49-inch putter anchored to his sternum. Paul Azinger used a 54-inch putter that he pressed to his sternum to win the Sony Open in 2000. Colt Knost won the U.S. Amateur Championship at the Olympic Club using a belly putter. Then in 2007, Adam Scott used a 49-inch putter that he anchored below his chin to win the Bridgestone Invitational.
Why the ban on anchoring now? It’s tough to swallow the argument that it has nothing to do with the most recent major championships being decided with a long putter, anchored.
Mike Davis, USGA executive director, has said that anchoring has been on the radar of golf’s governing bodies for the past two decades. He says the main objections to anchoring are that it looks bad and it does not conform to the intended stroke that golf’s founding fathers envisioned.
But, while the USGA and R&A are primarily concerned with the competitive side of the anchoring debate, the PGA of America has concerns on how a ban on anchoring could affect the industry’s growth of the game efforts.
“The PGA has long supported the USGA in its role of establishing the Rules of Golf governing play and equipment. We have representation on the Rules of Golf Committee, and we have a huge amount of respect for them in regard to their critical role in writing and interpreting the Rules of Golf. Our mission is to grow the game, and on behalf of our 27,000 men and women PGA Professionals, we are asking them to consider the impact this may have on people’s enjoyment of the game and the growth of the game.” — Ted Bishop, president, The PGA of America. This was the official statement from the PGA.
Last week the PGA conducted a poll of its members. The participation rate was extremely high (roughly 16 percent, or 4,228 of our membership), which illustrates the importance of this particular issue. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of the respondents indicated that they do not favor a ban. The reasons were varied, but consistent themes regarding the negative effects a ban could have on both the growth and enjoyment of the game became readily apparent.
The PGA of America believes that golf is the greatest of all games. We also believe that we need to continue to do what is necessary to preserve all that makes it unique and, consistent with our mission, take actions to grow the game. PGA members are truly the connection between the game and its participants.
In the end, the people who might pay the biggest price are the average golfers who have switched their method of putting to avoid back problems, overcome unsteady nerves and increase their enjoyment in the game.
Ted Bishop is PGA of America president and director of golf and general manager of The Legends Golf Club.