<
>

When will pros make anchor switch?

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- His golf career still in its budding stages, Webb Simpson was in college at Wake Forest when he began using a belly putter somewhat by accident.

"I picked it up as kind of a joke," said Simpson, who traced his history with the belly putter to 2004. "I was just messing around in the pro shop, but I found I picked it up pretty easily and made some putts. I took it out on the course and made everything. My speed was really good, and speed is something I had struggled with [using] the short putter, so I figured I'd try it."

Simpson, 27, has never looked back and is now a major champion. He won the U.S. Open in June at the Olympic Club using a belly putter and is among three of the past five major champions to win using an anchored club.

That brought heightened attention to the issue, and on Wednesday, the United States Golf Association and the R&A -- golf's rules-making bodies -- announced that they had proposed a rule change to outlaw any swing with a club anchored to the body. The ruling will likely go into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

For those using an anchored stroke, now what?

They have time to make the adjustment, but do they do so gradually or as soon as possible?

"I would switch as soon as I felt ready," said Simpson, who said he's been practicing with a short putter in anticipation of such a decision. "I'm just going to take it one step at a time until my comfort level gets better and better.

"If I feel ready by Hyundai [the season-opening tournament in Hawaii], I'll be putting with a short putter, and if I don't feel ready for two years, I'll wait. I'm just going to go when I feel most comfortable."

Keegan Bradley was the first to win a major using an anchored stroke, doing so with a belly putter at the 2011 PGA Championship.

For him, the switch will not come anytime soon.

"I haven't tried it," said Bradley, who also started using a belly putter in college. "I mean I've grabbed my buddies' just for fun, but I'm not doing any sort of practice with the short putter. ... [The change] is not for another three years, but I'll use my style of putting until then.

"And when that time does come closer, I'll start to mess around. But as of the time right now, I'm still focused on the belly putter."

Ernie Els was the other major championship winner who won using a belly putter, capturing his fourth major title when he won the Open Championship in July.

Els has long been on record as saying he was against anchoring, but went to a belly putter out of desperation because it was legal. After winning the Open, Els said he would begin the process late this year of transitioning back to a conventional putter, but lately has softened.

"It's not just about tucking it into your belly and you start holing putts," Els said recently. "A lot of work has to go into it to perfect your style. You still feel the nerves, and you can still miss."

One player who is not going to have to change is Matt Kuchar. The winner of the Players Championship this year has tinkered with his putting technique over the past two years. He settled on a system where he places the putter handle along his left forearm and uses his right hand to form a clasp around his left wrist. (It is similar to a style that Bernhard Langer used years ago to combat the yips).

Because the club is not up against the body, Kuchar's technique is allowed. USGA executive Mike Davis mentioned Kuchar by name during Wednesday's announcement to suggest his style would be allowed.

"I think they want the player to control both ends of the club," Kuchar said. "They want the butt end moving the way I use it, both ends of the putter move. I was kind of hoping I would be okay with the rule and it sounds like I am."

Kuchar, who was playing in the World Challenge pro-am Wednesday at Sherwood Country Club, said he understands both sides.

"Anybody that uses a short putter thinks this is a good thing," he said. "Any competitive player likes to have a competitive advantage. Anybody that uses the belly putter or long putters is not happy. There is definitely a skill to using a belly putter or a long putter. You definitely just don't pick one up and start making putts automatically."

Now those who use them have a decision to make in regard to working their way back to a conventional putter.

"Bottom line is, I'm ready," Simpson said. "I'm not worried."