Anchored putting ban starts in 2016

Nearly six months after proposing a change to the Rules of Golf, the sport's governing bodies on Tuesday announced that anchoring the club in making a stroke will be banned effective Jan. 1, 2016.

New Rule 14-1b means that players who use a belly putter or long putter will no longer be able to hold the butt end of the club against their bodies while making a stroke, although the clubs will still be allowed -- provided they are not anchored.

Four of the past six major championship winners, including Adam Scott last month at the Masters, used an anchored stroke, with the Australian becoming the first to do so with a long putter.

"Rule 14-1b protects one of the important challenges in the game -- the free swing of the entire club," said Glen Nager, president of the USGA, in prepared remarks. "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."

The USGA and R&A first announced their proposed rules change on Nov. 28 but then took the unusual step of opening a 90-day comment period for feedback.

And there was considerable pushback. PGA of America president Ted Bishop said surveys among the 28,000 teaching pros in his organization suggested a ban would hurt the growth of the game.

"We are disappointed with this outcome," Bishop said Tuesday in a statement. "As we have said publicly and repeatedly during the comment period, we do not believe 14‐1b is in the best interest of recreational golfers and we are concerned about the negative impact it may have on both the enjoyment and growth of the game. Growing the game is one of the fundamental purposes of The PGA of America.''

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem also came out against the ban, saying there was not enough statistical evidence to suggest such putting styles were an advantage and that "given the amount of time that anchoring has been in the game, and there was no overriding reason to go down that road."

Major winners such as Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els -- all of whom use the belly putter -- also made their case for keeping the rules the same, as did longtime anchorer Tim Clark, who took his views to a players meeting in January and came away with lots of support for his stance.

"What we have here is a different method of putting," Clark said in March. "It's not wrong. It's not against the values of the game. It's still a stroke. People who come out and say, 'It's not a stroke, you don't get nervous,' I can't believe that. I've been using it for 15 years. I get nervous. I miss putts under pressure. Putting essentially will always come down to 99 percent brain and mindset and confidence.

"If I felt I was cheating, I wouldn't be using it."

Scott, who said recently he would attempt to use a long putter without anchoring it if the ban was approved, began using the club more than two years ago after getting frustrated with his inability to make putts with a conventional model.

"Now we're making rules for the betterment of the game based on zero evidence? Incredible," Scott said. "What did they think when they allowed it? You're dealing with professional athletes who are competitive, who want to find better ways. ... What do they think when they've got supertalented golfers putting in thousands of hours of practice with a long putter, short putter, sand wedge, whatever? It was just a matter of time. They're going to get good."

But the rules-making bodies had plenty on their side as well. The European Tour, the LPGA Tour and numerous golf associations came out in support. So have many players, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Arnold Palmer and Graeme McDowell.

"I hope they go with the ban," Woods said Monday. "That's something that I've said, that anchoring should not be a part of the game. It should be mandatory to have to swing all 14 clubs."

As part of the announcement, the USGA released a 40-page report that explains the decision to implement Rule 14-1b.

Nager covered several areas:

• On the lack of statistical evidence that an anchored stroke is an advantage: "The playing rules are not based on statistical studies; they are based on judgments that define the game and its intended challenges. One of those challenges is to control the entire club, and anchoring alters that challenge.

"Moreover, the issue is not whether anchoring provides a statistically demonstrable advantage to the average player, or on every stroke or in every circumstance. What matters here is whether, by diminishing obstacles inherent in the traditional stroke, anchoring may advantage some players at other times. Statistics are not necessary to resolve that issue."

• On few using an anchored stroke: "Many golfers believe that anchoring is not a proper way to play the game and have not anchored for that reason. Also, the trend over two decades is toward remarkably increasing use -- a particularly worrisome trend now that beginners and juniors are being taught anchored strokes."

• On the negative impact on participation: "The game is growing worldwide -- and anchoring is hardly used where much of this growth is occurring. Moreover, the major causes of recent reduced participation in the United States and Europe -- where national economies have been weak -- are the expense of the game, the time that it takes to play and the perception that the game is not always made fun and accessible for juniors and the like. No meaningful data suggest that anchoring plays any material role in driving participation rates.

"Indeed, the recent upsurge has occurred mainly because some golfers believed that anchoring helps them to play better, not because it is their only resort."

There had been some suggestions that the rules makers could decree that Rule 14-1b be only applied to elite players or as an option condition of competition. But the governing bodies remain firm in their belief that the game should be played under one set of rules and that to offer such conditions would alter that.

"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 rule would not go into effect until 2016 because the Rules of Golf operate under a four-year cycle for changes, although there will likely be calls for the professional tours to adopt the rule sooner in order to lessen any stigma attached to those who continue to use an anchored stroke that would still be considered legal.

And then there is the possibility that the PGA Tour could write its own rules that allow anchoring. As a professional sports organization, the tour is under no obligation to follow the Rules of Golf as they are written; it could write its own rules, although throughout the tour's history, it has always deferred to the governing bodies.

To write its own rules in this case not only would be something the PGA Tour has never done, but it would also create the possibility of different rules for the major championships.

On Tuesday, the PGA Tour said it would review the rule change over the next month "to ascertain whether the various provisions of Rule 14-1b will be implemented in our competitions and, if so, examine the process for implementation."

PGA of America's Bishop said the board would meet in late June during the PGA Professional National Championship.

"At this point in time, The PGA will digest the USGA and R&A's decision to proceed with Rule 14‐1b and discuss this matter with our Board of Directors, PGA Sections and, of course, our 27,000 PGA Professionals throughout the country," Bishop said. "In addition, we will continue to confer with the PGA Tour as they similarly digest this information.''