Rule change will ban anchoring

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Golf's governing bodies on Wednesday proposed changes to the rules of golf that would ban anchoring a club in making a stroke -- although they will accept comment on the subject before officially approving the decision early next year.

The proposed rules change would take place on Jan. 1, 2016, in keeping with the four-year cycle for such amendments to the rules. Long putters and belly putters allow users to anchor the end of the club to their stomach or chest, acting as a base for the pendulum motion of the golf stroke.

"One of the most fundamental things about the game of golf is we believe the player should hold the club away from his body and swing it freely," said Mike Davis, the executive director of the United States Golf Association. "We think this is integral to the traditions of the game. Golf is a game of skill and challenge, and we think that is an important part of it.

"The player's challenge is to control the movement of the entire club in striking the ball, and anchoring the club alters the nature of that challenge. Our conclusion is that the Rules of Golf should be amended to preserve the traditional character of the golf swing by eliminating the growing practice of anchoring the club."

If a player were to anchor in match play, it would mean the loss of the hole. In stroke play, it's a two-stroke penalty for each occurrence.

Davis held a conference call Wednesday along with Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the R&A, which regulates the game outside of the United States and Mexico.

The rule would not alter equipment rules and would allow for the use of belly putters and long putters, so long as they are not anchored during the stroke.

"Any time you can take your arms and hands out of it, especially your hands, I think when you anchor it in your chest is a huge advantage," said PGA Tour player Steve Stricker, who uses a conventional putter. "There's going to be a lot of upset people, a lot of guys that have putted with a long putter for a long time, and I have a feeling they're going to have something to say about the rule."

Golf's rulebook is long and complicated. This aspect falls under Rule 14 for Striking the Ball. As it is written now, Rule 14-1 says Ball To Be Fairly Struck, and that "the ball must be fairly struck at with the head of the club and must not be pushed, scraped or spooned."

The proposed rule would make that Rule 14-1a, with 14-1b concerning Anchoring the Club. "In making a stroke, the player must not anchor the club, either directly or by use of an anchor point."

Three of the past five major champions -- Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els -- used belly putters in their victories.

"I think what we've all done collectively with the long putters has really focused on these putters, and I think what the world of golf is seeing all of us on Sundays making putts and doing well," said Bradley, who is playing in this week's World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club. "And the younger kids ... they want to try the belly putter.

"They didn't see me last year at this tournament come in almost dead last. I couldn't make anything. But you see a lot of the younger generation doing what they see on TV."

The PGA Tour, and likewise any professional circuit, is not bound by the USGA/R&A rules change. However, it would be extremely unlikely that the tour would not comply.

"We are asking them to seriously consider the impact this proposed ban may have on people's enjoyment of the game and the overall growth of the game," PGA of America president Ted Bishop said in a statement.

The PGA Tour does not have its own set of rules but plays under USGA guidelines. The European Tour has the same relationship with the R&A. It would be possible for the PGA Tour to implement the anchoring ban earlier than 2016, although such decisions are still to be determined.

"While the USGA and The R&A have kept us updated on this proposed rule change, we only recently have been able to review the final language,'' the tour said in a statement. "As with any rule change, we will go through our normal process of evaluating the potential impact. ... It will be discussed at our next annual player meeting on Jan. 22 in San Diego.''

Players have been using long and belly putters for years. They became popular on the Champions Tour in the 1980s and were seen as a way to putt for players who were losing their skills on the greens. Rocco Mediate became the first player to win a PGA Tour event using a long putter in 1991; Paul Azinger was the first to win with a belly putter in 2000.

It wasn't until Bradley's victory at the 2011 PGA Championship that a player won a major using a belly putter. No player has won a major using a long putter, although Adam Scott would have become the first at this summer's Open Championship, where he blew a 4-shot advantage over the final four holes, allowing Els, using a belly putter, to win.

The joint release by the USGA and R&A noted that "more and more players have adopted the anchored stroke. Golf's governing bodies have observed this upsurge at all levels of the game and noted that more coaches and players are advocating this method. The decision to act now is based on a strong desire to reverse this trend and to preserve the traditional golf stroke."

Dawson, the R&A chief, said a review process would proceed until Feb. 28, 2013.

"We believe we have considered this issue from every angle, but given the wide-ranging interest in this subject, we would like to give stakeholders in the game the opportunity to put forward any new matters for consideration," Dawson said.