The ongoing controversy surrounding the use of broomstick and belly putters via an ‘Anchored’ stroke took a dramatic turn recently, as golf’s governing bodies announced changes to the Rules of Golf that would prohibit anchoring the club against the body.
On November 30th, the R&A and the United States Golf Association (USGA) proposed a new rule, Rule 14-1b, which would prohibit “strokes made with the club or a hand gripping the club held directly against the player’s body, or with a forearm held against the body to establish an anchor point that indirectly anchors the club.”
In essence, the proposed rule prohibits players from creating a “third point of contact” with the club (the hands are the first two points). Thus, it will be illegal to anchor the club against any part of the body, like a player’s chin (in the case of a broomstick putter) or the belly (for belly putters) etc.
The proposed rule does NOT, however, ban the equipment itself. This is an important distinction. Broomstick and belly putters can still be manufactured, sold and used by any player, provided that the player does not anchor it during a stroke. This will come as a relief to some players who—like Masters Champion Angel Cabrera – have used long putters without anchoring them against the body.
In proposing the new Rule, The R&A and the USGA concluded that the long-term interests of the game would be served by confirming a stroke as the swinging of the entire club at the ball.
“Throughout the 600-year history of golf, the essence of playing the game has been to grip the club with the hands and swing it freely at the ball,” said USGA Executive Director Mike Davis. “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.”
The anchoring stroke – once seen as a last-ditch effort to cure the yips or revitalise an ailing or aging body – has almost become commonplace over the last few years, with an increasing number of professionals turning to the long/belly putter (and thereby inspiring a generation of amateurs, hackers and even juniors to adopt them.)
Between 2011/2012 three of five major golf championships were won by players using a long putter. This led many in the industry to speculate on whether anchoring gives golfers an unfair advantage, as it creates a more stable stroke by eliminating nervous hand movements, etc. Others voiced their concerns that the stroke was outside the traditions of the game itself, a point which was noted by the R&A.
“Anchored strokes have become the preferred option for a growing number of players and this has caused us to review these strokes and their impact on the game,” said Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of The R&A. “Our concern is that anchored strokes threaten to supplant traditional putting strokes which are integral to the longstanding character of the sport.”
It should be noted that the rule, which would not come into effect until January 1, 2016, is not officially set in stone. The R&A and the USGA have stated that they will first consider any comments and suggestions from throughout the golf community.
“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,” said Dawson.
Following the announcement, the wider golf community was vocal about the proposal, with opinions spewing forth across social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and forums, as well as across mainstream media.
In addition, the various industry organisations offered their opinions on the matter. The PGA of America was the first off the block, urging the R&A and USGA to reconsider the proposal.
“The PGA has long supported the USGA in its role of establishing the Rules of Golf governing play and equipment,” said PGA president Ted Bishop. “We have tremendous respect for the USGA in regard to their critical role in writing and interpreting the Rules of Golf. As our mission is to grow the game, on behalf of our 27,000 men and women PGA Professionals, 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.”
The PGA Tour, which represents America’s touring professionals, will doubtless have the loudest voice in the matter, but they have remained tight-lipped for the time being, opting to wait until they get feedback from players during the annual player meeting this month.
“As with any rule change, we will go through our normal process of evaluating the potential impact this will have to all our constituents. It will be discussed at our next annual player meeting on January 22 in San Diego, and it is anticipated that it will be reviewed by our Policy Board during its March meeting. During this review process, we will provide periodic updates to our stakeholders.”
Some of the players have already offered their opinions, with both sides of the argument equally represented.
“I’m sure the USGA and R&A have thought about this a great deal,” said Jack Nicklaus. “I would listen to what they have to say, and what they want to do is only in the best interest of the game. … (Players) will get used to it and they’ll get over it.”
Davis Love III offered a differing viewpoint: “I think this proposal will create more division and controversy than impact scoring and be a distraction to the pro game, which is in a great place, and take some fun away from the amateurs. So if it’s not a positive to grow the game, and in a bad economy for any business, why now?”
Despite the relatively low number of women professionals who use an anchoring stroke, the LPGA issued a statement of their own regarding the announcement:
“We certainly respect golf’s governing bodies and their longstanding desire to protect and promote the best interests of the game. The proposed new Rule is not yet final and the LPGA will wait with interest while the USGA and R&A consider further comments and suggestions from the golf community. In the meantime, we will continue to discuss this proposed change with our players and provide our input and thoughts directly to the USGA and R&A.”
Golf equipment manufacturers will also be affected by the ruling, as it would be likely to lead to fewer sales of longer putters. But some companies are being proactive – like leading putter manufacturer Odyssey:
“Odyssey has long held the belief that confidence with the putter is good for the game, particularly regarding player retention and growth potential. But one of the beauties of putting is that there are so many ways to do it. Notwithstanding the final ruling in 2013, it is Odyssey’s pledge to ensure golfers have the same level of confidence when they line up a putt with one of our products – regardless of the putting technique. We have anticipated this proposal for some time now and have been busy exploring several alternative options.”
A final decision on the proposed Rule change is expected in early 2013. For more information about the proposed Rule, as well as additional information including videos and images of strokes that would be allowed or prohibited by the proposed changes to Rule 14-1, visit www.RandA.org/anchoring or www.usga.org/anchoring.
14-1b Anchoring the Club
(The proposed change would re-label current Rule 14-1 as Rule 14-1a, and establish Rule 14-1b as described below) :
In making a stroke, the player must not anchor the club, either “directly” or by use of an “anchor point”.
Note 1: The club is anchored “directly” when the player intentionally holds the club or a gripping hand in contact with any part of his body, except that the player may hold the club or a gripping hand against a hand or forearm.
Note 2: An “anchor point” exists when the player intentionally holds a forearm in contact with any part of his body to establish a gripping hand as a stable point around which the other hand may swing the club.
Download the infographic on the permitted and prohibited putting methods: Anchoring-the-Club—Understanding-Rule-14-1b