Ban on anchoring appears likely

Golf’s ruling bodies–the United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient—have proposed making it against the rules to anchor a golf club, particularly a putter, to the body. Rule 14-1b is expected to be finalized in the spring, but would not likely become an official part of the rules into 2016. Of course, there is always the possibility of the rule being added sooner as a condition of competition for the game’s elite.

The proposed rule states that when making a stroke that a player cannot anchor the club, either “directly” or by the 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.

Among the strokes prohibited would be a belly putter anchored against the stomach and long putters anchored against the sternum or the chin or the forearm.

The rule would not keep golfers from using the longer putters. They could use them as long as the butt of the handle is not affixed to a part of the body.

Interestingly, a stroke made with the putter resting against the forearm would be OK. So would the claw grip and side saddle.

After ignoring the practice for two decades, the ruling bodies now think that anchoring is contrary to the intent, spirit and history of the game, citing a spike in usage and growing advocacy among professionals and instructors.

Although the rules makers denied it in a press conference, there are some believe that believe the move to change the rules was prompted by the recent upsurge in use of anchored putting strokes by major winners Keegan Bradley (2011 PGA Championship), Webb Simpson (2012 U.S. Open) and Ernie Els (2012 British Open). The use by more young golfers probably played a role in the decision to take a stand.

Putting guru Dave Pelz doesn’t think the ban is a good idea either. “I think you are not listening or looking at the way the game is played by the masses,” he wrote to the USGA, “but instead are reacting to a few PGA Tour pros on TV who have offended your egos!”

While players like Tiger Woods, Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer think it gives you an unfair advantage, Pelz pointed out that none of the top 20 putters on the PGA Tour in 2012 used that method.
Additional stats reveal only 15% of them actually use it.

“We are looking to the future of the game and saying that we do not think golf should be played that way,” said Mike Davis, the USGA executive director.

His counterpart with the Royal & Ancient, Peter Dawson, added that an anchored stroke “takes one of the frailties out of the stroke that is an inherent part of the game.”

Davis Love, one of three players on the PGA Tour’s policy board who uses an anchored stroke, expressed concern over the ban, saying that he expected some players might fight such a change. The PGA Tour would not have to follow the lead of the ruling bodies. If the leading professional organizations didn’t go along, it could mean that the anchoring ban would be in effect only at the U.S. Open, British Open and possibly the Masters for the game’s elite professionals plus the major USGA and R&A events. However, this just doesn’t seem likely.

Earlier, Els also felt the USGA and R&A might face legal issues if a ban was put into place. “We are talking about people’s livelihoods,” he said.

Although it had previously been reported that Bradley might challenge the ban, perhaps even with legal action, he later had a change of mind, indicating he would continue to use the belly putter until a ban is put into place and then find a different method.. “They are doing what they think is best for the game and I respect that,” he told the media.

Adam Scott, another player who uses the prohibited style, didn’t see any good arguments for changing the rule. “They’ve got to look beyond professional golf,” he said. “The governing bodies don’t run the Tour; they run golf. Some recreational golfers can’t play the game without a long putter. I think that would be a shame if they’re going to take people away from the game.”

The PGA of America’s President Ted Bishop issued a statement that the organization did not feel the proposed ban on anchoring as being good for the game. Most club professionals feel that if someone wants to use anchoring and a longer putter and it makes the game more enjoyable for them that they should be able to do so.

This brings up the question of why not have a separate set of rules for the game’s elite and the average golfer as favored by Brandel Chamblee of the Golf Channel.

The governing bodies, however, don’t think bifurcation is a good idea. “People who want to bifurcate don’t understand what they are asking,” said Davis. “One of the great things about golf is that everybody plays under the same set of rules. It gives structure to the game.”

This sounds good, but in reality everybody doesn’t do this even now when out playing with their buddies. They take mulligan and drop balls instead of going back to the tee for a lost ball or one hit out of bounds. I don’t think all golfers will stop using the long putter even with the ban, but some will be branded as “cheaters” if they do. Some fan already called Bradley a cheater at the Tiger Woods event.

In addition, elite golfers have conditions of competition like the “one-ball” rule that are not used as rules on a regular basis by amateurs. So maybe it’s time to consider two sets of rules like there are in other sports.

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