Golf adopts rule to ban anchored putting stroke

The Associated Press

Golf's governing bodies approved a rule Tuesday that
outlaws the putting stroke used by four of the last six major champions,
a move opposed by two major golf organizations that contend long
putters are not hurting the game.

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club and U.S. Golf Association said Rule 14-1b will take effect in 2016.

''We recognize this has been a divisive issue, but after thorough
consideration, we remain convinced that this is the right decision for
golf,'' R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said.

The new rule does not ban the long putters, only the way they
commonly are used. Golfers no longer will be able to anchor the club
against their bodies to create the effect of a hinge. Masters champion
Adam Scott used a long putter he pressed against his chest. British Open
champion Ernie Els and U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson used a belly
putter, as did Keegan Bradley in the 2011 PGA Championship.

''We strongly believe that this rule is for the betterment of the
game,'' USGA President Glen Nager said. ''Rule 14-1b protects one of the
important challenges in the game – the free swing of the entire club.''

The announcement followed six months of contentious debate, and it might not be over.

The next step is for the PGA Tour to follow the new rule or decide to
establish its own condition of competition that would allow players to
anchor the long putters. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said in
February the USGA and R&A would be ''making a mistake'' to adopt the
rule, though he also has stressed the importance of golf playing under
one set of rules.

''I think it's really important that the PGA Tour – and all the
professional tours – continue to follow one set of rules,'' USGA
executive director Mike Davis said. ''We have gotten very positive
feedback from the tours around the world saying that they like one set
of rules, they like the R&A and USGA governing those. So if there
was some type of schism, we don't think that would be good for golf.

''And we are doing what we think is right for the long-term benefit
of the game for all golfers, and we just can't write them for one group
of elite players.''

The tour said in a statement it would consult with its Player
Advisory Council and policy board to determine ''whether various
provisions of Rule 14-1b will be implemented in our competitions, and if
so, examine the process for implementation.''

PGA of America President Ted Bishop, who had some of the sharpest
comments over the last few months, also said his group would discuss the
new rule – and confer with the PGA Tour – before deciding how to
proceed.

''We are disappointed with this outcome,'' Bishop said. ''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.''

Some forms of anchoring have been around at least 40 years, and old
photographs suggest it has been used even longer. It wasn't until after
Bradley became the first major champion to use a belly putter that the
USGA and R&A said it would take a new look at the putting style.

''It can never be too late to do the right thing,'' Nager said.

Those in favor of anchored putting argued that none of the top 20
players in the PGA Tour's most reliable putting statistic used a long
putter, and if it was such an advantage, why wasn't everyone using it?

''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,'' Nager
said. ''Anchoring creates potential advantages, such as making the
stroke simpler and more repeatable, restricting the movement and
rotation of the hands, arms and clubface, creating a fixed pivot point,
and creating extra support and stability that may diminish the effects
of nerves and pressure.''

The governing bodies announced the proposed rule on Nov. 28, even
though they had no data to show an advantage. What concerned them more
was a spike in usage on the PGA Tour, more junior golfers using the long
putters and comments from instructors that it was a better way to putt.
There was concern the conventional putter would become obsolete over
time.

The purpose of the new rule was simply to define what a putting stroke should be.

''The playing rules are not based on statistical studies,'' Nager
said. ''They are based on judgments that define the game and its
intended challenge. One of those challenges is to control the entire
club, and anchoring alters that challenge.''

The topic was so sensitive that the USGA and R&A allowed for a
90-day comment period, an unprecedented move for the groups that set the
rules of golf. The USGA said about 2,200 people offered feedback
through its website, while the R&A said it had about 450 people from
17 countries go through its website.

Among those who spoke in favor of the ban were Tiger Woods, Brandt Snedeker and Steve Stricker.

''I've always felt that in golf you should have to swing the club,
control your nerves and swing all 14 clubs, not just 13,'' Woods said
Monday.

Tim Clark and Carl Pettersson have used the long putter as long as
they have been on the PGA Tour. Scott switched to the broom-handle
putter only in 2011, and he began contending in majors for the first
time – tied for third in 2011 Masters, runner-up at the 2012 British
Open, his first major victory in the Masters last month.

''It was inevitable that big tournaments would be won with this
equipment because these are the best players in the world, and they
practice thousands of hours,'' Scott said after winning the Masters.
''They are going to get good with whatever they are using.''

It was Clark's dignified speech to a players-only meeting – with
Davis from the USGA in the room – that helped sway the tour's opinion to
oppose the ban.

Davis and Dawson said their research indicated the opposition to the
new rule was mainly in America. The European Tour and other tours around
the world all backed the ban.

Players can still use the putter, but it would have to be held away
from the body to allow free swing. Mark Newell, head of the USGA's rules
committee, said the rule would be enforced like so many others in golf –
players would have to call the penalty on themselves.