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USGA & R&A Release Plans for Ban on Anchored Putters
As expected, golf's two major ruling bodies - the United States Golf Association and the R&A - announced proposed changes to the Rules of Golf that would prohibit anchoring the club in making a stroke. The announcement was made Wednesday morning during a press conference televised live on the Golf Channel.
Instead of an immediate ban, there will be a transitional period for the rules change. In accordance with the regular four-year cycle for changes to the Rules of Golf, the change will go into effect January 1, 2016. After that date, a breach of the rule would result in a two-stroke penalty in stroke play and the loss of hole in match play.
The rule change doesn't prohibit long putters; instead, it directly addresses the "anchoring" of a club against one's body during a stroke.
"This is not an equipment change," said Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA, who made the announcement with R&A head Peter Dawson. "We're going to continue with long putters. We're going to continue with belly putters. This is all about the stroke. We believe the player should hold the club away from his body and swing it freely. We think this is integral to the traditions of the game.
"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," Davis added. "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."
Before making a final decision on the proposed rule change, the R&A and USGA will consider comments and suggestions from 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," added Dawson.
(See the full transcript of the announcement and a subsequent Q&A with reporters at http://www.cybergolf.com/golf_news/full_transcript_of_press_conference_and_qa_on_bellyputter_ban.)
The long-anticipated proposed rule change has already drawn the ire of many players. Three of the past five major winners - Keegan Bradley (2011 PGA Championship), Webb Simpson (2012 U.S. Open) and Ernie Els (2012 British Open) - have used long putters anchored to their body.
In late October, Bradley expressed concern that his victory in the PGA - he was the first player ever to win a Grand Slam event with an anchored putter - would be tainted by his, and others', use of an "illegal" club. "I look at it as a whole, as us all together. I don't look at it as much about myself. I think that for them to ban this after we've done what we've done is unbelievable."
Added Bradley: "I know players are very passionate obviously about this decision. You've got some guys that are going to be using this style of putter for almost 20 years, so that's a little bit of a scary position that they're in. I'm going to obviously obey the rules and respect what the USGA does. I'm not going to cause a big problem or anything like that. This is going to be a whole new chapter of putting, and people are going to come up with new ways, and we're going to have to wait and see if they do ban it."
Though he didn't say he'd be pursuing a lawsuit individually, Els recently commented, "(The USGA and R&A are) going to have a couple of legal issues coming their way."
Simpson said he's already started practicing with a regular putter in preparation for a rules change. But that doesn't mean he agrees with the decision. "I'm friends with a lot of the R&A and the USGA guys and I know they are trying to do it for the betterment of the game," Simpson said. "But I don't think it's a good decision.
"If you look at the stats, last year there was no one in the top 20 of the 'strokes gained' category who anchored a putter," the North Carolinian added. "So you have to throw out the argument of 'it's an advantage' right there. There's a bunch of arguments going around but I haven't heard a good one yet."
Right after Wednesday's announcement, Jack Nicklaus, who along with Tiger Woods was a strong proponent of the ban, told the Golf Channel when asked if the game will suffer: "No, I don't think so. It's like anything else; they'll get used to it and get over it . . . I think the game of golf is going to be all right, guys. We don't have to worry about it."
The 18-time major winner also said he believes touring pros using the belly putter will make adjustments. "If the rules of the game change, then the rules change. We've had changes to the ball, changes to the size of clubs and to grooves. We've had all kinds of changes and players adjusted. And they will adjust to this, too."
On Tuesday Woods reiterated his opposition to the anchored style of putting. "I just believe that the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves. And having it as a fixed point, as I was saying all year, is something that's not in the traditions of the game. We swing all other 13 clubs. I think the putter should be the same.
"I don't know if there's any statistical data on it . . . about whether or not anchoring the putter does help on a certain range of putts, especially the guys who have gotten the twitches a little bit," Woods added. "But one of the things that I was concerned about going forward is the kids who get started in the game and starting to putt with an anchoring system. There have been some guys who have had success out here, and obviously everyone always copies what we do out here. And that's something that I think for the greater good of the game needs to be adjusted."
Ted Bishop, the president of the PGA of America, which oversees the PGA Championship, Ryder Cup and other events, is concerned about the proposed rule change and wants to provide further input before the new rule is implemented. "The PGA has long supported the USGA in its role of establishing the Rules of Golf governing play and equipment," Bishop said in a statement.
Bishop noted that 63 percent of 4,228 responses in a recent survey among PGA of America members were "No" to the possibility of a ban on anchored putters.
"To get almost two-thirds response on this issue indicates the concern that PGA professionals have all over the country for how this might impact the growth of the game," Bishop told Golf Channel on Wednesday.
"Maybe some of the frustration that the PGA of America feels is, we have conveyed some of our concerns . . . on how this might impact the growth of the game, enjoyment of the game, rounds of golf," he added. "We spent a lot of time in the past year promoting Golf 2.0 [an initiative to increase golf participation] and our efforts nationwide to grow the game. We've had a tremendous amount of industry support for this and we don't want to see anything happen right now that takes a step backwards in that area."
Bishop underscored his concerns that having "core golfers" do away with their anchored putters might have a deleterious effect on the game, which due to the economic recession and other reasons is already suffering a decrease in annual round counts.
"Let's face it," Bishop noted, "when people are playing better, they play more golf. Fundamentally and philosophically to the PGA of America, it's disappointing that anything would happen right now in the sport of golf that would have any potential negative impact on enjoyment and number of rounds played."
"We have representation on the Rules of Golf Committee and 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 also issued a brief statement that read: "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 and have not until now had the opportunity to share it with our Policy Board and membership. 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."