R&A, USGA to ban anchored putters by 2016

The SportsXchange

Golf's governing body officially approved a rules change that will outlaw the use of putters anchored to the body beginning in 2016.

The hotly-debated issue has divided the golf community for the past few years, especially with four of the past six major championship winners using long putters that were anchored to their bodies -- effectively creating a hinge.

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) said Rule 14-1b would take effect in 2016. It wouldn't ban long putters commonly referred to as "belly putters," but would prevent golfers from anchoring them to their belly or chest.

"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.

Masters champion Adam Scott, reigning U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson and 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley all use belly putters, and Ernie Els used one while winning last year's British Open.

Bradley and other professional golfers, including Tim Clark and Carl Pettersson, have been vocal in their opposition belly putter ban, while Tiger Woods has been a strong proponent of the rules change along with Brandt Snedeker and Steve Stricker.

"I hope they go with the ban," Woods said this week. "Anchoring should not be a part of the game. It should be mandatory to have to swing all 14 clubs. And as far as the PGA Tour, I hope they do (ban) it as soon as possible to be honest with you. I've always said that. I've always felt that golf you should have to control your nerves and swing all 14 clubs, not just 13."

The PGA Tour now must decide whether to establish its own criteria or align with the new rule. Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said in February that a ban on belly putters by golf's governing bodies would be a "mistake," although he favors everyone playing by the same rules.

In a statement Tuesday, the Tour said: "We would like to thank the USGA for providing the opportunity for input and suggestions relative to Rule 14-1b over the last several months. During that time, various questions were raised and issues discussed.

"We will now begin our process to ascertain whether the various provisions of Rule 14-1b will be implemented in our competitions and, if so, examine the process for implementation.

"In this regard, over the next month, we will engage in discussions with our Player Advisory Council and Policy Board members.

"We will announce our position regarding the application of Rule 14-1b to our competitions upon conclusion of our process, and will have no further comment on the matter until that time."

The Tour statement references the 90-window the R&A and USGA provided for commentary on the proposed rule change.

"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."

Opponents of the ruling fear the ban will have a far-reaching impact through the amateur levels of the game -- turning off golfers who have turned to belly putters for increased enjoyment. However, the game's governing bodies have determined that anchoring a putter to the body is a departure from how golf was intended to be played.

"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."

Clark is one of a handful of golfers who have used belly putters since joining the PGA Tour, and rose to the forefront of the debate with a speech during a players-only meeting. However, the debate hasn't been nearly as divisive on the European Tour and other tours around the world.

While Clark and Scott have argued players using belly putters win due to thousands of hours of practice rather than the use of a belly putter, the issue for players including Snedeker is the "anchoring" of a club.

"I feel like they should be banned," Snedeker, who led the Tour in strokes gained putting and was second in total putting while using a conventional putter in 2012, said in November.

"I've got no problem with longer putters if you want to make sure they're not anchored; I've just got a problem with anchoring.

"There's a reason why guys that have belly putters use them -- they work," he continued. "If they didn't work, they wouldn't use them."

"The understandable objections of these relative few cannot prevent adoption of a rule that will serve the best interests of the entire game going forward," Nager said. "Indeed rather than being too late, now is actually a necessary time to act, before even larger numbers begin to anchor and before anchoring takes firm root globally."

In a statement, the LPGA announced it will abide by the rules set by the USGA and the R&A.

"The LPGA has consistently conducted our official events in accordance with the Rules of Golf as established by the USGA and the R&A. We recognize the need for an independent governing body to maintain the rules of the game," the statement read. "We trust in the ability and expertise of both the USGA and R&A to make the decisions that are in the best interests of the game.

"The USGA provided ample time and opportunity for us to not only educate our players, but also to solicit input, concerns and feedback surrounding Rule 14-1b. While we know that not every one of our members is in favor of the rule change, the LPGA will continue to respect and follow the Rules of Golf which includes the implementation of Rule 14-1b in January of 2016."

How much impact the ruling will have exactly will play out over the next two-plus years. Scott, for one, has no intention of ditching his long putter.

"I don't think there will be much for me to change,' he told the Daily Mail earlier this month. 'If I have to separate the putter a millimeter from my chest, then I will do that.

"Tomorrow would be enough time for me (to change). I don't see myself putting any different looks-wise."
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