The governing bodies of golf have proposed a rule change that would restrict the way in which long putters are used, a move that would ban the stroke used by the winners of three of the last five major championships.
The Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the U.S. Golf Association propose to ban the anchoring of the club to the body, not the long putters themselves, in a new rule that would take effect in 2016.
“More players are using it, and instructors are saying this is a more efficient way to putt because you don’t have to control the whole stroke,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said (via the Associated Press). “The game has been around for 600 years. Fundamentally, we don’t think this is the right way to go.”
The issue has divided golfers. Some, like Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els, have won majors with the putters. The ban pleases one of the sport’s biggest names, though.
“I just believe that the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves,” Tiger Woods said Tuesday. “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. 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.”
Paul Azinger was the first to use the belly putter in 2000 and, since then, it has grown in popularity, to a fair amount of ridicule from golf fans on social media during golf’s big events.
“I think what we’ve all done collectively with the long putters has really focused on these putters, and I think what the world of golf is seeing all of us on Sundays making putts and doing well,” Bradley said. “And the younger kids … they want to try the belly putter.
“They didn’t see me last year at this tournament come in almost dead last. I couldn’t make anything. But you see a lot of the younger generation doing what they see on TV.”
The PGA Tour follows the rules of golf defined by the USGA, but said it could not comment because it had not yet reviewed the language of the ban. “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.”
This isn’t the first time golf has taken a stand against unusual putting techniques. In 1968, it stopped golfers, like Sam Snead, from using a croquet-style swing. “The game of golf was becoming bizarre,” Joe Dey, the executive director of the USGA, told Sports Illustrated. “It was some other game, part croquet, part shuffleboard, and part the posture of Mohammedan prayer.”
Golf didn’t disappear after 1968 and this change won’t crush it, either. Adam Scott has successfully used the technique, but isn’t panicking over the change. “It’s not going to ruin me,” he said, “because I putted good some weeks with the short putter. I won a lot of tournaments. I’ll just have to work a bit harder with it.”
Phil Mickelson tried belly putting in 2011 and opposes a ban on the technique. “It’s been legal for however many decades,” he said (via Golf.com), “and to change that I think is really unfair to those that have been using it.”
Els, like many golfers, was against the belly putter before he was for it and, with it, won the British Open this summer. In 2004, he said: “Nerves and the skill of putting are part of the game. Take a tablet if you can’t handle it.”
By 2011, he had embraced it, saying: “As long as it’s legal, I’ll keep cheating like the rest of them.”
— Steve Elkington (@elkpga) November 28, 2012
— Sir Nick Faldo (@NickFaldo006) November 28, 2012
Careful and considered from the USGA/R&A on rule change banning anchoring of a golf club to the body. Only decision that could be made #2016
— Graeme McDowell (@Graeme_McDowell) November 28, 2012
The long putter rule change will cause some unsettle I’msure. I’ve always putted with a short putter so I’m not affected by the change.
— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) November 28, 2012
I haven’t played competitive golf in 3yrsMy golf ball-obsoleteMy driver-obsoleteMy putter-bannedMy irons-illegalMy wedges-illegal
— Paul Azinger (@PaulAzinger) November 28, 2012
Gary Van Sickle of Golf.com thinks the USGA and R&A “must be joking” with this proposed change.
The game’s ruling bodies are playing with fire here, too. It’s a long shot, but with a number of players’ careers at stake, the PGA Tour could decide to become its own rule-maker and governing body. Why let a bunch of blue-coated amateur golfers in New Jersey make the rules for all of pro golf? Who put them in charge, anyway?
It would be a shame if some of golf’s stars Bradley, Scott and Simpson, to name a few can no longer compete because somebody doesn’t like the way they swing their putters.
This ban on anchored putting is pointless, arbitrary and unscientific, and it doesn’t solve any of golf’s pressing issues.
In fact, it might even make things worse.
Does he have a valid point?