I think this is a great opportunity to discuss the history of this ban (and others). The USGA recently proposed a rule change that would go in effect January 1, 2016. The ban is on anchoring the putter to your body while making a putting stroke. Here’s an infographic to help. Many PGA tour players, including Keegan Bradley, use this method. Phil Mickelson’s used it; Ernie Els uses it; Ian Woosnam; the list goes on. Thousands of amateurs use this method as well. In fact Dave Pelz, the short game guru, recommends using the method on short putts and a more “traditional” method on long putts (I don’t have a link for that. I just remember it from one of the Golf Channel Academy’s he hosted). It’s becoming more and more popular with the kids because the anchored style helps quiet other movements typically made during a putting stroke.
The USGA argues that anchoring is not consistent with the spirit of the rules of golf, specifically Rule 14-1. The gist is that, as Nick Faldo eloquently put it recently, “It’s called a golf swing, not a golf hinge.” Another argument is that, seriously, it looks funny. And, truthfully, it’s only in the short swings that this technique works — you wouldn’t, for example, anchor your driver to your belly and expect to pipe one down the center 250 yards. The proposed change to Rule 14-1 would, in effect, provide a bit of consistency through every shot on the course.
Opponents of the rule change suggest that the USGA, once again, is making an already difficult sport more difficult. By taking this option away from amateurs, some have said, people will be leaving the sport in droves because it’s far too difficult. The change will lead to people getting called cheaters, would be golfers staying away from golf because they can’t get that darn putting stroke down, golfers who’ve used this method for years will leave the game.
I played a round of golf a couple of weekends ago with a 20-year-old junior college player that uses an anchoring style putting stroke. He said that his putting has improved dramatically since changing to the belly putter. Like many junior golfers, he hit the ball a ton, far past me on every drive; he had no patience for hitting solid iron shots; and 100 yards and in, it was a guaranteed missed green. But, what struck me is his putting. He made one putt over 4 feet. In 18 holes he made one 6 footer. He missed countless 2-3 foot putts. In no way, shape, or form was he frustrated by this. After all, his putting improved dramatically since changing to the belly putter. To say that I was shocked is an understatement.
Before that round of golf, I was indifferent to the rules change. I hadn’t been convinced that a rule change was necessary or unnecessary. There’ve only been a few major champions to use that style and no one argued that they won because of prowess on the greens. Can you name me a great putter that uses the anchored style? Hint: no.
But, what to do about this kid? His putting improved and, yet, he was awful on the greens. watching him miss a 4 footer three inches outside and long by 2 feet, smile, nervously “tap in” – nothing was a tap in that day – and walk off the green as though this was something normal, made me ask myself, “What is wrong with the USGA?”
I’ve been a USGA member since 1994, going on twenty years here. They host some of the best championships out there; they’re affordable enough that, if you are a golfer of any stripe, you can qualify to play. They very much are the guardians of the rules of golf and have led the way in research on sustainable golf course design. They support a program that aims to speed up play, asking players to play from the tees that best suits their game. The mission and their overall actions demonstrate that they hold the amateur golfer in the highest esteem and consideration.
Recently, though, it seems like they’re going for the opposite. I was disappointed when they banned square grooves – technology that can generate more backspin on impact and leads to greater accuracy out of tricky lies. People flocked to golf stores and websites to purchase square groove wedges because it helped players keep approach shots on the green. I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on this one, though, because it’s the technology that leads to that ability (sort of…).
But, outlawing a swing is a little far fetched. I don’t believe that people will leave golf because they can’t use the anchored putting stroke. I don’t believe that professionals who use the putting stroke will fall from the top of the world rankings to the bottom when they have to use a more “traditional” stroke. I DO believe that golfers that use the anchored style will enjoy the game less – and that’s a problem. The more putts they have during a round of golf, the longer it takes – that’s a problem. People that were already complain about 5 hour rounds will be apoplectic about taking 6 hours out of their Saturday afternoon and likely will play less rounds every year – that’s a problem. Long story short, increasing the number of strokes on a golf course is not good.
The PGA Tour is making the right call in rejecting the proposed ban. The USGA should rethink its decision “for good of the game.”