Because the prohibition will become part of the Rules of Golf, which includes the same content in all countries, the rule will apply to all golfers worldwide, pros and amateurs alike. The only strategy for nullifying the rule would be implementation of a local rule to allow anchoring of the club to the body.
Under the new rule, announced Wednesday morning by the U.S. Golf Association and R&A, belly putters and long putters aren’t dead, technically speaking. A cynic might say they are on life support, because these putters still can be used after Jan. 1, 2016, as long as they aren’t anchored to the body.
Mike Davis, chief executive of the U.S. Golf Association, and Peter Dawson, head of the R&A, are adamant that anchoring creates a stroke that is contrary to the history, tradition and spirit of the game.
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“What this (the new rule) does is define the game in terms of the strokes that are used,” Davis said. “It’s no different from all the other strokes that have been disallowed over the years (croquet, billiard, pushing and others). That’s not golf. A change is necessary now.
“For 600 years, you grab a club and you swing it. It’s a free swing. Fundamentally that’s what golf is.”
Highlights of what golfers can’t do under the anti-anchoring rule: Anchor the end of the grip against the body; secure the club by making a fist and anchoring that fist against the body; create a fulcrum or anchor point with the forearm against the body.
On the other hand, some things golfers can do: Use the Matt Kuchar method in which the golfer grips down on the putter while the top of the grip rests against the forearm; use the old Bernhard Langer clamp method in which one hand holds the grip end of the putter against the opposing forearm.
The Kuchar and Langer putting routines will remain permissible because both result in a putting stroke that is deemed normal and acceptable. The USGA’s Davis labeled the two methods “a gripping matter rather than an anchoring matter. The most important point is that the whole club swings.”
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The new rule has been approved by the USGA and R&A’s respective rules committees. Next it must be approved in the spring by the governing boards of both organizations. In the meantime, for the next three months or so, the ruling bodies have pledged to listen to questions and comments while entertaining opposing points of view.
It is possible, although highly unlikely, that the language of the rule could be amended before a final vote by the USGA and R&A.
“I want to correct something,” Dawson said. “Every reporter says it: We’ve been acting because major championships have started to be won with the anchored putting stroke (Keegan Bradley, 2011 PGA; Webb Simpson, 2012 U.S. Open; Ernie Els, 2012 Open Championship). That is not correct. It is the upsurge in usage (that caught the attention of the rulesmakers). That’s the truth.”
More truth, according to Davis: “This has zero to do with how it looks. It is all about the stroke. We are looking to the future of the game. We are starting to see it (anchoring) on pitch shots and chip shots. We just don’t think that’s the way the game should be played.
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Check out a graphic that breaks down each stroke and what can and can't be used after Jan. 1, 2016.
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“And one more thing: We aren’t doing away with long or belly putters. If you move the hand or the forearm off the body (to eliminate anchoring), it looks virtually the same. Yet you’re having to control the whole club. That is a big fundamental difference.”
Will there be a lawsuit?
“I suspect one or two of them (touring professionals) will be more than a little upset at the end of the day,” Dawson said, “but I would hope the players would respect the governing bodies and all the volunteers who work within the bodies.
“I believe the players will put the game before some of their individual positions. They entered the game knowing that the governing bodies made the rules. Both (the PGA Tour and PGA European Tour) are represented on our respective rules of golf committees. Therefore the tours have been involved throughout this process.”
Dawson quoted Ken Schofield, the former European Tour executive director, who says touring pros should be “rules followers rather than rulesmakers.”
Davis talked once again about history.
“For hundreds of years, golfers didn’t anchor,” he said. “This is a relatively new phenomenon. Now, all of a sudden, some golfers are claiming they just can’t play (without anchoring). Virtually every player in the world played the game (at one time) without anchoring.
“This is a very narrow ban. Anchoring – that’s it. And we have options for all golfers. We’re not saying everybody has to putt conventionally. We want to let golfers be creative. We want them to have their individual styles. We just don’t think anchoring should be part of it. Golfers are so talented, we believe the vast majority will figure it out and figure it out relatively quickly.”
Focusing on the essence of the new rule, Dawson repeated, “We just want the club to be freely swung. We want to be sure the whole putter is being swung.”
In regard to this point, Davis noted that putter length for the Kuchar method or Langer method, for example, has to be “under the elbow and not on the upper arm or under the armpit.”
This ensures, according to Davis, that a full putting stroke is being employed.
When asked whether their friends talked constantly about such intricacies of anchoring, Dawson said with a laugh, “I don’t have any friends.”
Regardless, Davis seemed to understand that he would be very busy defending his position in upcoming months.
“We’ll do what has to be done,” he said. “We believe it is important that all golfers face the same frailties and challenges that have always existed in the conventional golf stroke.”