Source: USA TODAY
Golf’s gatekeepers — the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club — announced Tuesday they have outlawed the practice of anchoring a golf club to the body when a player makes a stroke.
The decision, however, could open the door to possible litigation and potential resistance from golf organizations the world over, including the PGA Tour and the PGA of America, who protested the ban during the 90-day comment period because it is not “in the best interests of the game.”
The new rule (14-1b) — which takes effect in 2016 — prohibits strokes made with the club or hand gripping the club held directly against the player’s body or with a forearm held against the body to establish an anchor point.
Anchoring is predominantly used in the act of putting. Four of the last six major champions used the stroke.
“This is about protecting the fundamentals of what the game has always been about, and we do believe this has been a divisive issue that needed to be cleared up,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said. “I think it’s really important that the PGA Tour — and all the professional tours — continue to follow one set of rules. We have gotten very positive feedback from the tours around the world saying that they like one set of rules, they like the R&A and USGA governing those. So if there was some type of schism, we don’t think that would be good for golf.
“And we are doing what we think is right for the long-term benefit of the game for all golfers, and we just can’t write them for one group of elite players.”
The rule, announced by the USGA from its offices in Far Hills, N.J., will be implemented Jan. 1, 2016, when the Rules of Golf are updated.
The rule change does not alter current equipment rules and allows the continued use of belly-length and long putters, provided such clubs are not anchored during a stroke. If there is a violation of the rule, the resulting penalty is loss of hole in match play competition. In stroke play, each occurrence is a two-stroke penalty.
The USGA, which governs the rules of golf in the U.S. and Mexico, and the R&A, which oversees the rest of the world, worked in concert concerning the new rule. The governing bodies announced their proposal in November.
Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A, said the recent upsurge in the use of anchored putting strokes — whether to the belly, chest or under the chin — in the junior ranks and on the professional tours brought the subject into “renewed focus.” This included major championship victories by anchoring players Keegan Bradley (2011 PGA Championship), Webb Simpson (2012 U.S. Open) Ernie Els (2012 British Open) and Adam Scott (2013 Masters).
During the comment period, the governing bodies heard from both sides of the argument. On one side are those who think securing the butt end of the putter handle against the body or affixing a portion of the putter handle against the left or right arm by using the other hand as a clasp provides an unfair advantage because it reduces pressure, nerves and twitches a player can feel while putting. On the other side are those who think other issues in golf should be dealt with, including the golf ball and the size of clubs.
“The new rule addresses the concerns that have been raised,” Dawson said. “We recognize this has been a divisive issue but after thorough consideration we remain convinced that this is the right decision for golf.”
The governing bodies said the rule change is not based on performance — Dawson has said there is no “compelling data” to prove anchoring helps — but instead deals with the fundamentals and traditions of the game and defines what a golf stroke is.
“The traditional stroke involves swinging the club with both the club and the gripping hands held away from the body, requiring the player to direct and control the movement of the entire club. Anchoring is different,” USGA President Glen Nager said. “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 the traditional free swing.
“Rule 14-1b eliminates the potential advantages that anchoring creates, potential advantages such as making the stroke simpler and more repeatable, restricting the movement and the rotation of the hands, the arms and the club face, creating a fixed pivot point, and creating extra support and stability that may diminish the effects of nerves and pressure, that anchoring provides these potential advantages is confirmed by those who play, teach and observe the game.”
What the decision holds for the future is yet to be seen. The ban could create chaos if the PGA Tour or any professional tour decides to disregard the change, as is its right. It is possible that the PGA Tour could allow anchoring, while it would be prohibited in tournaments such as the U.S. Open and British Open. The PGA of America, which conducts the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup in the U.S., could also refuse to adhere to the ban.
“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,” the PGA Tour said in a statement. “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 we will have no further comment on the matter until that time.”
The PGA Tour, however, always has followed the rules of golf as established by the USGA and R&A.
Brendan Steele, who turned professional in 2005 and won the 2011 Valero Texas Open, has been anchoring since 2006. But in the last three weeks, with his putting in disarray, he went to the method employed by Matt Kuchar, which is legal, where the putter handle is fixated to the left arm but is not anchored to a fixed point and both hands move during the swing.
“I looked for a new way, a better way to putt,” Steele told USA TODAY Sports.
Steele said he wasn’t surprised by the decision by the governing bodies. He didn’t want to talk about possible litigation, saying he hopes to take himself out of that “equation” by finding a successful way to putt without anchoring.
Steele said it would be “tough” for the PGA Tour to go against the rule, but said there is widespread support among the players against the ban.
“I’m not really sure what we will do,” Steele said. “We will discuss the issue in our meetings and go forward. … The (Tour players) all expected this. We knew they weren’t serious about listening to anyone. If they didn’t listen to the PGA Tour and the PGA of America, what kind of bodies in golf do you need to listen to? … They came up with the rule because they didn’t like seeing people win majors with anchored putters.”
The LPGA will not resist the new rule.
“We recognize the need for an independent governing body to maintain the rules of the game. 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 LPGA said in a statement. “The USGA provided ample time and opportunity for us to not only educate our players, but also to solicit input, concerns and feedback. 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.”
David Feherty, who covers golf for CBS and Golf Channel, had this to say in a Tweet: “Horrible decision. Professional golfers need to make the rules for professional golf. Not rocket science.”
Orlando’s Cindy Feng, 17, is one of the top junior golfers in the USA, a two-time Rolex Junior All-American who qualified for the 2009 and 2010 U.S. Women’s Open. A of couple years ago, she saw others anchoring the putter and tried it. She’s been anchoring the end of the putter to her stomach ever since.
But Feng wasn’t heartbroken when she got news of the anchoring ban. She isn’t about to quit the game or find a lawyer to file a potential lawsuit. Nor does she think other juniors will quit the game, either.
“I have three more years to use it,” she told USA TODAY Sports. “And I’ll start practicing with the short putter again. It will be a challenge for me. There is no point in being angry with anyone. They make the rules and I will follow them.
“It’s not that I hate the short putter. I’ll just play my way through this.”
PGA of America President Ted Bishop, an outspoken opponent of the ban from when it was first proposed, said the announcement was “a disappointment” but an expected one. He did not say whether or not the PGA of America would adopt the rule. The PGA of America jointly administers the Ryder Cup with the European Tour. The European Tour has said it will adopt the ban. If the PGA of America goes against it, the Ryder Cup could allow anchoring on U.S. soil and not on European soil.
“We knew where this was headed,” Bishop told USA TODAY Sports before playing in the pro-am at the Senior PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, Mo. “We will contact our PGA professionals and for 30 days get feedback from them before going forward.
“The biggest ramification for us is with our club officials and how this new rule is to be implemented. We have to make sure our members know that if this rule is implemented, they know what to do as far as a local rule and the rule for competition. There is a lot of confusion out there. Some think there is a provision for a local rule to allow anchoring. If we follow the rules of the USGA and the R&A, we can’t allow that to happen.”
As well, Bishop said the PGA of America will be proactive in establishing ways to teach alternative putting methods.
“We’re problem solvers,” Bishop said. “We’re teachers, counselors, psychologists. We will figure this out. We will adopt as this plays out.”
In April, Dawson slammed the PGA of America for its opposition.
“I’m disappointed at the way that campaign was conducted,” Dawson said. “It put rule-making onto the negotiating table. People have taken position that they will now have to back off from or maintain. The negotiating table is no place for rule-making to take place. Obviously, the feelings are strong.
“We shall have to see where it goes.”
It could go to the court. Scott, Bradley, Tim Clark, Carl Pettersson and others have indicated they could take legal action against the ban.
Pettersson declined to comment Tuesday at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.
“We’re going to do whatever we have to do for the good of the game because that’s our mission. Our mission is not to avoid legal challenges,” Nager said. “Our mission is to determine the appropriate rules for the game that make the game strong for the long-term.
“In the event that any litigation is brought, we’ll respond to whatever the claims are, but I can assure you this … we have looked at this from the legal perspective, as well, as we feel confident of our position.”
What effect the ban will have on the game, from the amateur ranks on up, is unknown. Golf Datatech, a leading independent research firm for consumer, trade and retail golf trends, announced earlier this year a study developed to evaluate the reaction to the proposed rule will not have a major impact.
The results of the study were based on responses from 1,766 randomly selected golfers drawn from a Golf Datatech’s database who play an average of 68 rounds per year with an average handicap of 14.3.
“On a practical level, the proposed ruling on anchoring putters has minimal impact on most amateur golfers, as only 5% use a long putter, and the majority of serious golfers don’t believe long putters aid in the putting process,” said Golf Datatech’s John Krzynowek in the study. “Overall, however, the debate over long putters has far more to do with a few elite professional players and less to do with the game as played by the average golfer.” According to the report, 62% of respondents do not believe the anchoring ban will cause some amateur golfers to enjoy the game less. Also, 31% of current long putter users will continue to anchor their putter, 31% will not anchor against their body and 38% will switch to a conventional putter.
And Jack Nicklaus said the ban won’t ruin the game.
“No, I don’t think so,” Nicklaus told Golf Channel when asked if a ban would drive people away from the game. “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.”
Especially on the pro level, Nicklaus added.
“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,” he said. “And they will adjust to this, too.”
The rule change
The proposed change would re-label current Rule 14-1 as Rule 14-1a and establish Rule 14-1b as described below:
14-1b Anchoring the Club
In making a stroke, the player must not anchor the club, either “directly” or by use of an “anchor point.”
Note 1: The club is anchored “directly” when the player intentionally holds the club or a gripping hand in contact with any part of his body, except that the player may hold the club or a gripping hand against a hand or forearm.
Note 2: An “anchor point” exists when the player intentionally holds a forearm in contact with any part of his body to establish a gripping hand as a stable point around which the other hand may swing the club.