Nov
27
2012
Anchors away: It’s about time
By Stephanie Wei under Equipment

Keegan to USGA: Fine, I'll deal with it.

On the eve of the joint teleconference by the USGA and R&A on Wednesday morning from 8:30 a.m. – 9:15 a.m. (EST), it’s widely purported that golf’s governing bodies will announce that the decision has been made to ban “anchoring,” aka the putting method used with belly and broomstick putters. Which allegedly will not go into effect until 2016 (because the USGA reviews the Rules of Golf every four years, don’t ask me why).

The short of it via industry chatter and insiders: Anchoring against the fulcrum (body) will be illegal, but golfers will still be allowed to anchor the putter against the arm — a la Matt Kuchar. You can use a long putter as long as it isn’t propped or wedged against a part of the body. The actual wording of the rule will be interesting because of the gray area that comes up in this game and the potential lawsuits.

(Personally, I consider the latter method borderline cheating. Go figure, but I’m a purist, and I remember the first time I saw a Tour player anchor a longer putter against his arm, I was surprised it was legal. That’s because when I was a junior golfer, my swing coach often had me use that as a practice/training drill. It takes the wrist out of stroke and makes it easier to move your arms in a pendulum motion IMHO.)

This anchoring issue has been a controversy throughout the history of the game (even before it became a hot topic 20-25 years ago), and it’s certainly caused widespread discussion for the past year, especially when USGA and R&A announced they were taking a “fresh look” at the rule in February.

At the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Tiger was asked (by yours truly) in the context of the recent news blast if he felt being able to putt without anchoring the club to the body was a fundamental part of the game. He not only answered in the affirmative, but went on to share his opinion and revealed he had discussed it with R&A chief Peter Dawson. Clearly, Woods has been for the ban for a while.

It’s hard to gauge the opinion of most players on Tour — unless it directly affects them, it seems like the majority of guys are apathetic and prefer to sit on the fence, but then there’s the contingent strongly for the banning of anchoring or against it. And it’s a topic that tends to make people angry.

The popular arguments to counter the banning of belly and broomstick putters are:

1.) If it’s “cheating” or “easier,” why doesn’t everyone use it?

2.) The stats don’t lie — the top-15 players in the strokes gained putting on Tour use conventional putters;

3.) The game is hard enough; why make it harder and less enjoyable for amateurs?

4.) There are more pressing issues for golf’s governing issues to address with equipment and technology, like restricting the size of driver heads or rolling back the ball (FWIW, word is the ball has at least on the agenda of things-to-look-at-it in the near future for the USGA).

5.) If you ban long putters, then why are titanium-metal drive heads legal, blah blah blah?

6.) Why now?

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As I’ve said I’m a traditionalist when it comes to this issue and I believe being able to make a pendulum stroke with the arms is integral part of the game. It’s just how I was taught and the only reason you went to the belly was because you an incurable yips — it was a last resort type of thing or an act of desperation.

Steve Flesch, who won 3 of his four PGA Tour titles with a belly putter, sees both sides of the argument and wasn’t for or against it strongly either way, but if had to pick, he’d be against the ban, mostly because he’s seen how much it helps some recreational golfers. However, he said it does help with taking the nerves out — again, he’s a benefactor of anchoring in that he won 3 Tour events with a belly,

“It will be hard to fight the nerves again for those guys (who use the belly or broomstick putters),” he said on Tuesday at the final stage of PGA Tour Q-school. ” There’s a reason they’re using those putters. I’m a case in point.  I only go to it because I’m shaking like a leaf with the short putter.  People don’t just say I’m going to putt like that.  There’s a reason you’re there.”

Flesch, a 45-year-old veteran, has gone back-and-forth between a conventional-length putter and the belly putter. Currently, he has the traditional short one in his bag. But as he pointed out, he’s someone who has benefited from anchoring and admits it was an easier way to putt.

Right. Because anchoring the putter takes the nerves out, or at least alleviates it. Think about it. Here are my counter arguments to the above five points:

1.) Not everyone uses it because it’s still kind of considered as a last resort. If you can putt with a conventional putter, you wouldn’t use a belly putter. Problem is, now junior golfers are learning how to putt with them. More and more instructors are pushing it on their players as a young age. Something like 30-40% used belly putters at the U.S. Junior Championship.

Ross Fisher, the Englishman who was on the victorious 2010 Ryder Cup team, told me on Tuesday at Q-school finals that he believes it should be banned and explained his reasoning well (and was quite adamant):

“I plainly think it’s cheating. I don’t think you should be able to anchor the club. Whether that’s right or wrong, everyone has their own opinions. It kind of takes the feel out of the game.

“On the flip side, guys are like, well, if anchoring is easier, then why isn’t everyone doing it? That’s a valid point. Obviously guys have been doing it their entire careers — you look at Carl Pettersson, and Keegan Bradley was the first to win a major with it, Ernie won the (British) Open with it, and Webb Simpson (won the U.S. Open). You go back years and look at Sam Torrance — he’s used that all his career.

“Obviously (banning anchoring) a good thing. I think I remember listening to Padraig Harrington at the World Golf Grand Slam and he said if something doesn’t happen, the long putter is going to be the putter of choice when kids are growing up.

“So they’re going to get used to a pressurized six-footer to win a tournament without a short putter, instead you wedge it in your belly or you use a broomstick and it takes the nerves out.”

In other words: it’s one thing when some guys on Tour are using it and a bunch on the Champions Tour, but it’s another if that’s the future of the game, where kids are learning to putt with the belly putter. The USGA and R&A writes and maintains the rules “to guard the tradition and integrity of the game.”

2.) Well, like I’ve mentioned, you only go to the belly/long putter if you have to. Good putters don’t have to and they’ve putt with a conventional stick their whole lives, so there’s no point to try the “other” way. What the USGA and R&A want to avoid is that it suddenly becomes a regular style of putting. They’re supposed to protect the integrity of the game, and with the trend in the last few years of junior golfers using it in elite events, it threatens the convention of making a pendulum stroke with your arms and without the stick anchored to a part of your body.

3.) OK, for the first time, I’ve fully in support of bifurcation — two different set of rules, one for amateurs and one for pros. I could care less if Joe Golfer wants to play with a belly putter in the club championship or if Fred Couples or any other Champions Tour player uses one because it alleviates pressure on his back.

4.) Fair point, but I think golf’s governing bodies will roll back the ball in the upcoming years.

5.) Irrelevant. Everyone uses the same equipment with the improved technology. Speaking of which, long putters don’t count in that category because people have used them for ages. It’s about what constitutes a swing and the ability to make a pendulum stroke without anchoring the putter to your body is an integral part of the game. Besides, anchoring should have been banned years ago.

6.) Because of the rise in popularity with junior golfers who are learning to putt with unconventional putters or being encouraged to try it out as a cure-all at a young age. Basically, what Ross Fisher said Padraig Harrington said.

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In case you were wondering, Tiger still believes anchoring should be banned, which he voiced enthusiastically at his press conference at his member-guest the 22-player, invite-only World Challenge on Tuesday at Sherwood Country Club. Via Bob Harig’s story on ESPN.com:

“I just believe that the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves and having it as a fixed pointed. As I was saying all year, [it’s] something that’s not in the traditions of the game,” Woods said. “We swing all other 13 clubs. I think the putter should be the same. It should be a swinging motion throughout the bag.”

“I don’t know if there’s any statistical data about whether or not anchoring the putter does help on a certain range of putts, especially the guys who have gotten the twitches.

“One of the things 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 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.”

Brandt Snedeker, 2012 FedExCup champ, eloquently shared his opinion in an interview that aired on Golf Channel recently:

“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. If they didn’t work, they wouldn’t use them.”

“I think it’s the influx of junior golfers using belly putters. There’s a whole generation of kids right now that are growing up playing golf, never using a short putter. Is that keeping with the traditions of the game?”

Enough said.

For the next 12 hours, we can continue to argue one way or the other, and speculate on the exact wording of the rule expected to ban anchoring, along with the details.

Get after it.

Recommended reading:

*WUP contributor Conor wrote about the danger of belly putters following Bradley’s PGA Championship victory last August. Talk about nailing it!

*John Paul Newport’s WSJ column.

*Bob Harig did a good job summing up the voices for and against the ban.

(Photo via)