THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Golf’s governing bodies, worried that players will turn to long putters as an advantage instead of a last resort, proposed a new rule Wednesday that would ban the putting stroke used by three of the last five major champions.
The Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the U.S. Golf Association said the rule would not outlaw belly putter or broom-handle putters, only the way they are currently used. The proposed rule would make it illegal for golfers to anchor the club while making a stroke and not take effect until 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. “The game has been around for 600 years. Fundamentally, we don’t think this is the right way to go.”
Orville Moody won the 1989 U.S. Senior Open using a long putter that he held against his chest, allowing for a pendulum motion. Paul Azinger won the 2000 Sony Open with a putter that he pressed into his belly. Long putters began getting serious attention last year when Keegan Bradley became the first player to win a major with a belly putter at the PGA Championship. This year, Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open and Ernie Els won the British Open using belly putters.
“Our objective is to preserve the skill and challenge,” R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. “This rule is not performance related. This is about defining the game [and] defining what is a stroke.”
The long putters are not being banned. The rule relates to the actual stroke, not the equipment. Players can use a broom putter as long as it is not anchored to the chest.
Davis and Dawson said the catalyst for the new rule was not who was winning tournaments, but the number of players switching to long putters.
Their research showed no more than 4 percent of golfers used the clubs for several years. It went to 6 percent in 2006, and then to 11 percent in 2011, with some PGA Tour events having as much as 20 percent of the players using the long clubs. There was no empirical data to suggest a long putter made golf easier. Carl Pettersson (No. 21) and Bradley (No. 27) were the only players among the top 30 in putting this year on the PGA Tour who used long putters.
“We don’t think putting in an anchored way is easy. You have to learn how to do it,” Dawson said. “But it takes one of the potential frailties out of the stroke … We have to retain the skill and challenge inherent in golf.”
The R&A and USGA will take comments for three months on the proposed rule before it is approved. Because the Rules of Golf are updated every four years, any ban on the anchored stroke would not take effect for another four years.
The PGA Tour, European Tour and LPGA Tour said it would evaluate the proposed rule with its players. The PGA Tour has a mandatory players meeting in San Diego at the end of January. The PGA of America, meanwhile, said it was concerned that such a ban would drive people from the game.
“As our mission is to grow the game … we are asking them to seriously consider the impact this proposed ban may have on people’s enjoyment of the game and the overall growth of the game,” PGA president Ted Bishop said.
The decision figures to be divisive at the highest level.
Tim Clark of South Africa and Pettersson have used broom putters their entire careers, and they have suggested a new rule would affect their livelihoods. Els once mocked Vijay Singh for using a long putter, but then Els switched to a belly putter last year when his putting suffered.
“As long as it’s legal, I’ll cheat like the rest of them,” he said.
Dawson said he was hopeful the players would understand the decision for the proposed ban on anchoring. Davis said potential lawsuits were never considered.
“Shame on us if we’re scared of litigation in doing the right thing,” Davis said.
Tiger Woods is among those who have been outspoken about anchored putters, saying it takes away from the nerves in the hands in trying to make putts.
“I just believe that the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves,” 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,” he said. “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.”
Jack Nicklaus recalls when croquet-style putting was banned decades ago, and golf moved on. Even though far more golfers use long putters, he expects the same outcome.
“They’ll all learn to adjust,” Nicklaus told Golf Channel. “Like anything else, they’ll get used to it and get over it. … We’ve had changes with balls, wood heads, groover, all kinds of changes. Players have adjusted to those and they’ll adjust to this.”