As of January 1, 2016, golfers will no longer be permitted to anchor their clubs to their bodies when making a stroke. Rule 14-1b, which drew a storm of protest when proposed in 2012, will not ban long or belly putters themselves, but will prohibit anchoring such putters to the abdomen or chest while putting. The theory underlying the rule change is that a golf stroke must be a “free stroke.”
Initially, the PGA of America opposed the rule as countering its efforts to grow the game and make it more enjoyable. Many older players who have lost grip steadiness or have back problems have found long putters to be a panacea. The PGA Tour also took issue with the rule, noting that the USGA and R&A were late in the game in prohibiting putting styles that had been permitted for over 20 years.
But when Rule 14-1b was adopted in May 2013, all the major golf organizations came on board. The feeling was that the almost three-year lag time before the rule would become effective would allow players to transition to conventional strokes. Some prominent PGA Tour players, like Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson, made the adjustment fairly painlessly. Others, like Adam Scott and Bernard Langer, clung to their long putters as long as possible.
How will the anchoring ban affect the game of golf? Certainly, Scott could face a tough adjustment. However, there are relatively few players employing anchoring on the PGA Tour. It will be more of an issue on the Champions Tour for players like Langer and Fred Couples, who has been using a belly putter for some time.
The largest impact could be on amateur golf. A 2012 study found that only 5% of “serious” golfers (those playing more than 60 rounds per year with an average handicap of 14) used long or belly putters. Obviously, there is nothing to prevent recreational players from continuing to anchor their putters in casual play, just as they are free to use nonconforming balls and equipment on the market. However, officials at state amateur competitions surely will enforce the rule, as presumably will PGA professionals for club competitions.
Thomas Pagel, Senior Director of Rules of Golf with the USGA, doubts that there will be widespread noncompliance at the grassroots level. He said the USGA has been very proactive the past few years in working with golf organizations to educate them about the rule. “It’s really been a sense of collaboration where we’re working to create educational materials and resources for those individuals to help assist and comply with the rule,” said Pagel at a USGA/R&A press conference.
Pagel also observed that there are many varieties of putters and grips available to players. “There are still plenty of variations that players will have the opportunity to maintain their specific art form when it comes to making a stroke.” Ron Green, Director of Rules and Competition for the New England PGA, told NEGM that he expects many players to attempt to emulate Matt Kuchar’s approach of anchoring the butt of the putter to the forearm, which is legal but could raise issues in competitions.
Jesse Menachem, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Golf Association, told NEGM that the USGA, R&A, PGA of America, and PGA Tour have done a good job of “getting out ahead of the issue” by providing time for golfers to adjust to the new rule. He also noted that the MGA has seen fewer belly putters used in competitions.
Menachem admitted that there is still some sentiment that the rule may reduce the enjoyment of the game for a segment of players, but sees Rule 14-1b as a good change overall. “It’s a very small group, and the advance notice of the rule will soften the blow,” he said.