Ban on anchoring of putters divides golfers even before rule goes into effect

Keegan Bradley
Getty Images
''I do understand the USGA is trying to protect the game," said Keegan Bradley, who nonetheless is not happy with the decision to ban anchoring of putting strokes.
Dooug Ferguson
Associated Press

Series: Product Spotlight

Published: Friday, December 28, 2012 | 1:59 p.m.

The putt was meaningless because it was the final hole of a pro-am in what amounts to an 18-man exhibition at the end of the year, even though ranking points were available at Tiger Woods’ World Challenge earlier this month. But it was hard not to look at the end of the putter pressed into the belly of Keegan Bradley.

The decision to ban the anchor stroke used for belly putters and broom-handle putters was not because of Bradley, even though he became the face of a style that was gaining popularity, not to mention credibility.

Bradley became the first player to win a major using the belly putter when he rammed in a 35-foot birdie putt on the 17th at Atlanta Athletic Club in 2011 during a remarkable comeback. It was in the news conference after the PGA Championship that Bradley spoke about a number of players on the Nationwide Tour who were using belly putters. The next year, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els won majors with a belly putter.

The U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient, who last month announced a proposed rule that would ban anchoring the club to the body, said the major champions were only part of what got their attention. Mike Davis of the USGA and Peter Dawson of the R&A both spoke to a spike in number of players using such putting strokes, how it trickled down to younger golfers, and their concern that the stroke was taking too much of the skill out of the game.

Players could still use a broom-handle or belly putter -- as long as it is not pressed against their body to create the effect of a hinge.

''We believe a player should hold the club away from his body and swing it freely,'' Davis said. ''Golf is a game of skill and challenge, and we think that's an important part of it.''

What's next?

As for the rule, the governing bodies will take comments over the next three months to see if it needs to be changed, scrapped or whether the proposal is fine the way it is. Then, it would be approved by the organizations, though it would not take effect until 2016.

What's next for Bradley?

''I'm going to have to really in the next couple of years figure out a way that's going to be best for me to putt,'' Bradley said.

He might end up shaving a few inches off the putter so the stroke is similar, except that it doesn't press against his stomach. Fred Couples has a belly putter that rests against his stomach, but the butt of the club moves freely. It is not hinged. Couples was not sure if that would be legal under the new rule, though he could just imagine the number of phone calls if he was shown on TV using that stroke.

Then again, the odds of the 53-year-old Couples even playing the Champions Tour in 2016 was enough to make him laugh.

U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson already has been using a short putter while at home, and he said he would continue to make the transition and go to the conventional putter when he feels comfortable with it. Bradley has been using a belly putter since he was at college, and he laments the five years of practice with it going to waste.

''Who knows? Maybe there's some way to putt better,'' Bradley said. ''I see myself finding a way to putt.''

Bradley and Simpson are in a difficult spot, for neither wants to look like a dissenter. Both said they have respect for the USGA and R&A, and Bradley wanted to make that clear when he said, ''I do understand the USGA is trying to protect the game. I knew they're not doing something maliciously to hurt me or other guys.''

But this already is shaping up to be a divisive issue, from industry leaders worried about the growth of golf to players who have been using these putters for years.

Carl Pettersson of Sweden and Tim Clark of South Africa have used broom-handle putters all their careers, and they have talked about a possible legal recourse.

''Any competitive player likes to have an extra advantage,'' Matt Kuchar said. ''I think you're going find anyone using the short putter is glad, and anyone using the belly putter or long putter is not happy.''

Kuchar used a mid-length putter that rested against his left arm when he won The Players Championship. That style is OK.

Couples wasn't sure golf needed such a rule. His argument is that if the anchored stroke was that much of an advantage, everyone would be using it. He somehow managed to work Rick Barry of the Golden State Warriors into the conversation.

He referred to him as one of the greatest free-throw shooters in NBA history, famous for his underhand shot at the foul line.

''Do you see other guys copying him?'' Couples said. ''Is Keegan Bradley the best putter on tour? Is Webb? So it's a look. They can say all they want, but it's a look. An advantage? You think guys out here are dumb? What's an advantage? You would think if this was such an advantage, everyone would be using it.''

None of the top 20 players on the PGA Tour's most reliable putting statistic used an anchored putting stroke.

''In my opinion, they haven't screwed up golf yet, and I don't think this will screw it up,'' Couples said. ''But I feel bad for Keegan Bradley, because I'll tell you what: If they banned it tomorrow and we played a tournament, I think I'll be a better player than Keegan. And I don't think that's fair.''

The anchored putting stroke will come again. The debate most likely won't end anytime soon.

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It make no difference if you are using a long or short putter you still have to read the green and putt the ball, the next thing you know all clubs will have to be the same length and weight so Dustin Johnson isn’t out driving Fred Funk. I think the new rule sucks most who are complaining can’t putt anyway..get a broom…


I think the knee-jerk reaction on broom and belly putters is quite ridiculous. If there was such and "advantage" to using them, why don't all of the professional golfers use them as they are and have been legal to use for over 30 years. They don't ALL use them because the ones who don't use them haven't found them to be better for them as individual players or they would change to them.

Why haven't the USGA and the R&A looked into banning moveable weights and loft angles on drivers? They have definitely changed the game and corrected swing flaws players can't or won't take the time to fix. If I don't want to slice or fade the ball, move the weights and draw it, don't relearn how to swing the club. If I hit it too high or too low, change the loft not the equipment. Technology improvements have changed the game but they aren't banned. Same issue with the putters but the "anchoring" makes them illegal. HUH?

More or less spin for your golf ball is available even within the same brand to change how the ball reacts in the air as well as around the green but that isn't illegal. Yet that changes the game.

These changes won't be made because they would too radically change the way the equipment manufacturers sell their equipment. Yet the new equipment changes the game and how it is played far more than how a putter is used will ever change the outcome of the game.

If the USGA and R&A want to keep the "integrity" of the game of golf how it was years ago, provide all professional golfers with the same equipment used by pro golfers in Jack Nicholas heyday, or Byron Nelsons day, or whichever era they want them to conform to and require them to only use that equipment to play on tour with. That is the only way I see to protect the "integrity" of the game. Remeber, with the golf ball alone, not counting other technology changes, Jack Nicholas said years ago the changes to the golf ball was radically changing the professional game. Neither organization agreed with Jack on the necessity to restrict the flight of the golf ball. Why restrict the way players use their putter, because Tiger Woods doesn't hold his putter that way, Jack didn't, Arnie didn't, Tom Watson didn't? Wake up USGA & R&A before you start driving players away from the game or at the very least create more people who don't abide by the rules of the game. We have enough problems with those issues already.


Dieter Zoellner

Yes, i agree with Fred Couples, everybody has had the same opportunity to try and use the long putters for close to 30 years and I'm sure that most of them did and found no advantage or they would be using them. The only advantage that I found when I first started using the long putter was on the practice greens when I did not have to bend my back over the short putter for hours practicing putting. All the other clubs allow me to keep my back straight on all the shots, but bending over on the putting greens used to hurt my back as I'm sure it did many other players. But to make a ruling now about how to hold the long putters after all these years would be a silly mistake and punish certain golfers and give the others an unfair advantage. So where is the common sense in this whole situation. Sincerely DZ


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