Cutting long story short

Decision to outlaw the anchoring of putters stirs a debate
Last Updated 25 May 2013, 18:20 IST

The royal and ancient game of golf, renowned for its etiquette and self-imposed penalties, has undergone many changes to the rules over its 600-year history but few issues have triggered as much debate as the proposal to outlaw the anchoring of putters.

In a genteel sport where an inadvertent cough on a downswing can create controversy, the announcement by golf's rule-makers that anchoring would be banned from 2016 has sparked fiery, impassioned division.

Bottom line, the awkward looking practice of anchoring 'belly' or 'broomstick' putters to the body should never have been permitted by the Royal and Ancient (R&A) and the United States Golf Association (USGA), and a ban is long overdue.

However, the fact that it has taken more than 40 years to reach this decision is unfortunate. Generations have benefited from anchoring, and given a new lease of golfing life to many ageing players suffering from the 'yips'.

For many critics, the horse has long bolted the stable and golf's governing bodies should not now be introducing a rule which could have been implemented almost a half-century ago.

"This thing has been around way too long," twice former Masters champion Bernhard Langer told Reuters.

"If it was an advantage or illegal, then they should have made it illegal a long time ago. That's a cop-out. It doesn't make sense," added the German, who uses the technique.
The controversial ban was first proposed by the R&A and USGA in November, and the global golfing community was then given 90 days in which to discuss the idea.

The European Tour expressed its support for the idea but both the US PGA Tour and PGA of America voiced emphatic opposition, raising the ugly specter of a possible split in the game once the dust has settled.

Neither the PGA Tour nor the PGA of America believes that anchored putting hurts golf. With no perceived advantage to the technique based on all the available evidence, it could be argued that banning the practice will damage the game's growth.

"We are disappointed with this outcome," said PGA of America President Ted Bishop, who was one of the most outspoken critics of the proposed ban, termed '14-1b', during the 90-day discussion phase.

"We do not believe 14-1b is in the best interest of recreational golfers and we are concerned about the negative impact it may have on both the enjoyment and growth of the game."

Opponents of the anchoring style have said it is not a genuine golf stroke and that hinging the putter against the body can give users an advantage to combat nervous hands, what golfers often describe as the yips.

Tiger Woods, a 14-times major champion and a brilliant exponent of the short game, has long been opposed to anchored putting.

"Anchoring should not be a part of the game," the American world number one said. "I've always felt that in golf you should have to swing the club, control your nerves and swing all 14 clubs, not just 13."

The new rule does not ban belly or broomstick putters, only the practice of anchoring them against a player's body for the putting stroke.

Consequently, players such as American Matt Kuchar, who uses a mid-length putter hinged against his left arm and not against his chest, stomach or chin, would be permitted to continue with that technique from Jan 1, 2016 onwards.

Four of the last six major champions have employed the anchoring method for putting but golf's governing bodies said they were prompted to change the rule mainly because of the increasing number of youngsters swiftly adopting the style.

While golf's rule-makers have the game's best interests at heart, the issue of anchored putting probably comes way down the list when it comes to the biggest problems facing modern golf. A propsal to eradicate slow play, both at professional and amateur level, would undoubtedly find universal support.

(Published 25 May 2013, 18:20 IST)

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