Thursday, September 26, 2013

Golf Traditionalists Rejoice Ban of Belly Putter

Golf Traditionalists Rejoice Ban of Belly Putter

Travis Mewhirter May 23, 2013 2:01 PM

COMMENTARY | On Tuesday morning, golf traditionalists took a resounding victory, a 2-0 sweep, when both the R&A and the USGA agreed on signing in rule 14-1b, a ban against the use of an anchored putter, which will begin at the onset of the 2016 season.

It's a decision that has been a long time coming and, to most, has been the obvious one to make. The change was proposed on Nov. 28, and after six months of d
ebate and a rare 90-day comment period -- there were 2,650 total comments received, 2,300 by the United States -- the decision came down.

"We strongly believe that this rule is for the betterment of the game," USGA President Glen Nager said. "Rule 14-1b protects one of the most important challenged in the game -- the free swing of the entire club. Anchoring is different: Intentionally securing one end of the club against the body, and creating a point of physical attachment around which the club is swung, is a substantial departure from that traditional free swing."

To be clear, however, this does not mean the ban of the long putter, such as the one used by Matt Kuchar, but the pan of anchoring a longer putter so as to use it as a hinge. Adam Scott, the Masters winner by use of anchor, pressed his against his chest. Webb Simpson (U.S. Open champ), Keegan Bradley (2011 PGA), and Ernie Els (British Open) all hinged at the belly. So this does not mean we will see the end of the long, sweeping style, which Scott hinted that he will likely try when the ban sets in, just that the club will be completely free of the body other than the hands.

"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," Tiger Woods said Monday. "I hope they go with the ban. That's something that I've said, that anchoring should not be a part of the game. It should be mandatory to have to swing all 14 clubs."

And in 2016 all 14 clubs will have to be swung, but not until then. This means that there are still 11 majors up for grabs for belly-putter users like Scott and Bradley, Els and Webb. And at the rate majors have been handed over to anchored users lately -- four out of the last six -- there's a good chance we will be seeing more of golf's Big Four being lost to those using the longer version of the flat stick.

But that is still far from the worst possible consequence of the new rule. The PGA Tour and PGA of America have both been steadfastly opposed to banning the anchored putter, and both organizations have the opportunity to rewrite their own rules, as does Augusta National, which would allow for it to be used. Imagine having four major championships split by two different rule books, one allowing an anchored putter, one not allowing it.

"We are disappointed with this outcome," PGA of America President Ted Bishop said in a prepared statement. "As we have said publicly and repeatedly during the comment period, 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. Growing the game is one of the fundamental purposes of The PGA of America.''

Long putters have been used for more than 40 years now, with no real backlash until Bradley won the PGA Championship and was then closely followed by Simpson, Els, and Scott. The real alarms may have gone off, however, when 14-year-old Tianlang Guan became the youngest player to make a cut at a major as he used a belly putter. It invited the question: Why on Earth does a 14-year-old kid need a belly putter that was designed, in part, to help aging players like Bernhard Langher and Fred Couples?

Woods, Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Brandt Snedecker, Steve Stricker, Arnold Palmer and Graeme McDowell have all voiced their approval of the rule while the opposing party's biggest proponent has been long time anchorer Tim Clark.

"It would be hard to find anybody in the pro game using a long putter or belly putter who didn't know this announcement was coming," Harrington said. "It's a decision for the benefit of the game. They should have done it 16 or 20 years ago and if they didn't ban them now they'd become institutionalized. If belly putters were coming on the scene now they would not be passed. It was timely to make the change and protect the traditions of the game. We don't want it to become so embedded in the game that kids think it's the right thing to do".

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Travis Mewhirter has been working in the golf industry since 2007, when he was a bag room manager at Piney Branch Golf Club in Carroll County, Maryland, and has been involved, as a player, since 2004. Since then, he has worked at Hayfields Country Club, where the Constellation Energy Classic was formerly held, and has covered golf at the high school, college, and professional levels.

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