USGA, R&A move forward on anchoring ban

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Do you agree with the anchoring ban?

  • Yes, it isn't a true golf stroke. 59%
  • No, it's making golf too complicated. 34%
  • Doesn't matter, I am going to use whatever I want. 7%

1520 total votes.

FAR HILLS, N.J. – It felt like a wake, and in a way it was.

With the adoption of Rule 14-1b, the anchored stroke in golf officially is going the way of square grooves, the concave-faced wedge and croquet-style putting. In fact, the U.S. Golf Association can break ground on its retrospective exhibit at the museum next door on an era in golf when at least four majors were won with a method of stroke set to be banned on Jan. 1, 2016.

The mood was somber and the skies a gray foreboding mass as attendees at the USGA’s headquarters waited to hear anchoring’s fate after a 90-day comment period that had dragged too long. Some picked at muffins and a spread of fruit, but any hope that golf’s governing bodies might take a mulligan on the ban, first proposed Nov. 28, vanished when the R&A scooped their counterparts on this side of the pond and published its news release 25 minutes before the scheduled 8 a.m. EDT announcement. It confirmed that the text of the final rule is the same as previously proposed.

But as the saying goes, the show must go on. The proceedings here began with USGA president Glen Nager making a prepared statement. He immediately acknowledged the central controversy and got to the heart of the matter: defining what a stroke is supposed to be.

"Rule 14‑1b protects one of the most important challenges in the game of golf: the free swing of the entire club. The traditional stroke involves swinging the club with both the club and gripping hands held away from the body, requiring the player to direct and control the movement of the entire club,” Nager said. “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."

Anchored putting has generated serious division about whether those who anchor are playing the same game and facing the same challenges. Nager continued: “Anchoring creates potential advantages, such as making the stroke simpler and more repeatable; restricting the movement and rotation of the hands, arms and clubface; creating a fixed pivot point; and creating extra support and stability that may diminish the effects of nerves and pressure."

There was no dancing around the fact that for some recreational golfers, using a long or belly putter allowed them to continue playing the game and to enjoy it more. But what once was perceived by golfers as a last resort for those with a bad back or afflicted with the yips has become salvation for golfers who think it is a better stroke to give them an advantage.

"The rule’s purpose is to ensure that all players face the same challenge of controlling the entire club in making a stroke and to eliminate anchoring’s potential advantages; it therefore may affect some players’ ultimate performance in some circumstances. But such golfers will be able to continue to play and enjoy the game."

• • •

For the diagram that explains the new Rule 14-1b, click here.

• • •

The USGA first announced that the long putter conformed to the Rules of Golf in 1989, but USGA executive director Mike Davis pointed out that the proposed rules change considered at that time was not whether to address anchoring as a method of stroke, but whether to adopt a limit on putter length so as to eliminate the long putter from the game. Since that time, the rulesmakers have continued to assess long putters but never addressed the anchored stroke. The recent upsurge in the use of anchored strokes – particularly on the PGA Tour – is one of the primary reasons that it was no longer possible to dismiss the use of anchored long putters as “incidental or unlikely to affect the game as a whole."

"As you well know, the PGA Tour is a very small group, a few hundred players, but they have a big impact on the game,” Davis said. “As we like to say, when white belts appeared on the Tour, guess what? They appeared in recreational golf."

Inaction by the USGA and R&A did not reflect permanent acceptance. Nager cited changes related to croquet-style putting, the 14-club maximum and the stymie of previous rules revisions.

"The passage of time cannot bar us from addressing such issues, for it often takes time to refine the issues, assess potential solutions and build the consensus needed for change,” Nager said. “Players at all levels know that the rules are subject to change at least every four years, and they adapt accordingly."

While the number of golfers who use an anchored stroke are still relatively small – Nager noted 2-4 percent of all golfers in the U.S. and Europe, and even less where the game is growing – he also expressed concern over a growing trend of juniors and beginners being taught the anchored stroke.

"Rather than being too late, now is actually a necessary time to act,” Nager said, “before even larger numbers begin to anchor and before anchoring takes firm root globally."

It’s been said that no one’s ever quit the game because it was too easy. But do the rulesmakers fear that participation will decline as a result of Rule 14-1b? Nager made clear that the USGA and R&A do not share the view that the health or growth of the game will be adversely affected by disallowing anchored strokes.

With more than 2 1/2 years until the rule takes effect, the small percentage of golfers who are affected have plenty of time and means to adapt. It is important to note that Rule 14-1b does not ban any equipment – a player can use the same long putter or belly putter, take the same stance, grip the club in the same way and make the same pendulum-style stroke. A golfer only has to move the hand or club slightly off the body.

When Nager concluded his comments, he directed interested parties to a document posted on the governing bodies' websites. The USGA and R&A issued a 40-page explanation that reads like a legal brief. Which, of course, begged the question: Are they prepared for a legal battle? “We have looked at this from the legal perspective, as well, and we feel confident of our position,” Nager said.

Confident enough to hint in the last item of the Rule 14-1b explanation that more changes could be on the horizon. Under a heading titled “relationship with other potential rule changes,” the governing bodies state that they continue to take the question of distance very seriously. “We will be prepared to take action on distance if we conclude that action is justified."

For now, the USGA and R&A have made the judgment that anchoring creates an unacceptable risk of changing the nature and reducing the challenge of making a golf stroke. Davis stated that Rule 14-1b should enable the game to bring to a close the longstanding controversy about anchored putting. Nager closed by saying: “We ask that all join with us now in moving forward for the good of the game."

Is there really closure on the issue of anchoring? That’s still to be seen. But by the time all the talk was over, sunshine had cracked through the clouds, and all could agree on one thing: It had become a perfect day for golf.

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