Ever since golf was invented hundreds of years ago, golfers have been looking for an advantage. But when it came to using an anchored putting stroke, golf's governing bodies put their foot down.
Two weeks ago, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in Europe and the U.S. Golf Association banned the use of putters "anchored'' to the body. In these cases, the butt end of the putter is stationary against the upper body or abdomen.
The governing bodies say that the putting stroke gives players an unfair advantage. It is just the stroke that is banned, not the belly or long-shafted putters.
"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 movement of the entire club," USGA president Glen Nager said at a news conference May 21 to explain the rule. "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."
So beginning Jan. 1, 2016, anchoring is banned for any USGA or R&A events. The LPGA says it will be on board with the rule. The PGA Tour and PGA of America say they will discuss it in the weeks to come.
The ban on anchoring a putter was first proposed Nov. 28, 2012. After talking with interested parties, the USGA and R&A decided to enact the rule in 2016, which is the start of the next four-year rules cycle.
The groups decided to look at creating a rule when they saw a spike in use of belly putting in 2011-12 by pros and amateurs. And with four of the past six majors winners using either a belly putter or long-shafted putter, the sense of urgency grew.
The rule states that any method of putting in which the club is intentionally held against the body, other than the forearm, or where the forearm is braced against the body is prohibited.
"Rule 14-1b is based on a judgment that anchoring the club, rather than freely swinging it, might assist the player by altering and reducing the challenge of making a stroke," the USGA's document states.
This is not the first putting stroke to be banned. It is also a two-stroke penalty to use a croquet- or billiards-style stroke.
What's the big deal?
Brian Lake is the director of golf operations at Pasadena Yacht and Country Club. He is also the author of a 2009 book titled Putt Like a Pro.
Lake explains that lodging the end of the putter in the belly or upper body takes a bit of the human element out of the putting stroke.
"It's all about creating an arc when you putt,'' Lake said. "If you can create a consistent arc when you putt, you can become very consistent. At the top of an arc is a pivot point. By securing that pivot point, you can create a more consistent arc.
"A regular putter, if you extend that putter up you'll find the pivot point, but it won't be attached to anything. It's in the middle of the air. That's a traditional putting stroke with a less consistent arc, which causes less advantage. By anchoring it to the body, you create that perfect pivot point.''
Lake said he has students who use the belly putter for various reasons. On the amateur level, it is mostly for players who don't have much time to practice putting or who struggle with nerves, known as "yips'' in golfing circles.
He understands why anchoring the putter has been banned, especially for professionals.
"They should have done this 30 years ago when it all started. In my opinion, it's a bit late,'' Lake said.
But he hopes there will be a caveat for amateur players.
"I'm hoping that they come up with some kind of local rule that we can apply,'' Lake said. "That hasn't even been talked about yet. I know that my group, PGA of America, has been voicing its opinions to our leadership. I hope they make some sort of rule to allow our members to continue with that putter.''
Finding a loophole
Though resting the end of the putter against the body will be illegal, there is no rule against resting the club shaft against the forearm. Putters with longer shafts can be rested on the inside of the forearm and swung with a pendulum motion. The idea, like anchoring, is to take the wrist and small muscles out of the swing.
But unlike anchoring, the butt of the club is not lodged into a set point on the body.
"When that ban came, the (belly putter) sales slowed down quite a bit,'' St. Petersburg putter manufacturer Bobby Grace said. "But what we did is switch overall our belly people to arm anchor because that's still legal.''
The shaft of an arm anchor putter is angled to fit up the arm about 2 inches from the elbow. Most notably, PGA professional Matt Kuchar uses an arm-anchor putter. Grace said he got an email from tour pro Webb Simpson about switching to an arm anchor putter. Simpson has used a belly putter in the past.
"I immediately trademarked the term arm anchor and bought two domains, armanchorputters.com and .net, and have been selling them steadily,'' Grace said. "It's not like a normal golf stroke. It doesn't allow the golf club to swing freely.''
Grace said he still sells the long-shafted putters, mostly to players with back issues who don't want to bend while putting. Like Lake, Grace believes the rule should have been in place many years ago.
"I don't disagree with what they are doing,'' he said. "I just wish they wouldn't have done it because they let it go way too long.''