End is in sight for disputed putters
The end is in sight for those who like to tuck the belly-putter into their mid-rift, or to rest a broomhandle putter against their chins as golf’s fashion and doctrinal police have won the battle to get everyone back playing the conventional putting stroke. Now, it’s – almost – official, even if the dogs in the street knew the dictate was coming!
Although the actual long putters haven’t been outlawed, yesterday’s move by the RA and the USGA – the two governing bodies of golf worldwide – will make such clubs effectively obsolete from 1st January 2016 when the proposed new rule, which prohibits “anchoring” the club in making a stroke, comes into effect following a period of review.
The move will affect some high-profile players, among them Major champions Webb Simpson, Ernie Els and Keegan Bradley and also Adam Scott. Simpson and Bradley had intimated in recent weeks – when the writing was on the wall – that they would consider legal action. However, the pair, competing in this week’s World Challenge in California, have since mellowed that stance and are set to, as Bradley put it, “respect” the rule change.
Rather than making an equipment change to ban the long putters, the sport’s governing bodies have opted for a rule change to – the pertinent new rule being 141b – to prohibit “strokes made with the club or a hand gripping the club held directly against the player’s body, or with a forearm held against the body to establish an anchor point that indirectly anchors the club”.
The threat of legal action from players has abated, but an indication of how seriously the RA took such potential action is that Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the Royal and Ancient, admitted in yesterday’s teleconference: “We believe very strongly that the governing bodies have the authority in the game to make rules changes. But we obviously need to do so responsibly. Once we are convinced we have done that, we would defend our position all the way up the legal system I’m quite certain.”
When asked if the decision to make it a rule change rather than an equipment change had anything to do with possible legal action from club manufacturers, Dawson responded: “ . . . litigation is not something that we consider in any depth or with any seriousness when we are trying to do what’s right for the game of golf.”
The proposed new rule would not alter current equipment rules and would allow the continued use of all conforming golf clubs, including belly-length and long putters, provided such clubs are not anchored during a stroke.
Although long putters have been in use for three decades, the RA and USGA only seriously reviewed the subject of anchoring inside the past year which, coincidentally, followed the breakthrough win by Bradley using a long putter at the 2011 US PGA Championship and which was followed up by wins by Simpson in this year’s US Open and by Els in the British Open. Three of the last five Major winners have used either a belly-putter or broomhandle putter.
The proposed new rule doesn’t just apply to long putters, it will also apply to players, for example, anchoring utility clubs into their stomachs when playing shots from just off the green.