Can the sport stomach the change?

Ernie Els summed up his opinion of long/belly putters by saying “As long as it’s legal, I’ll keep cheating like the rest of them”.

Golf’s governing bodies, The Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the US Golf Association, have confirmed that a ban on the anchoring of the putter to the body will come into effect from January 2016 (Rule 14-1b)

Long/belly putters have been driven into the spot light by the recent success of players like Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Ernie Els and Adam Scott who have all won major championships using the long/belly putter. The ever growing popularity of the long putter, which is normally anchored at the belly, chest or chin, raised concerns for the governing bodies of the sport. The use of the long/belly putter sharply increased during 2011 and 2012, especially in the USA, and became a subject of controversy within the world of golf.

In adopting Rule 14-1b it was concluded that freely swinging the entire club is integral to maintaining the traditions of the game and preserving golf as an enjoyable game of skill and challenge. It was agreed that the traditional method of golf strokes involves the player swinging the club with both hands held away from the body to direct and control the movement of the entire club in making the stroke.

The main rationale opposing Rule 14-1b was the absence of “scientific evidence” concluding that the technique of anchoring provided an advantage to the player. It was argued that without this “scientific evidence” there is no benefit to the game by eliminating the anchoring technique. Many tour professionals agree.

The decision was made following a 90 day consultation on the rule which will now prohibit anchoring of the club in making a stroke. Approximately 2650 people from 17 different countries took part in the consultation which will have a huge impact on the sport for professionals and amateurs alike.

While the European Tour supports the adoption of Rule 14-1b, the PGA Tour and PGA of America both voiced strong disagreement. The main concern was the possibility of different rules being followed in different events. The PGA Tour plays host to many of the world’s top players and the PGA of America organises the USPGA Championship and the USA Ryder Cup teams. The PGA Tour will consult the Player Advisory Council to see whether Rule 14-1b will be implemented into their competitions but at the moment the position is rather uncertain.

In fact, it has been reported that a number of PGA Tour professionals have threatened legal action, including former USPGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley. Golf has been enjoying a recent resurgence, especially in Europe, over the past few years and many feel that professional golfers suing their own governing bodies can only harm the sport.

So what about us amateurs? Well Rule 14-1b won’t come into effect until January 2016 giving us plenty of time to adopt new putting techniques. Furthermore, the rule does not alter current equipment rules and you will still be allowed the use of the long/belly putter provided the club is not anchored during the stroke.

With many professionals suggesting that their career and ability to earn a living is based on their ability to putt, I would not see this decision as a gimme.