Throw Down The Anchor – Putting Style On The Way Out

At 8:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time this morning the U.S.G.A. and the R&A will put the genie back in the bottle. This morning you can expect to hear that the Joint Rules Committee for Golf will place a ban on anchored putting styles, effective 2016.

As expected it will coincide with the quadrennial publishing of the Rules of Golf. It will be announced by Mike Davis, Executive Director of the United States Golf Association and Chief Executive of the R&A, Peter Dawson. Along for technical support will be Thomas Pagel, Sr. Director of Rules for the U.S.G.A. and David Rickman, Executive Director, Rules and Equipment Standards, The R&A.

Sources tell us that the language for the ruling has been worked on extensively over the last year of meetings, with the final JRC meeting that finished up in Scotland last Tuesday providing the final tweaks to the language. As we posted a few weeks ago, it took dozens of revisions to get the language exactly as it will be included in the Rules Of Golf.

We have heard that support for the ruling was not a rollover decision, that many within the associations had reservations about this route, but you can expect that you will see a united front at this morning’s press conference.

What is not known by us is the full extent of the language and what exactly might be permissible if a player were to choose to still play a Belly or Long putter after the technique becomes outlawed.

Surely it will put quite a stamp on 2012, the year that was often declared as the “Year of the Belly Putter” early on for the wave of interest that had developed. Just two years ago shaft maker True Temper was selling about 60,000 steel shafts in a season for extended putters. It was estimated that number would rise to nearly a half million this year. You can bet that although the longer wands will likely still be allowed, that product category will now die a rapid death.

I was asked last night if this ruling may ever be reversed. The answer is that it is always possible. You can look to the Schenectady putter ruling by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. The association banned the putter in 1910 after Walter Travis took down the 1904 British Amateur with what was then considered an odd-shaped putter design with a mallet head and near centred shaft. While the U.S.G.A did not agree and allowed the club within their competitions, it took until 1952 for the R&A to finally rescind their ban.

In an era when the game is struggling for players, it seems very strange for the JRC to choose now to implement a ruling that will greatly affect a putter type that has been in regular, and increasingly common, use for a few decades. It’s a pretty late whistle.

Expect the “protecting the traditions of the game” card to be rolled out today. In doing so the JRC is putting themselves in a laughable position ripe for criticism especially considering how far other pieces of equipment have been allowed to progress.

Granted, I am not a fan of using the anchored putting technique personally; I find it awkward for longer putts, but I am eager to see what “evidence” the JRC will parade out to show how it is doing more damage to scoring than has already been done by other pieces of equipment or techniques. And even if it has, is that really a bad thing for the average golfer who barely has time to practice? Whose attraction to the game comes from their ability to hit just a few more shots per round like the pros they watch on television? Drive, putt, or otherwise?

Yes, some like U.S. Open Champion Webb Simpson said they are ready to adapt if necessary but the pro game and the amateur game have different perspectives on the use of anchored putters. Pros get their gear for free and play for $1,000,000 first place cheques. Most amateurs play for enjoyment.

Think about Joe average golfer with a bad case of the yips or the 14 year-old who has never known any other technique in his golfing life because the rules have allowed it for so long. They may continue to play but may not choose to do within the bounds of their golf association’s rules and administration. It’s not exactly what Golf Canada, the U.S.G.A. or the R&A needs when they are striving to maintain their memberships.

Sadly, this is when we begin to question how seven people who sit on that JRC Committee can change the course of a game for millions. While their efforts are appreciated, I sure hope they’ve done their homework to really understand what their words will mean to a game they are supposed to “protect”.

After the conclusion of this morning’s press conference by the U.S.G.A. and R&A, we’ll be catching up with Golf Canada Rules Chairman Dean Ryan, a member of the JRC, for additional commentary but we’re not really sure they’ll be much more to add. He is but a single voice among a powerful committee dominated by the U.S.G.A & R&A.