Anchored Putters: The USGA and R&A Have Decided

The U.S.G.A and the R&A have finally announced their long-expected stance on the issue of “anchored” putters deciding to make the manner of all strokes the same as of January 1, 2016.

All of this takes place under “Rule 14 – Striking The Ball.” Rule 14 has six different parts but we’re only concerned with the first one.

The first part is “Rule 14-1. Ball to be Fairly Struck At” and is clarified thusly:

The ball must be fairly struck at with the head of the club and must not be pushed, scraped or spooned.

The addition to that rule will be Rule 14-1b:

In making a stroke, the player must not anchor the club, either “directly” or by use of an “anchor point.” 

Note 1: The club is anchored “directly” when the player intentionally holds the club or a gripping hand in contact with any part of his body, except that the player may hold the club or a gripping hand against a hand or forearm.

Note 2: An “anchor point” exists when the player intentionally holds a forearm in contact with any part of his body to establish a gripping hand as a stable point around which the other hand may swing the club.

In laymen’s terms, “directly” in Note 1 refers to the belly putter where the butt end of the club is anchored to the player’s body by pressing it against his belly, or a longer putter is gripped in the top hand and pressed, generally, to the breastbone or the chin.

The “anchor point” in Note 2 makes clear that the club is to be freely swung with the arms and not anchored in any other way, such as holding the forearm of the top hand against the rib cage to immobilize the grip hand.

The days of the pendulum putt with one hand are over. The pendulum must include both arms.

USGA President, Glen Nager, defended the rule change quite succinctly:

Rule 14‑1b eliminates the potential advantages that anchoring creates, potential advantages such as making the stroke simpler and more repeatable, restricting the movement and the rotation of the hands, the arms and the club face, creating a fixed pivot point, and creating extra support and stability that may diminish the effects of nerves and pressure, that anchoring provides these potential advantages is confirmed by those who play, teach and observe the game.

Players say they anchor for these reasons.  Instructors advocate the stroke for these reasons.  And those who oppose anchoring point to these potential advantages as the basis for their opposition.

Indeed, some of the commenters on Rule 14‑1b object to it precisely because they think that without anchoring, some golfers might play less well and thus play less frequently.

A few commenters [asserted] that we had not shown statistically that anchored putting is a superior stroke, but it’s important to understand that the playing rules of golf are not based on statistical studies, they’re based upon judgments that define the game and its intended challenges [emphasis mine].

One of those challenges is to control the entire club and the swing, and anchoring alters that challenge.

I agree with the USGA on this matter. Some would argue that Tour players, particularly those on the Champions Tour, who anchor would be penalized by this seemingly arbitrary rule. They argue that their very careers and livelihoods could be affected. But it is also true that if the game has intended challenges — and I believe that it does — that those players who anchor have built those careers on easier challenges.

As I said in my first post on anchored putters, I would rather see players who find a way to overcome their need for anchoring come out of that process feeling victorious rather than always thinking of themselves as damaged goods in need of a mechanical crutch. That is the challenge that is intended everywhere else in the game.

I thought that Nager went on to respond quite completely and eloquently to the concerns of those who object to the rule change:

Moreover, the issue here is not whether anchoring provides a statistical demonstrable advantage to the average golfer or on every stroke or in every circumstance.  What matters here is whether by diminishing obstacles inherent in the traditional stroke, anchoring may advantage some players at some times.  Statistics are not necessary to resolve that issue.

A few other commenters suggested that anchoring must not be advantageous because relatively few use it, but that suggestion ignores the fact that many, many golfers believe that anchoring is not a proper way to play the game and don’t anchor for that reason.

Also the trend over the last two decades is toward remarkably increased use of anchoring, a trend that’s particularly worrisome, given that beginners and juniors are now being taught anchored strokes.

The bottom line is that anchoring has generated serious division within the game and among players about whether those who anchor play the same game and face the same challenges.  Such divisiveness is corrosive to a game that’s based on sportsmanship.  Rule 14‑1b will serve the game by removing the cause of this division.

Now, a few commenters argued that it is unfair for us to now adopt Rule 14‑1b on the view that the playing rules have allowed too many to anchor for too long.  We respectfully disagree.

The notion that a rules change must be made soon after an issue is identified or else be considered forever foreclosed, regardless of negative effects on the game, is contrary to the history and the needs of the game.  Many role revisions have occurred only long after an issue was first identified, such as the changes related to croquet‑style putting, the 14‑club maximum and the stymie.

More recently the [timeliness] issue has been ongoing about issues such as slow play, use of video evidence, scorecard penalties and other controversial rules issues.

The passage of time cannot bar us from addressing these issues if the game is to thrive, for it often takes time to refine the issues, assess potential solutions and build a consensus needed for change. Players at all levels know that the rules are subject to change at least every four years and they adapt accordingly.

Furthermore, the burdens of this new rule are much less than some have suggested.  Recent surveys indicate that even with the recent upsurge in anchoring, anchoring is currently used by only 2 to 4 percent of all golfers in the United States and Europe, and even fewer by players in other parts of the world.

Rule 14‑1b leaves these relative few with many options for playing the ball.  It does not ban any equipment.  A player can use the same long putter or the same belly putter, take the same stance, grip the club in the same way and make the same pendulum‑style stroke.  He or she need only move his or her hands slightly off of the body. The rule also leaves available a vast number of other grips, styles and methods.

Putting without anchoring has been used at some point by virtually all who play the game, and many players have used both methods in practice and/or in play, switching from one method to another with limited transition time.  With more than two and a half years before this rule takes effect, the small percentage of golfers who are affected by this rule have plenty of time and plenty of means to adapt.

Of course the rule does eliminate the potential advantages of anchoring, and we have heard, and we genuinely empathize with those who will need to adjust.  But the understandable objection of these relative few cannot prevent adoption of a rule that will serve the best interests of the entire game going forward.

Indeed, rather than being too late, now is a necessary time to act, before even larger numbers begin to anchor and before anchoring takes firm root globally.

Let me also comment on the objection that’s been made that Rule 14‑1b might negatively affect participation in the game.  The fact is that the game is growing worldwide, and anchoring is hardly used where much of this growth is occurring.

Moreover it’s been documented that the major causes of recent reduced participation in the United States and Europe where national economies have been weak are the expense of the game, the time that it takes to play the game, and the perception that the game has not always been made fun and accessible for juniors and the like.  No meaningful data, and let me repeat, no meaningful data, supports the notion that anchoring plays any material role in driving participation rates.

Indeed, the recent upsurge has occurred mainly because golfers believe that anchoring helps them to play better, not because it’s their only resort [In other words, not because they can’t putt conventionally, e.g., Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson.]

The USGA and the R&A care deeply about participation in the game.  That’s why we’re leading numerous initiatives about the health of the game, on expense of the game and pace of play among others.  But the USGA and the R&A must also protect and preserve the game and its challenges for all players worldwide for the long‑term, and that is the point of Rule 14‑1b.

For this reason we’ve been unable to suggest the proposal that Rule 14‑1b be applied only to elite players, through either permanent or temporary bifurcation of the rules or an optional condition of competition.  The method of stroke is fundamental to the game and integral to the game’s appeal so that we can all play on the same course with the same equipment under the same rules [emphasis mine].

To adopt a rule or a condition of competition that enabled non‑elite amateurs perhaps 30 to 40 times a round to gain the potential advantages of anchoring while prohibiting professionals and elite amateurs from doing so would effectively create two different games and undermine the integrity, the traditions and the global appeal of this game.

We understand that some golfers are expressing concern with this change, but the proper solution is not to allow alteration of the challenges of the game or to pull the game apart.  The proper solution is to work together to help these golfers overcome their concerns.

As I said in that earlier anchored putting post, I have empathy with those players who feel that they have no way to overcome the yips that drove them to the long putter. Because I took my excellent putting stroke for granted, I suddenly ended up with the yips, those involuntary spasms that cause a herky-jerky stroke rather than the required smooth one.

It took me two months of assiduous practice, but I finally got rid of them by practicing long putts — 40 feet and longer — with no other intention than getting an accelerating stroke going. An accelerating stroke can only be made with freedom and the longer putts force you to free it up so that you can get it there.

And once you have an accelerating stroke with good distance control — do not attempt to hole the short putts, keep working on the long ones — you gain a certain confidence that allows you to maintain that acceleration on the six-footers, the only other putt I practice.

If you can get every long putt within six feet and all you practice are six-footers, that is a winning formula…at least for me and I am still an excellent putter. The six-footer requires an accelerating, assertive stroke; it isn’t something you can just wish to the hole like you can with a three-footer. So the eight- ten- and twelve-footers merely become extensions of the basic six-footer.

The other reason to practice just six-footers is that you see a lot more putts go in than the twelve-footers. Practicing twelve-footers gives you the sense that, because you statistically miss more of them, there’s something wrong with your stroke when there’s not. It’s because it’s a twelve-footer.

If you can maintain that confident mindset about your putting skills, you will be a good putter. If you are constantly trying to fix something that may not be broken, that’s the road to depleting confidence…and the yips…and ruin.

I’d rather lead a victorious life.

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One Response to Anchored Putters: The USGA and R&A Have Decided

  1. Lee Garcia says:

    The USGA is undoubtedly correct in preserving the root integrity of our great game, but they are really really very late on this ruling. Dave Pelz was teaching his students how to use long anchored putters to improve their pendulum strokes 20 years ago! I am quite sure that those serious amateurs and professionals who have the yips and/or have had back issues or operations are going to enjoy this great game even more as a result of this late ruling. In the interest of golf purity and tradition. If you expect the USGA’s rulings to have any consistency to them, I am thinking that they should expedite the reduction in the distance the current golf balls travel to increase our enjoyment of the game even further. If you have any doubt about their inconsistency in various technical rulings, you have to look no further than the small number of drivers that have to be used on the grand old course that is Merion at the U.S. Open next month. Any professional with club head speed over 105 mph will gladly verify how hot the new balls certified by the USGA are today. It is doubtful that Tiger needs a driver on more than one hole at Merion and even then, his three wood is travelling 300 so the driver could be redundant unless rain and wind prevail over 4 days. Rules of political convenience and economic power it would seem are everywhere. Balls are more profitable than putters by a huge margin. Fortunately, it looks like we will be able to hang on to our balls.