Golf: Belly putters spell the end for ‘anchoring’

American Keegan Bradley uses a long putter. Picture: Reuters
American Keegan Bradley uses a long putter. Picture: Reuters
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THREE of the last five majors falling to players wielding a long putter may have been a factor, but golf instructors encouraging youngsters to use such implements is the main reason why “anchoring” is to be outlawed in golf, it was claimed yesterday.

Whereas the use of either long or belly putters was once viewed as a “last resort”, the final throw of the dice for someone who had lost confidence with a traditional “flat stick”, the sight of more and more young golfers turning to the extended clubs has triggered action.

In making their joint announcement that anchoring is set to be banned when the next four-yearly review of the Rules of Golf comes around in 2016, Peter Dawson, the R&A chief executive, and Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA, both insisted the decision had nothing to do with either “performance” or “aesthetics”.

First and foremost, they believe an anchored stroke, whereby a player uses some part of their body to lodge a club, is contrary to the “traditions of the game” in the sense that 
golf has always meant to be played by swinging a club “freely away from the body”.

Davis acknowledged that anchoring has been around for as long as 30 years and that the governing bodies had stepped back from doing something about it once before. But, as part of a presentation and subsequent question and answer session on the subject by both himself and Dawson, he used some fascinating statistics to highlight the growth in the use of long putters in the professional game.

“Essentially, this decision, which there is an absolute alignment on between the R&A and the USGA, boils down to two things,” said Davis. “In the last 18-24 months, we have seen a significant increase at all levels of the game of people using 
anchored strokes.”

Using the PGA Tour as an example, he added: “For years, we saw two, three or four per cent of players using anchored strokes, mostly with long putters, in events. All of a sudden, through 2006-10, it jumped to an average of six per cent. Last year, it doubled to 11 per cent and this year it’s jumped to 15 per cent. And some events have even had over 20-25 per cent of the players in the field using anchored strokes. Like many things with the elite game, this has transferred to the elite amateur game, the elite 
junior game and recreational game, too.

“The other reason is that we are seeing a growing advocacy of players who are using it [anchoring]. For years it was a kind of last-resort thing because they couldn’t putt conventionally. But now instructors are saying that this is a more efficient way to make a stroke.”

Dawson and Davis each 
described the proposed ban as being for the “good of the game”. They also insisted that taking action against anchoring didn’t mean the two bodies had 
forgotten about a joint agreement, made ten years ago, to try to protect courses from new technology.

“It would be a mistake to feel that because we have done something about one thing we don’t care about the other,” said Dawson. “Ten years ago, we said that, if driving distances crept up further, we would take action. Distances have actually plateaued since then but issues surrounding sustainability are coming more and more into play when we consider distance and both the R&A and the USGA have research projects that are ongoing in order to make sure we are ready to address that at the appropriate time.”