The editorial staff of the SI Golf Group convened a special edition of its weekly e-mail roundtable to discuss the USGA and R&A's decision to ban the anchored putting stroke beginning in 2016.
D-Day For The Belly
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Well, the day has finally come. The USGA and the R&A proposed a rule change to ban anchored putting strokes. What do you think of the decision?
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I'm torn. I don't like the look of the really long broom handles, and anchoring seems like a definite advantage, but I can't imagine it's a good thing to be making the game any harder for the average player.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: It sounds like a cop-out to me. What took them so long?
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I think they are making the right move. Yes, they should have done it 20 years ago. Yes, Ernie Els and Co. brought the issue into focus. But it is never too late to do the right thing. The essence of golf is to hit a ball with a club you hold in your hands.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I have increasing antipathy for the USGA and R&A and their decision-making. They take on non-issues (grooves, anchoring) yet for their championships need to build 700-yard par-5s and desecrate the Old Course because they refuse to address the golf ball. It'd be funny if it weren't so pathetic. I'm no longer buying what they're selling.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I'm with Alan. If I'm the PGA Tour, I take control of my profession and become my own rules-maker. As for the USGA, seven strikes and you're out. (My actual strike count may be off!)
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I have personally witnessed a lousy putter, a 10 handicap, become a good to very good putter by going to a broomhandle. Overall, his game and attitude were transformed in a positive way. He will be crushed by this.
Van Sickle: Orville Moody, one of the worst putters ever, ranked No. 1 in senior tour putting stats the first year he went to a long-shafted putter. (This stat courtesy of Mr. Brandel Chamblee.) That should've been a red flag for the USGA back in mid-80s.
Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: I think it's silly for a bunch of reasons. Anchored putting is still a skill, there's no data to prove that this is an easier way to putt, it's based on a "tradition" of swinging the club freely that seems to me to be kind of made up. I mean, people have been swinging putters in all sorts of crazy ways for a long time, so trying to define what is and isn't kosher seems a little pointless. Ultimately, though, I think it's much ado about nothing. The pros who have to change will survive, and weekend hackers can keep doing it as long as everyone in their foursome approves.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: It's about time. What really caught their attention was instructors pushing belly/long putters on junior golfers. The fear is that this trend will continue and will become the way kids learn how to putt. I spoke with Ross Fisher about it at Q-school yesterday, and he said: "I plainly think it's cheating. I don't think you should be able to anchor the club." He feared a day when long putters were the putter of choice for kids. "You wedge it in your belly or use a broomstick, and it takes the nerves out."
Van Sickle: A classic cop-out. They're banning it because it's getting too popular. And because they don't like the way it looks. They admit they have no evidence to indicate whether it's a competitive advantage … because there isn't any.
Bamberger: The data issue if meaningless if you believe, as the USGA and R&A do, that the essence of the game is to hit the ball with a club held in your hands. If a soccer player wanted to advance the ball with his hands, that would change the game fundamentally, even though the foot is more effective. They're getting down to the essence of the game.
Hanger: Show me where that "essence" is written and I'll buy your argument. The essence of the game to me is to hit the ball and make it go in the hole. Anchored or not, you have to hit the ball with the putter and make it go in the hole.
Bamberger: Look at every golf photo from Old Tom's day to Arnold's heyday. They are holding the club with their hands.
Van Sickle: If it's not a stroke now, then it wasn't a stroke in 1985 when Charlie Owens popularized it or in 2000 when Paul Azinger invented the belly putter. Some players have invested a decade in this putting style. It's not fair to them. Remember, the USGA approved all of these putters at one point knowing full well how they would be used.
Bamberger: No question, they fouled this up, but it's better to correct it now than live with it forever. On the list of real issues in the game, it's not on the list.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I agree that the USGA has been asleep at the switch, but I don't agree that means they should just cave on everything.
Van Sickle: Funny how metal woods, the biggest game-changer in the history of golf, didn't get banned.