By banning belly putting, USGA and R&A will do more harm than good

By banning belly putting, USGA and R&A will do more harm than good

Adam Scott is among the players who have had success using a long putter anchored to his body during the stroke.
Andrew Redington / Getty Images

The USGA and the R&A must be joking.

With all the pressing issues in golf, they've decided to ban anchored putting? That's like the Emperor Nero issuing jaywalking tickets to residents fleeing Rome as it burns.

Golf is losing participants in droves for three main reasons: it's too difficult, too expensive and too slow. The game is in a recession, or worse, and the USGA is worried about a style of putting that may make golf easier, has been around for more than a quarter century and is used by a small minority of players?

The Rules of Golf should not be dictated by commercial concerns, but eliminating long putters just as they're gaining in popularity with recreational players is just plain wrong.

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We have 460-cc drivers made of high tech alloys, graphite shafts, balls that go forever, and more technology in every clubhead than golfers could have dreamed of even 20 years ago. All these things have had a much greater impact on golf than long putters. In an era when 350-yard drives are no longer Happy Gilmore pipe dreams, why is all the scrutiny on one type of putting stroke?

It's simple. Because players wielding belly putters have won three of the last five major championships — Keegan Bradley at the 2011 PGA, Webb Simpson at the 2012 U.S. Open and Ernie Els at the 2012 British Open. Because belly putters are more and more common on the PGA Tour and are starting to get a foothold with recreational golfers and junior players. And because some so-called purists simply don't like the way they look.

Those who made this decision would argue that a golf stroke should be made with the arms only, and that hinging the club against the body takes nerves, a crucial part of golf and putting, out of play. Many would also argue that in addition to being an unfair advantage, this style of putting is simply unseemly, and not the way the game was meant to be played.

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Personally, I don't see what the big deal is about hinging. Compared to a full golf swing, would any putting style qualify as a true stroke? Sam Snead briefly used a croquet-style putting method before the USGA banned it years ago. That was a true stroke in the sense that there was no hinging, but it was also deemed illegal.

And is anchored putting really an advantage? There is little if any statistical evidence to prove it. In 2012, no anchored putter users have been dominant. Carl Pettersson has been the best statistically, ranking 21st in Strokes Gained-Putting, the Tour's most comprehensive putting stat. After him we have the 2011 PGA champ Bradley at 27th, U.S. Open champ Simpson at 54th, British Open champ Els at 112th, and Adam Scott at 148th.

If eight of the top 10 putters on tour used belly putters, and they were obviously an advantage, a ban might make sense. But that is not the case.

And if anchored putting strokes are so terrible, so against the spirit of the game, then why weren't they banned decades ago? Johnny Miller stuck a second shaft in his putter and jammed the handle into his armpit at the 1980 Los Angeles Open. Charlie Owens pioneered the "broomstick" putter in the mid-'80s. The belly putter era truly began when Paul Azinger, after tinkering with a longish putter tucked into his stomach, brought it on tour and immediately won the Hawaiian Open in 2000.

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It seems arbitrary to ban the method now, and unfair to the players who have perfected the various hinged putting strokes. Some young players have always used an anchored putting style, and changing at this point will be a major undertaking for them.

If tradition is the argument, then I'm not buying it. Tradition went out the window with stymies and mashies and featheries and plus-fours.

The game's ruling bodies are playing with fire here, too. It's a long shot, but with a number of players' careers at stake, the PGA Tour could decide to become its own rule-maker and governing body. Why let a bunch of blue-coated amateur golfers in New Jersey make the rules for all of pro golf? Who put them in charge, anyway?

It would be a shame if some of golf's stars — Bradley, Scott and Simpson, to name a few — can no longer compete because somebody doesn't like the way they swing their putters.

This ban on anchored putting is pointless, arbitrary and unscientific, and it doesn't solve any of golf's pressing issues.

In fact, it might even make things worse.