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.
Wei: This isn't about equipment. This is about whether anchoring the putter is considered a "swing" or a "stroke." To paraphrase Mike Davis, for 600 years the game has been about picking up the club with two hands and making a swing away from your body.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: There's no question that this is about three of the last five major winners using belly putters. Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson have argued that the anchored putter makes it easier to overcome your nerves on Sunday when you're in the hunt, and they're in a position to know. The effect of recreational golf is negligible since so few recreational players use these putters.
Godich: It shows how far Tiger has fallen. Would the Tiger of old be voicing such concerns? And based on the way he played on the weekends of majors, maybe he should have given the belly putter a shot.
Bamberger: Tiger's support of the ban gave the USGA confidence.
Godich: Sure, but I find it funny that you didn't hear Tiger complaining when he was kicking everybody's ass.
Van Sickle: Anchored putting was dead as soon as Webb Simpson won a USGA event with it and Ernie Els out-yipped Adam Scott to win the British Open. The traditionalists hate the way it looks. "That's not golf" was Mike Davis's only real argument. Once upon a time, sand wedges weren't golf either. Neither were 330-yard drives.
Godich: Never mind the 330-yard drive. How about the 200-yard 7-iron?
Morfit: Fundamentally, I agree with Davis. The funny thing is that even some of the belly boys like Ernie Els agree with him, too.
Hanger: Ernie used to agree with him, but he's changed his tune of late. Long putters are not unfair pieces of equipment that help you cheat at golf, like a slice-proof driver or some other gimmick. It's a technique. Tim Clark was on Golf Channel today saying he's choked plenty of long putts with the long putter, and that's the thing – if it was a cure-all for nerves, everyone would be doing it.
Van Sickle: There is no competitive advantage or everyone would use it. Sixty-degree wedges were an advantage. Metal woods were an advantage. Hybrids were an advantage. When a club is better, everyone flocks to it. Anchored putting remains a distinct minority. But hey, if it helps kill interest in playing golf, by all means, let's ban it.
Bamberger: It can be useful for some and not for others. It's a technique they are changing, not equipment. I can't imagine anybody NOT being drawn to golf because you cannot anchor.
Hanger: I agree with that. I don't think this will affect participation at all.
Herre: Interesting that the PGA of America seems to be against the ruling on the grounds that it might hurt participation.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Until they present stats proving that anchored putting really does create an unfair advantage, I don't see the harm in an anchored stroke. No matter what technique you use, putting is still really tough.
Wei: I think it's a definite advantage under pressure on fast greens with short putts. Steve Flesch, who won three of his four PGA Tour victories with a belly putter, said he wasn't strongly for or against the ban, but his next remark was telling: "It will be hard to fight the nerves again for those players [who currently use the belly or broomstick putters]. There's a reason they're using those putters. I'm a case in point. I only go to it because I'm shaking like a leaf with the short putter."
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: So we don't really know that using an anchored putter helps you to make more putts, but pros like Fisher, Flesch, Tiger and Tom Watson speak as if they know it definitely does. If the USGA and the R&A came out with evidence that showed anchoring the putter improved performance, I would have no problem with the ban. But as Gary noted, there is no data to support that theory.
Wei: Having the putter touching three points of contact is going to be steadier than just two. Basic physics.
Godich: Bringing in that third point of contact can have the opposite effect as well.
Wei: I think the date when it's supposed to take effect – Jan. 1, 2016 – is silly. If they're going to ban it, do it for 2013 or at least 2014. Now that it's been deemed illegal, It'll be weird for players who continue to anchor. Won't some guys feel like it's against the spirit/integrity of the game?
Shipnuck: Another issue is what this means to specific players. Two of the brightest young stars in the game are Keegan and Webb. This is going to affect their careers. Maybe only a little, maybe massively, but it's going to be fascinating to follow.
Reiterman: Don't forget Adam Scott.
Godich: Scott won before he went to the broomstick. He'll win again.
Reiterman: Sure, but he wasn't a regular contender in majors. Now he is, and that's what matters. Not where you rank on Strokes Gained-Putting.
Godich: I'll say it: Adam Scott wins a major with a 34-inch putter, further debunking the myth about long wands.
Wei: Keegan has a pretty smooth-looking stroke, so I think he'll be OK, but Webb's stroke is jabby with a belly, so I can't imagine what it looks like with a short putter.
BAN YOUR BUDS
Reiterman: A hypothetical question: Say it's 2016, and it's the day after the anchored putting stroke has been banned. You're playing your regular money game with your buddies, and on the first green one of your buddies anchors his putter to his stomach. What do you say?
Van Sickle: Double or nothing?
Ritter: I would respond by teeing up my new, 2015 anti-slice golf ball, slathering my clubfaces with Crisco and saying "game on." I'm kidding, but the thing is, I have a lot of friends who play, and none of them use a long or anchored putter. I would love to see stats on how many recreational players anchor their putters, but I'd bet the number is miniscule.
Hanger: I would allow it until the buddy had a 5-footer to win the match, and then I'd remember the rule. In casual games with no money on the line, I'd have no problem with any putting method.
Godich: To hell with that, Charlie! I'm waiting until after he makes the five-footer, then reminding him that's he's been DQ'd for using an illegal technique.
Reiterman: James Bond used a similar strategy in Goldfinger. Nice.
Wei: I'd tell the friend to go for it. I couldn't care less if Joe Golfer wants to use an anchored putter in my weekly game. Let's be real – how many amateurs abide strictly to the rules of the game? Whatever makes golf more enjoyable (and faster) is fine for me.
Shipnuck: It's like those non-conforming balls that supposedly fly 400 yards. It'd be tacky to use them against your friends. If you're playing for money, a rule is a rule, no matter how misguided.
Dusek: "Bet you miss." Then I'd pull my 34-inch putter out of the bag and walk to my ball. The kind of guys I play with are more into having fun than listening to Mike Davis.
Van Sickle: One part I don't like about the ruling, which hasn't been mentioned, is having to determine if your opponent is anchoring his putter. Let's say he's using a long putter up to his chest. His hand is close to his chest. His shirt or jacket is puffy. Is it anchored? Is it touching his chest? Or just the billowing shirt? Do I have to go over there with a ruler and figure this crap out? I'm trying to play golf, not run an investigation. This is the hazard of making a rule about how to use a club, instead of a rule about whether a club is legal.