The USGA and R&A announced a proposed rule change Wednesday that would outlaw anchoring putters to the body while making a stroke. The rule change, if approved after a period of review, will take effect on Jan. 1, 2016.
This method of putting, in which belly or long putters are secured against the body, is used by many top pros, including Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els.
R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson and USGA Executive Director Mike Davis made the announcement at a joint teleconference. In a sign of how closely the issue has been followed in the golfing world, the Golf Channel broadcast the teleconference live on Wednesday morning.
The proposed new rule — Rule 14-1b — will prohibit "strokes made with the club or a hand gripping the club held directly against the player's body, or with a forearm held against the body to establish an anchor point that indirectly anchors the club."
That means the putting methods currently used by Scott, Bradley, Simpson and Els, among many others, will be illegal after the rule takes effect in 2016. Players who use a long putter but swing it without anchoring it against their body will not be affected by the rule.
In the golf version of the justice of the peace's admonition at a wedding to "speak now or forever hold your peace," the R&A and the USGA will "consider any further comments and suggestions from throughout the golf community" before making a final decision on the rule change."
"We believe we have considered this issue from every angle but given the wide ranging interest in this subject we would like to give stakeholders in the game the opportunity to put forward any new matters for consideration," said Peter Dawson, chief executive of The R&A, in a news release.
The PGA Tour, which follows the rules of golf as defined by the USGA, said in a statement that it had been kept up to date on the change but had not yet had a chance to review the specific language.
"As with any rule change, we will go through our normal process of evaluating the potential impact this will have to all our constituents. It will be discussed at our next annual player meeting on January 22 in San Diego, and it is anticipated that it will be reviewed by our Policy Board during its March meeting."
Ted Bishop, the president of PGA of America, which represents teaching pros, was critical of the ruling.
"As our mission is to grow the game, on behalf of our 27,000 men and women PGA Professionals, we are asking them to seriously consider the impact this proposed ban may have on people's enjoyment of the game and the overall growth of the game," Bishop said in a statement.
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For years, the golfing establishment and traditionalists have argued that anchoring the putter in the abdomen, chest or sternum decreased the skill required to putt by taking shaky hands and nerves out of the equation, especially on short putts. That, they argued, amounted to an unfair advantage for golfers using belly putters and other long putters.
The debate over anchored putting heated up after Bradley won the 2011 PGA championship at Atlanta Athletic Club; he was the first player to win one of golf's four major championships using a belly putter.
Comments made by Tiger Woods at this year's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February also fanned the flames.
"I've never been a fan of it," Woods said when asked if he would ever use a belly putter. "I believe it's the art of controlling the body and club and swinging the pendulum motion. I believe that's how it should be played. I'm a traditionalist when it comes to that."
Phil Mickelson shot 64 when paired with Woods on Sunday to win that week at Pebble Beach, but Tiger's comments remained in the headlines. The outcry only grew louder in June when Simpson used a belly putter to win the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.
Els then used a belly putter to win the 2012 British Open at Royal Lytham and St. Annes. He's been critical of the putters for years, even after he started using one, an ironic stance in a debate that has divided the game and, evidently, Els himself.
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In 2004, before he had adopted the long wand, Els said: "Nerves and the skill of putting are part of the game. Take a tablet if you can't handle it."
Despite his philosophical opposition, Els took a pragmatic approach by adopting a belly putter. In October of 2011, he said: "As long as it's legal, I'll keep cheating like the rest of them."
Scott, who holds his long putter against his sternum and finished second to Els at this year's British Open, has been one of the most outspoken critics of the movement to ban anchored putting.
"Driver heads weren't 460-cc's when the game started, just like people didn't putt with a belly putter when the game started," Scott said at the 2012 Northern Trust Open at Riviera in February.
That same week, Phil Mickelson, who briefly used a belly putter during the 2011 FedEx Cup Playoffs, also voiced his opposition to a ban. "It's been legal for however many decades, and to change that I think is really unfair to those that have been using it."
While the ban will be a setback for players like Scott, he's not ready to quit the game quite yet.
"It's not going to ruin me," he said at the Northern Trust, "because I putted good some weeks with the short putter. I won a lot of tournaments. I'll just have to work a bit harder with it."