The USGA and R&A Made the Correct Decision...Just 30 Years Too Late

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2012

SHENZHEN, CHINA - NOVEMBER 01:  Keegan Bradley of the USA with his long putter during the first round of the WGC HSBC Champions at the Mission Hills Resort on November 1, 2012 in Shenzhen, China.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Most golf purists will say that the USGA and the R&A made the proper decision by banning players from anchoring a golf club against their body.

As USGA executive director Mike Davis discussed on Golf Channel last week, golf has been played for centuries, and throughout that entire period of time, the golf stroke has always consisted of players holding the club away from their body while making a stroke.

They’ll be plenty of be arguments over how the rule should be implemented, the timing of the implementation and whether or not there should be a different set of rules for professional golfers vs. casual golfers. But even the most ardent supporters of belly putters would have a difficult time arguing that these contraptions which players anchor to their bodies do not undermine the spirit of the game and detrimentally alter the way in which the game of golf was originally meant to be played.

That being said, what many have rightfully questioned has been the timing of the USGA and R&A’s decision.

Belly putters have been around in one form or another for more than 30 years now. People were questioning their use back in the late 70s and have been beating the same drum about banning them for the past 30 years.  

So, why have the USGA & R&A only now decided to ban belly putters?

Although the USGA and R&A will argue that they have been looking into the issue for a long period of time and that they feared the recent growth in belly putter usage now posed a threat to the game, most knowledgeable golf fans realize that their decision was very much based on three men: Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els.

Bradley became the first man to win a major while yielding a belly putter at the 2011 PGA Championship. Simpson and Els followed by using belly putters to win the 2012 U.S. Open and 2012 Open Championship, the USGA and R&A’s flagship events.

It is of course impossible to read the minds of the USGA & R&A officials, but one can certainly surmise that had Bradley, Simpson and Els not won majors while using belly putters over the past two years, the whole belly putter issue would still only be a talking point amongst the most passionate of golf purists.

It’s one thing to win the Travelers Championship while using a belly putter, but the issue is brought into a much larger spotlight when a player wins a major championship using a controversial method of putting.

So, in the end, what ultimately happened was that the USGA and R&A made the correct decision…only they did so about 30 years too late. They let themselves get behind the proverbial eight ball in regards to belly putters, and when the goose hit the fan in late 2011, they found themselves in a no-win situation.

The damage had already been done by their 30 years of inaction. So, do they ban belly putters now and appear hasty and somewhat frantic, or do they let their usage continue to grow and pose a threat to the game of golf?

In the end, golf’s governing bodies decided that it was better to appear hasty and frantic then let the belly putter issue get even further out of hand than it already had.

So last week, they made their decision to essentially ban any form of anchoring a golf club to one’s body during play.

It was the correct decision.

But, let this also be a lesson to golf’s governing bodies: Problems don’t go away by simply ignoring them.

So, when it comes to other issues like golf ball technology, slow play, etc., perhaps it might be better to take action now before hundreds of classic courses are rendered even more obsolete than they already have been and before even more people stop watching and playing the game because rounds of golf take six-and-a-half hours to play on courses that stretch 8,200 yards.

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