PGA Tour Has Lost the Anchored Putter Battle; Now It Just Has to Admit It

Dan LevyNational Lead WriterMay 21, 2013

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 14:  Adam Scott of Australia makes a birdie putt on the 18th hole during the final round of the 2013 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 14, 2013 in Augusta, Georgia.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Andrew Redington/Getty Images

The USGA and R&A have officially agreed to adopt Rule 14-1b of the rules of golf, which "prohibits anchoring the club in making a stroke. The new Rule will take effect on January 1, 2016, in accordance with the regular four-year cycle for changes to the Rules of Golf." 

There's more, via

Rule 14-1b, which was proposed on November 28, 2012, has now been given final approval by the USGA and The R&A following an extensive review by both organizations. The decision to adopt the new Rule came after a comprehensive process in which comments and suggestions from across the golf community were collected and thoroughly considered.    

Sadly, that comprehensive process has not been enough for the PGA Tour, which has yet to fall in line with the other governing bodies of golf. In fact, the PGA Tour's statement smacks of a child yelling at his parents as he walks up the steps to his room. Don't tell me what do to!

The PGA Tour statement, in part, reads like it was transcribed through the gritting teeth of commissioner Tim Finchem:

We will now begin our process to ascertain whether the various provisions of Rule 14-1b will be implemented in our competitions and, if so, examine the process for implementation.

In this regard, over the next month we will engage in discussions with our Player Advisory Council and Policy Board members.

We will announce our position regarding the application of Rule 14-1b to our competitions upon conclusion of our process and we will have no further comment on the matter until that time.

The PGA Tour needs more time, despite the fact the USGA and R&A have given a clear and elaborate explanation for the change, specifically allowing players to use long putters—they are not limiting the length of any of the clubs, which was an issue for much of this lengthy debate—but eliminating a player's ability to anchor the club to his or her body.

In other words, a player can still use a club that goes up to his chin, as long as the end of the club never rests against his chin. This seems like a fair and reasonable ruling, only the PGA Tour needs more time to comply.

Steve DiMeglio of USA Today tweeted that the LPGA took all of two seconds to announce its compliance with the adopted rule. The LPGA statement, in part:

The USGA provided ample time and opportunity for us to not only educate our players, but also to solicit input, concerns and feedback surrounding Rule 14-1b. While we know that not every one of our members is in favor of the rule change, the LPGA will continue to respect and follow the Rules of Golf which includes the implementation of Rule 14-1b in January of 2016. 

Hey, PGA Tour, was that so hard?

The LPGA acknowledges that not all of its members agree with the rule but that, essentially, it got beat by its own game once the USGA and R&A combined to come to this decision. If the U.S. Open, all the U.S. Amateur tournaments and the British Open (The Open Championship, if you prefer) will adopt the new rule starting in 2016, it makes the use of anchored putters rather ridiculous for any young player to adopt at this point.

Really, the only hiccup would be any current player, and those with the most power in golf are feeling squeezed just when the anchor putters have shown their longest and most consistent value. 

Four of the last six major champions used an anchored putter, with many more players in the top 10 in those tournaments—in all tournaments—enjoying the benefits of a longer stick. As Jason Sobel of the Golf Channel pointed out on Twitter, the long-putter crew has 11 more chances to win majors before the rule goes into effect.

Some casual golfers and weekend hacks (like myself) may wonder why this whole anchoring ban is such a big deal. Golf, more than any other sport, has been fighting the growth and depth of technology for centuries. It's very difficult for courses to change, and with technology of the clubs and balls becoming far more advanced than in generations past, the game has become, frankly, easier for the average player. 

The USGA and R&A are charged with policing the game to make sure all the rules are applied, but in a way, these organizations are also charged with leveling the playing field from one generation to the next. 

We can already hit the ball farther and straighter than ever before (well, good players can). The last great equalizer in golf has always been the green. Drive for show, putt for dough as the cheesy saying goes.

Still, there's some truth in that. It doesn't matter if you hit a five iron or a pitching wedge into a green, you still have to make the putt, and if there is a way for the rules of the game to make that process the same for every player, that is what the USGA and R&A will do. 

The lengthy explanation compiled by the USGA and R&A explains the difference between freely swinging a club and anchoring the club, in an attempt to explain why one is different from the other. Via (PDF):

Reduced to its most basic elements, golf involves a player swinging a club at a ball to move it toward and ultimately into a hole. The player’s most basic challenge is to direct and control the movement of the entire club in making that swing. Anchoring the club while making a stroke also involves a challenge, but it is a different one, in which the player uses the immobilization and stability of one end of the club as an essential component of the method of stroke. It is not the same as freely swinging the club.

In defining the essential nature of an appropriate method of stroke, Rule 14-1b is also based on the related determination that anchoring provides a player with a potential advantage as compared to making a stroke with a free swing of the entire club. This potential advantage is the main reason why golfers use anchoring: intentionally securing one end of the club in place against the body is designed to help to avoid or alleviate some of the inherent obstacles to a successful stroke made with a free swing.

In other words, anchoring the club has been shown to make golf easier. The PGA Tour still disagrees. The PGA Tour is wrong.

Let's face facts; the anchoring of a club against the body makes it easier to repeat that motion, thereby making it easier to hit the intended shot.

The PGA Tour—and any member of the USGA and R&A who disagree with the ruling—have made the argument that the timing of banning the clubs now is arbitrary at best, unfair at worst, because the use of anchored putters has been around for 30 or 40 years.

Why now, after all this time, is the anchoring an issue? If the USGA and R&A let this slide for so long, why does it matter all of the sudden?

This is pure speculation on my part, but I wonder if it has to do with the success on the PGA Tour drawing more attention to it. Nobody cares if a weekend hack with a bad back uses a belly putter at his local municipal course, but when Fred Couples is devouring the greens at Augusta with a belly putter and Ernie Els switches to the long putter and wins a major out of nowhere (over Adam Scott, who was in contention after switching to a broomstick putter himself), the attention to the situation became more pronounced than ever.

In essence, the PGA Tour is continuing to protest a rule that may only be in place because the players on Tour essentially made the problem too big to ignore. Now, the Tour has little choice but to fall in line with the rest of golf's governing bodies. Putting up this fight isn't going to help the game, and it's only going to make Finchem and the brass at the PGA look like they are protecting their current stars in favor of the betterment of the game.

Golf has always been about protecting the game first. The PGA should remember that while it takes a few more weeks to get in line.