Last Tuesday, the USGA and R&A officially announced that anchored putting strokes would be banned in January 2016 under Rule 14-1b.
Rule 14‑1b protects one of the most important challenges in the game of golf: The free swing of the entire club. The traditional stroke involves swinging the club with both the club and the gripping hands held away from the body, requiring the player to direct and control the movement of the entire club. Anchoring is different. Intentionally securing one end of the club against the body and creating a point of physical attachment around which the club is swung is a substantial departure from the traditional free swing.
The entire golf world knew that this decision was coming, so predictably the backlash has been swift, particularly amongst those who depend on anchored putting strokes as a means to earning their living.
A group of nine golfers, including Tim Clark, Masters champion Adam Scott and Carl Pettersson, have even joined together to begin exploring legal options against the USGA, R&A and potentially the PGA Tour, depending upon whether the tour decides to go along with the USGA and R&A or bifurcate for the first time in modern history.
“We do have legal counsel,” Tim Clark said, according to Golfweek. “We’re going to explore our options. We’re not going to just roll over and accept this.”
Clark and the others will be represented by Boston-based attorney Harry Manion, who specializes in complex civil and white collar criminal litigation throughout the United States. Manion currently represents several professional athletes, owners of professional sports teams and numerous CEOs and board chairmen.
This group of nine, with the help of Manion, will likely fight this anchored putting ban tooth and nail in the coming years.
It’s also possible, if enough members of the PGA Tour are adamantly against banning anchored putting strokes, that the PGA Tour could bifurcate and continue to allow anchored putting strokes at Tour events.
However, no matter how hard the group of nine and the PGA Tour resist the implementation of rule 14-1b over the coming weeks, months and years, this battle is essentially over.
No matter what the PGA Tour decides to do, players will be unable to use anchored putting strokes in at least three out of the four major championships come 2016.
The USGA, which runs the U.S. Open, and the R&A, which runs the British Open, will of course both be banning anchored putting strokes in 2016. Augusta National Golf Club, which runs the Masters, will all also more than likely go along with the Rules of Golf as set forth by the USGA and R&A in 2016, as that is what they have done throughout the entire history of the tournament.
The PGA of America, which runs the PGA Championship, has been as outspoken as the PGA Tour regarding its disagreement with the banning of anchored putting strokes. So, it is possible that the PGA of America could also bifurcate, thus allowing anchored putting strokes at the PGA Championship.
But if a player has any real aspirations of winning major championships, he or she will essentially be forced to move away from the belly putter in order to compete at a high level at the U.S. Open, British Open and the Masters.
If the PGA Tour decides not to implement rule 14-1b, players will be asking for a public relations nightmare if they deciding to chase the money on the PGA Tour using an anchored putting stroke while essentially throwing in the towel on at least three out of the four majors.
In addition, should a player either not compete in or perform terribly in 75 percent of the majors every year, his value in the eyes of current and potential future sponsors will drop through the floor. Sponsors are after players who will succeed on golf’s biggest stages while giving their brands exposure in front of the largest audiences, which of course occurs during the four major championships.
So, if the PGA Tour decides to bifurcate, and a player decides to stick with the anchored putting stroke, yes, he may earn more than he might have on the PGA Tour, but he will also risk losing tens of millions of dollars in endorsement deals by throwing in the towel on 75 percent of golf’s majors.
This is also an issue that will essentially apply only to this generation of golfers.
Rule 14-1b will be implemented throughout the amateur world, so the next generations of golfers will grow up using non-anchored putting strokes.
Having known nothing else during their amateur days, these players will be comfortable using non-anchored putting strokes (as they would have had no choice in the matter). There is also a good chance that the next generations in the game will at least in some way look down upon anchored putting strokes and view them as a crutch or as a form of the dreaded “C word,” as these players will have grown up competing against one another with standard-length putters and nothing else.
Outside of the players, bifurcation could also unleash a PR nightmare for the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour would be the only major professional golf tour to allow anchored putting strokes, which would beg the question: Does the PGA Tour contain players who can only perform at a high level through the use of anchored putters, while the rest of the golf world has gone on and implemented rule 14-1b?
Is the PGA Tour more concerned with protecting a few of their younger stars than doing what is in the best interest of the game by continuing to play under one set of rules?
Should the PGA Tour decide to bifurcate, the backlash could be considerable against not only the players but also the tour itself.
In the grand scheme of things, players' legal action and the PGA Tour deciding whether to bifurcate will have very little impact on the end result.
The R&A and USGA have officially changed the Rules of Golf or really just further defined what a “stroke” is within the Rules of Golf, and this rule in here to stay.
Should the PGA Tour decide to bifurcate, you may see a very small percentage of players throw away the majors and decide to use an anchored putting stroke anyway, and you may see this go on for five or even 10 years.
But between 75 percent of the majors banning anchored putting strokes, virtually every professional golf organization around the world also banning putting anchored putting strokes and anchored putting strokes completely banned from the amateur game, in the next 10 to 15 years, anchored putting will be a thing of the past, whether the PGA Tour decides to bifurcate or not.
It is easy to understand why players such as Clark, Pettersson and Scott are so concerned with rule 14-1b, as it could potentially impact their ability to perform on the PGA Tour and earn the type of living they have become accustomed to over the years.
Not to sound overly harsh, but that’s life.
This is by no means the first, nor will it be the last, time that golf’s main governing bodies—the USGA and the R&A—have modified the Rules of Golf based on what they feel is in the best interest of the game.
And throughout the 118 years history of the USGA, players have simply adjusted to the rules changes and moved on.
A small handful of players and the PGA Tour may drag their feet a bit on this one, but this ship essentially sailed last Tuesday, when the USGA and R&A official announced the addition of rule 14-1b to Rules of Golf.
Players are now faced with a choice: either adjust to ensure survival or be steamrolled by the future of the game.
Whatever path players decide to travel, they can be assured of one thing: The game will be moving on with or without them, just as it has for hundreds of years.