USGA bans use of long anchored putter but PGA is undecided

Golf's rule makers have decided to ban anchored putters starting in 2016 but PGA is not sure if they will follow suit Photo: Scott/AP

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2013 - Golf’s two governing bodies, the Royal and Ancient (R&A) and the United States Golf Association (USGA) finally announced their decision on anchoring long putters on Tuesday.

They are banned.

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Starting in 2016, no club will be allowed to be anchored by the body. While long clubs will still be allowed, they must swing freely away from the player’s chest, stomach or chin.

Controversy over these so called belly-putters started shortly after Paul Azinger began using one on the PGA Tour in 1999. The initial concern was that by anchoring the putter up against one’s body, it would eliminate a competitive aspect of the game. Enthusiast worried the club would make jittery hands obsolete and take nerves out of the stroke. It would also solve stroke problems for someone who could not master having too much movement of their wrists, shoulders or elbows.

Once pro’s such as Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh started using the “belly-putters” and showed marked improvement in their short game, calls for the long putters to be banned as an unfair advantage started.

Gary Player welcomed the announcement and expressed what many of those who wanted to see the ban were feeling.

“Must congratulate the R&A,” he said. “I think three years is a long time — I think one year would have been right but I’m not going to argue with it.

”I spent hours and hours training my mind to have good nerves under pressure. The long putter takes away the nerves, it allows you to hide the nerves and nerves are an integral part of the game of golf.”

The decision to investigate the long putter to see if it did provide a player with an advantage came in November 2012, after three of the previous five champions used anchored putters- Keegan Bradley US PGA Championship, Webb Simpson US Open and Ernie Els British Open.

Since the discussions started in November, Adam Scott won The Masters using an anchored long putter.

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Players who anchor their putters believe that they gain no meaningful advantage and should be allowed to continue using them.

Despite the ruling, debate on the issue continues.

The PGA responded to the announcement by saying that they were very disappointed with the rule change and that they will do their own evaluation to determine if their tournaments will adopt the rule or not.

 The PGA Tour said it will need to discuss their position with members of the Player Advisory Council and Policy Board.

The PGA runs is its own organization and is not required to comply with the USGA rules. Until now, however, the PGA has adopted USGA rules, and different decisions on the putters would constitute a major separation between the organizations.

Emotions are running deep on this issue and a great deal of money is at stake for the highest ranked players. Winning a major tournament is worth between $6 and $9 million each.

Bradley Keegan has suggested that he might consider legal action over the matter, although it is not clear who he would sue or what for.

Just this afternoon, additional players have come forward stating that they are exploring their options with legal counsel.

It is hard to believe that the PGA will not go along with the USGA’s rules although they have made it clear that they were hoping for a different outcome.

The USGA only governs golf in the United States and Mexico, while the R&A controls everywhere else and there is not much of an outcry about the ban coming out of the R&A areas. Therefore, all of the tours outside of the US in 2016 will forbid anchored putters.

If the PGA were to allow the “belly-putters,” a player would have to switch back and forth between clubs for his short game throughout the season.

That would mean that at the US Open, British Open and Senior Open, a player would need to use traditional clubs and let’s face it, Augusta is not big on going against the grain so they very well might enforce USGA rules at the Masters as well. That would make three out of four majors abiding by the ban.

USGA president Glen Nager hopes that the PGA will adopt the USGA decision. “We hope that these organizations will continue their past behavior of playing by a single set of rules for the good of the game,” Nager said. “A game that’s growing globally, that will be going to the Olympics and needs one set of rules to thrive.”

“I just believe the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves,” 14-times major champion Tiger Woods said.

“Having it as a fixed point … is something that’s not in the traditions of the game. We swing all other 13 clubs. I think the putter should be the same.”

Woods, the number one player in the world and the number two player, Rory McIlroy do not use anchored putters and support the ban.


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Susan L Ruth

Susan L. Ruth is a long-time Washington, DC resident with extensive ties throughout the community.  She is a genealogical researcher and writer, and is an active volunteer in the Northern Virginia competitive swimming community.  Susan previously worked providing life-skills to head injured adults. 

Susan and her husband Kerry currently live in Northern Virginia with their three sons, Ryley, Casey and Jack and their American Bulldog, Leila.


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