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Published: Tuesday, 5/21/2013

Anchor putter rules spur great debate

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Charlie Owens, a player on senior golf tours with “yips” so bad he froze over two-foot putts, designed a 50-inch broomstick putter in the mid-1980s to solve his problem and it became quite popular among his peers. In fact, Orville Moody won the ’89 U.S. Senior Open using a similar model.

Discussion of the belly or broomstick or anchor putter, whatever you care to call it, actually dates to the 1930s.

So it is nothing new. The concept and the reality have been around for a long time and while the debate among golfers was always lively, nobody treated the long putter as a life-or-death matter.

And then Keegan Bradley won the 2011 PGA Championship.

Suddenly, the R&A (Great Britain) and the United States Golf Association, the global arbiters of the Rules of Golf, decided they’d best investigate.

On Tuesday, they said anchors away.

Since Bradley won the 2011 PGA three other golfers have won major championships while anchoring the putter — Webb Simpson, 2012 U.S. Open; Ernie Els, 2012 British Open, and Adam Scott, 2013 Masters. That’s four of the last six majors and one for each of them.

Peter Dawson of the R&A said with a straight face Tuesday that the results of those majors had nothing to do with the decision to ban anchor putters as of Jan. 1, 2016.

The sport’s governing bodies were at least equally concerned with the number of tour players using the method — as many as one-quarter of pro fields at times over the last year — as with numerous collegians employing it and children coming into the game being taught that style of putting by teaching pros who very much endorse it.

In 1989, the USGA said long putters “are not detrimental to the game. In fact, they may enable some people to play who may not otherwise be able to do so.”

Apparently, they are now detrimental.

There is no disputing anchor putters — the butt of the club, gripping hand, or forearm is held directly against the body — make putting easier. The method provides extra support and restricts movement and rotation of the hands, arms, and clubface. The stroke is simpler and presumably more repeatable. It’s user friendly for those with back ailments.

And, in the opinion of golf’s rules-makers, it violates the principal that free swinging of the entire club is an essential part of the game. The problem is they’re trying to get the horse back into the barn after the horse has been running free for some 30 years.

Does this mean the thousands and possibly millions of recreational golfers who belly up to the putter have to scrap it? No, do what you want. Unless, that is, you want to compete in a club tournament or in a league that is plays under USGA rules.

There’s the rub, and it’s even bigger at the pro level. The PGA Tour and the PGA of America, whose members teach the game, are adamantly opposed to what is called Rule 14-1b. The tour could establish its own condition of competition, better known as a “local rule.” There could be a schism in the game if tour events and the U.S. and British Opens, for example, are played under conflicting rules.

Needless to say, club manufacturers have millions, billions of reasons to fight this.

Tuesday’s announcement doesn’t end the anchor putter debate. It is really just the start.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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