The USGA and the R&A, the governing bodies of golf, have proposed a rule change that would ban anchoring of a putter to the body while making a stroke. How clever. The USGA and R&A are not specifically banning anchored putting, instead, they have proposed a new definition of what defines a swing or stroke, Rule 14 – 1b. The new rule does not allow for anchoring a club to the body while making a stroke, though it will provide an exception to resting a club against the forearm, in the manner that Matt Kucher does when he putts.
The new rule will prohibit sticking a belly putter into your abdomen the way Keegan Bradley does and it would also prohibit a player from pinning his hand against his chest while using a long putter the way Adam Scott does. The governing bodies won’t officially move to adopt the rule until spring. There will be a three month time frame for more opinions and commentary on the proposal. The rule would become effective on January 1, 2016 when the Rules of Golf are scheduled for an update. Peter Dawson of the R&A stated, “Our objective is to preserve the essential skill and challenge of the game of golf.” Mike Davis of the USGA said, “We cannot honestly say to you that for some players in some situations it is not an advantage. What we are saying is when we write the playing rules, it is never about the advantages or disadvantages, or whether something is making the game easier. We are just defining the game. We are trying to get back to where the game used to be before anchored strokes.”
If this isn’t a performance based decision, why change the rule? Is every player on every tour using it? Is every top ranking amateur using it? The answer to both questions is a big NO. Where is the data that supports this potential boost in performance? There is none. The best that the USGA and R&A can point to is this: In the past 20 years, the percentage of players using the belly putter has increased from 2 to 4 percent in the 1980’s to one survey ESTIMATING its usage at 15 percent in 2012. I would call this an evolutionary process. The game of golf has evolved over the years and anchoring is just a part of that evolution. Let’s face it, a very small percentage of players today are in the “elite” category. The highest percentage of golfers today would be considered recreational, at best. If anchoring makes the game more fun for someone and has helped them lower their score from 120 to 115 for eighteen holes, so be it.
Let’s take a look at what has happened to game of golf since 1986 when the start of the over development of golf course communities, where developers subsidized golf loses with home sales, began. Now let’s move to 1997 when Tiger Woods burst onto the golf scene. The National Golf Foundation predicts we need a course a day built. America has 13.7 million avid players (played at least 4 times per month) and 25 million people playing 1 to 3 times per year. In 2000 golf spectatorship and TV ratings hit an all time high. By 2004 the bomb and gouge professional game destroys classic golf courses. In 2007 the American economy starts its downward spiral and the global economy follows. By 2008 American avid golfers were down to 8.7 million people and 18.5 million golfers were playing 1 to 3 times on an annual basis. We lost 5 million avid golfers and 7 million core players in an eleven year span. Starting in 2006, golf course closures have outpaced golf course openings for six straight years. In that time frame over 475 golf courses have closed in the United States. It has hurt local economies and put many golf professionals, superintendents, course managers and other golf related employees out of work. In the year 2012, the PGA of America said enough is enough and launched an initiative to grow the game called Golf 2.0. Hopefully, this initiative will help to stem the downward trend in golf and get people excited to play. The goal of the initiative is to make golf fun.
My question to the governing bodies o golf is this, what have you really done to grow the game over the years? What have you done to adopt to the changing culture and demographics and to understanding today’s youth? Junior golf is down. 55 percent of all American Junior Golf Association players quit golf by the age of 20. Is banning anchoring going to grow golf? I think not and I think it is a bad idea. My hope is that the PGA of America steps up to the plate during this time of opinions and commentary and asks the USGA and R&A how the ban on anchoring is going to grow the game of golf. The USGA and R&A keep talking about the “traditions” of the game, but anchoring has been in existence for over 30 years. Now all of a sudden we need to ban it? I think the next three months are going to be very interesting as players, golf manufacturers, and the golf industry in general, weigh in on this decision. It is time to give something back to the recreational golfer. I hope the ban on anchoring goes away. That’s my take, what is yours?
Frank Guastella, PGA Rules Official Michigan Section PGA
Staff Writer, Mike Fay Golf
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Photo: USGA/USA Today