By Mike Purkey for GlobalGolfPost
The real question is: Why was the anchored putting stroke perfectly acceptable five years ago and now, all of a sudden, it’s not?
Is it because you can putt remarkably better with that method and it is clearly an unfair advantage? The data collected by the ruling bodies comes to no conclusion that there is a statistical advantage. In fact, the top 20 putters on the PGA Tour all use conventional putting strokes.
So, then it must be that so many people are using it that it is threatening to take over the game. Not exactly. The USGA says that about 15 percent of PGA Tour players are using an anchored putting stroke. And that number changes from week to week. But 15 percent is average. And only a small, unknown percentage of elite amateurs – from juniors to seniors – are using an anchored stroke. The evidence there is entirely anecdotal.
Well, then, what?
The USGA and the R&A have jointly decided to dodge those questions and, instead, proposed Rule 14-1b to “define the stroke.”
“Anchored strokes have very rapidly become the preferred option for a growing number of players, and this has caused us to review these strokes and their impact on the game,” said R&A chief Peter Dawson. “Our conclusion is that anchored strokes threaten to supplant traditional strokes, which with all their frailties, are integral to the long standing character of our sport. Our objective is to preserve the skill and challenge, which is such a key element of the game of golf.”
Did we understand that correctly? “Very rapidly become the preferred option for a growing number of players...” Is that what he said? What consists “rapidly” and “growing number of players?” If you go from five percent to 10 percent over five years, that’s a 100 percent increase. But it’s still only 10 percent of the whole.
“Essentially, it boils down to two things; that in the last 18 to 24 months, we have seen a significant increase at all levels of the game of people using anchored strokes,” said Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA. “I’ll start out with the PGA Tour. For years, we saw two, three, four percent of players at PGA Tour events using anchored strokes, mostly with the long putters back in the 80s and 90s. And, all of a sudden, we get to 2006 through 2010, and it jumped to an average of six percent.
“Then, last year, it almost doubled, and it goes to 11 percent. This year, it’s jumped to 15 percent. And some events have over 20, 25 percent using anchored strokes.”
So, the USGA did collect data on the PGA Tour on anchored strokes. Just wanted that to be clear.
Listen, an anchored putting stroke won’t make a bad putter a great one. What it does is allow the struggling player the opportunity to be a “normal” putter, allowing himself or herself a chance to compete. Many players who use anchored strokes struggle so badly with a conventional stroke that putting would otherwise force them out of the game, or at least out of competition.
And, apparently, as long as the anchored stroke was limited to those afflicted players, the ruling bodies had no problems. Even when the likes of Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els won major championships with belly putters, there was no panic. But when it was discovered that elite juniors were using anchored strokes – especially 14-year-old Guan Tianling, who won the Asia-Pacific Amateur armed with a belly putter – the ruling bodies threw up their collective hands and cried, “Enough.”
The bottom line is that this proposed ban is not performance based. No one can say whether it makes the playing field lopsided. Instead, the anchored stroke is going away because the ruling bodies don’t like the way it looks. They maintain that the other 13 clubs are designed to be swung and that long and belly putters, because they have an anchor point, are not swung. That’s it.
They are also quick to point out that this is not a ban of longer putters. They can still be used, just not with an anchor point. But try and use a putter from 42 to 50 inches by holding it away from your body and swinging with both arms. Whoever says they can use a long putter without anchoring, well our hats are off to them because most of the rest of us can’t.
So what’s next? What if someone wins a major championship or, worse yet, the U.S. Junior, with a side-saddle stroke with a long putter? Short-game guru Dave Pelz says that method, according to his research, is the most effective way to putt. Will rulesmakers look to ban that stroke because it doesn’t look right, either?
There are so many other issues that threaten the game, both on the elite and recreational level, that the ruling bodies could have taken on rather than this issue, which affects such a small percentage of the 60 million worldwide golfers.
Instead, they have made a decision that inexplicably asks so many more questions than it answers.