Thousand Oaks, CA – The United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club announced on Wednesday a proposal to ban anchored strokes.
At the core of the issue are long putters and belly putters, which have been used by three of the past five major champions.
Under Wednesday's proposal, long putters and belly putters would not be banned, just the act of anchoring any club against a player's body during a shot.
Golf's ruling bodies noted that they will take comments from the golf industry over the next three months, with an expected final decision to come in spring 2013. If the proposal is upheld, the ban will go into effect with the next official update of the Rules of Golf in 2016.
"Throughout the 600-year history of golf, the essence of playing the game has been to grip the club with the hands and swing it freely at the ball," said USGA executive director Mike Davis. "The player's challenge is to control the movement of the entire club in striking the ball, and anchoring the club alters the nature of that challenge. Our conclusion is that the Rules of Golf should be amended to preserve the traditional character of the golf swing by eliminating the growing practice of anchoring the club."
Long putters and belly putters have been around for several decades, but their use has noticeably increased in recent years, prompting Wednesday's proposal.
"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's chief executive Peter Dawson.
Here is the proposed change, which will be listed under Rule 14-1b:
"In making a stroke, the player must not anchor the club, either 'directly' or by use of an 'anchor point.'
"Note 1: The club is anchored 'directly' when the player intentionally holds the club or a gripping hand in contact with any part of his body, except that the player may hold the club or a gripping hand against a hand or forearm.
"Note 2: An 'anchor point' exists when the player intentionally holds a forearm in contact with any part of his body to establish a gripping hand as a stable point around which the other hand may swing the club."
While the change will not alter current equipment regulations, it will prohibit an integral part of the belly putter stroke -- anchoring.
Last year, Keegan Bradley won the PGA Championship, becoming the first major champion to use a belly putter. Webb Simpson used the club to capture the U.S. Open title in June and Ernie Els anchored his way to a British Open victory in July.
Bradley has been openly opposed to the rumored proposal, but he relented somewhat on Tuesday at the 14th annual World Challenge.
"You know, I'm not -- obviously not happy with the ruling, but I respect the USGA, and especially Mike Davis," said Bradley. "They make the rules, and I'll adjust appropriately. But I'm going to accept the challenge and hopefully do well when they do ban it."
Also on Tuesday, Simpson stated that he has been practicing with a short putter for "a couple years" in anticipation of a rules change.
Tiger Woods, the host of this week's World Challenge, is a proponent of the anchoring ban.
"I just believe that the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves and having it as a fixed point, as I was saying all year, is something that's not in the traditions of the game," Woods said on Tuesday. "We swing all other 13 clubs. I think the putter should be the same. It should be a swinging motion throughout the entire bag."
Some of the game's organizations weighed in on Wednesday's ruling; generally taking a respectful wait-and-see approach.
Here are some excerpts:
"As with any rule change, we will go through our normal process of evaluating the potential impact this will have to all our constituents. It will be discussed at our next annual player meeting on January 22 in San Diego, and it is anticipated that it will be reviewed by our Policy Board during its March meeting. During this review process, we will provide periodic updates to our stakeholders."
PGA of America President Ted Bishop:
"The PGA has long supported the USGA in its role of establishing the Rules of Golf governing play and equipment. We have representation on the Rules of Golf Committee and we have tremendous respect for the USGA in regard to their critical role in writing and interpreting the Rules of Golf. As our mission is to grow the game, on behalf of our 27,000 men and women PGA Professionals, we are asking them to seriously consider the impact this proposed ban may have on people's enjoyment of the game and the overall growth of the game."
LPGA Chief Communications Officer Kraig Kann:
"The LPGA has consistently conducted our official events in accordance with the Rules of Golf as defined by the USGA and the R&A. We certainly respect golf's governing bodies and their long standing desire to protect and promote the best interests of the game. The proposed new Rule 14-1b prohibiting 'anchoring the club' in making a stroke is not yet final and the LPGA will wait with interest while the USGA and R&A consider further comments and suggestions from the golf community. In the meantime, we will continue to discuss this proposed change with our players and provide our input and thoughts directly to the USGA and R&A."
Like Simpson, many golfers -- from those in the professional ranks, to weekend enthusiasts, will be forced to reevaluate their putting strokes following Wednesday's landmark announcement.