Rule change could hit some golfers right in the belly

Say goodbye to long and belly putters, golfers.

The United States Golf Association and the R&A, golf's governing bodies, proposed changes to the rules of golf Wednesday that would prohibit "anchoring" the club in making a stroke. That, essentially, eliminates the purpose of the long and belly putters.

Before making a final decision on the ruling, the USGA and R&A will consider comments and suggestions on the subject. But assuming it's officially approved, the change would take place beginning Jan. 1, 2016.

"We believe a player should hold the club away from his body and swing it freely," USGA executive director Mike Davis said at a news conference. "We think this is integral to the traditions of the game.

"Golf has been around for 600 years and the vast majority of the game has been played, by all golfers, not anchoring. And for those golfers that anchor today, I think we would say virtually every one of them at some point in their golfing careers played the game without anchoring."

The USGA and R&A emphasized that long and belly putters were not being banned by this rule, but those putters are designed for players to "anchor" to their belly or chest and make a pendulum motion through the ball. Therefore, golfers will have to make a complete swing change regardless if they stay with the longer putters or go to shorter ones.

The proposed change falls under Rule 14 for Striking the Ball, and it would be listed as Rule 14-1b "Anchoring the Club."

The rule would state: "In making a stroke, the player must not anchor the club, either "directly" or by use of an "anchor point."

Fort Worth native and Champions Tour player Mark Brooks, who won the 1996 PGA Championship, uses a belly putter and wasn't a fan of the change.

"I understand where they're coming from, but I just think it's the wrong animal to fight," Brooks said. "You could ask this question -- if Tiger Woods had been putting with the belly putter for the last 12-15 years, do you think we would be banning putters? It's a fair question."

Woods spoke to reporters Tuesday about the issue and reiterated his stance of being opposed to belly putters, something he addressed earlier in the year.

"I don't know if [my opinion] carried any weight or not, but 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 tradition of the game," Woods said. "We swing all other 13 clubs. I think the putter should be the same. It should be a swinging motion throughout the entire bag."

Dan Jenkins, the Fort Worth-based golf writer who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame this year, is OK with the rule change. Jenkins has never been a fan of the long and belly putters, calling them "unsightly and stupid."

"It makes the golfer look stupid and, for that reason, get rid of it," Jenkins said. "If you're a traditionalist like I am, I've always preferred getting rid of it. And we might as well get rid of those putters the size of a balloon, too."

Jenkins said the issue could become a rules battle between the USGA and the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour doesn't have to comply with the rules change, but that would seem unlikely.

After all, the USGA runs the U.S. Open and the R&A runs the British Open, so most players would abide by the rules set by the majors.

"We're going to follow whatever the majors are doing, I would assume," said Hunter Haas, a PGA Tour player from Fort Worth.

Haas doesn't use a long or belly putter, so it won't affect him directly. However, Haas thought the governing bodies should have looked more closely at other issues such as when a ball lands in a fairway divot. "I never understood that you hit a tee ball great, but the guy in front of you dug a squirrel hole and you got to hit out of it," Haas said. "I wish the USGA would think of more sensible things like that."

For amateurs, the new putting rules will have a ripple down effect.

Belly putters have become popular for players of all skill levels, in part because three of the past five major winners -- Ernie Els, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson -- used belly putters in their wins.

Courtney Connell, the head pro at Mira Vista Country Club, said he has seen an increase of members switching to the belly putters the past few years and felt there could be better alternatives to the rule change.

For instance, Connell said, the governing bodies could implement two sets of rules for amateurs and professionals.

"At the end of the day, I'm going to come down on the side of how can we get more people to play the game?" Connell said. "One way is to make it more user friendly and anchoring the putter can make the game a little easier."

Drew Davison


Twitter: @drewdavison

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