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Anchored Golf Putters Reviled by Woods Face Probable Ban

November 27, 2012

Anchored Putters Probably Face Ban as Golf’s Rulemakers Meet

Webb Simpson lines up his putt on the sixth green during the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte. Photographer: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Anchored putters, which have drawn converts including Ernie Els and critics such as Tiger Woods while being used to win three of the last four major titles, probably will be banned in a decision to be announced by golf’s rulemakers tomorrow.

The leaders of the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of Scotland and their respective rules and equipment directors will participate in a news media conference call, according to a statement issued by the groups.

Joe Goode, a spokesman for the Far Hills, New Jersey-based USGA, said that the issue of anchoring will be addressed. He declined to provide more details.

“It’s going to be tough for a lot of people,” Webb Simpson, who used an anchored putter to win the U.S. Open in June, told reporters during last month’s PGA Grand Slam of Golf event in Bermuda.

Any decision won’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2016, when the newest edition of the Rules of Golf will be published. It will affect players worldwide, from millionaire professionals to weekend duffers, as well as a clubmaking industry that has struggled through the last decade.

The increasing use of long putters anchored to a player’s midsection, chest or chin has drawn criticism from many of the game’s top players, including Woods and Arnold Palmer.

In the past two years, professionals Keegan Bradley,Simpson and Els have won major championships while using putters anchored to their body. Guan Tianglang, a 14-year-old Chinese golfer, used a so-called belly putter to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship this month, earning a spot in April’s Masters Tournament. He will be the youngest competitor in the history of the event, golf’s first major of the season and the only one never won with an anchored putter.

Rules Breakdown

The USGA sets the rules for the U.S. and Mexico, while the R&A covers the rest of the golf world.

Long putters have been used in golf for more than 20 years, at first primarily on the 50-and-over senior tour.

Paul Azinger was the first to use the belly putter in a U.S. PGA Tour event and the first to win with it, at the 2000 Sony Open, according to Tour records.

The long putter has also been a boon to club manufacturers battling a drop in a marketplace worth almost $150 million. A ban likely would draw opposition from club makers.

Putter companies have struggled to sell clubs in the last decade. In 2011, sales of putters at golf courses and in golf- specific shops accounted for $141.3 million, down 30 percent from $200 million in 2003, according to data provided by Kissimee, Florida-based Golf Datatech. It was the ninth straight year of declining sales.

Stroke Key

Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A, based in St. Andrews, Scotland, said his group and the USGA are focused on a player’s stroke, not the club itself.

“Anchoring is what we’re looking at, method of stroke,” Dawson told reporters after Els, 43, used a belly putter to win the British Open in July. “It’s all about putting around a fixed pivot point, whether that fixed pivot point is in your belly or under your chin or on your chest. I don’t distinguish between the two.”

Having used a belly putter since 2004, Simpson, 27, is among those players opposed to a ban. However, he recently began practicing with a traditional-length putter in case a change is implemented.

“I’ll be ready,” he said. “We all know that the R&A and USGA like to keep the game as original as possible. It’s nothing personal and I know they are trying to do it for the betterment of the game. But, I don’t think it’s a good decision.”

First Major

When Bradley, 26, jammed the end of a 43-inch-long Callaway Golf Co. (ELY:US) club against his stomach to win the 2011 PGA Championship, it was the first time one of golf’s four major titles was won with a putting method in which the top of the shaft is anchored to a player’s body.

Following his win, opponents such as Woods began to speak out more, saying long putters violated the spirit of the game and reduced the need for steady hands. There is currently no specific rule against anchoring a club to a player’s body.

“If people have become failed putters in the conventional way, why should they have a crutch to come back and compete against me when I haven’t failed in the conventional way,” Dawson said in July. “That’s the general argument one hears. But we’re also seeing now people who can putt perfectly well in the conventional way, thinking that an anchored stroke gives them an advantage. That’s the fundamental change that we’ve witnessed in the last couple of years.”

Tiger’s View

Woods, the winner of 14 major tournaments, said he’s a “traditionalist” and has never used a long putter in competition. He proposed a rule that bars a player from using a putter longer than the shortest club already in his golf bag.

The possible decision to ban the club may also end up costing players millions in earnings, long-putter users argue.

“It should have been banned 20 years ago if they were going to ban it,” Tim Clark, a 36-year-old South African who anchors his putter to his chest with his left hand, told reporters during the U.S. PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship in August. “The fact that they haven’t by now, I think they’ve left it too long and too many guys have made their career out of using a certain piece of equipment that they’re suddenly going to take away from them.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mike Buteau in Atlanta at mbuteau@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net


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