The two-year anniversary of Rule 14-1b, which banned the anchored stroke, will be Jan. 1. For the good of the game, 2018 should be the last year for the rule to be enforced.
When the U.S. Golf Association decided that it didn’t like the look of the anchored putting stroke, contending that it ran counter to the spirit of how the game was meant to be played, many golfers – from touring professionals to recreational players – were adversely affected. On Jan. 1, 2016, the game changed for them. For many recreational amateurs and professionals, their golfing lives ended abruptly when they were re-infected with the yips.
Although the USGA always maintained that the ban was not meant to eliminate the use of the long putter, practical application of the rule meant otherwise. The long putter was rendered largely ineffective unless it were anchored to the body during the stroke.
Champions Tour players Bernhard Langer and Scott McCarron have proved otherwise, but not without unwarranted controversy. They have been accused of abusing Rule 14-1b by touching the butt end of their putters against their bodies. Adam Scott, a 13-time Tour winner and former anchorer who hasn’t won since 2016, announced last week that he once again will be using a long putter.
Opponents of Rule 14-1b always maintained that policing the stroke would be a problem. When golfers such as Langer and McCarron set up with the butt end of the putter a few centimeters away from their chests, it’s impossible to determine whether the club is anchored. To label Langer and McCarron, who combined for seven victories this season on the 50-and-older tour and ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in earnings, as cheaters is absurd.
Carl Pettersson, a five-time winner on the PGA Tour, is an anchoring casualty. He failed to advance to the FedEx Cup playoffs in 2016 for only the second time in his career. In 2017, Pettersson made only six cuts in 27 starts. Now he is hoping to get 15 starts in 2018 based on his status as a Tour past champion. In 2015, the last season in which anchoring was allowed, Pettersson made 21 cuts in 32 starts and had three top-10 finishes.
“Nobody is trying to cheat out here,” Pettersson said in support of Langer and McCarron. “I’ve been doing this for 17 years, and I’ve never seen that.”
By his own admission, Pettersson said his struggles extend beyond his inability to anchor the putting stroke.
“I’ve been struggling with my swing for two years,” he said. “I’ve been hitting a lot of houses with my driver, but everything started to happen with my swing about the same time the ban went into effect.”
Pettersson returned to using a long putter last month during the RSM Classic, but he missed his third consecutive cut of the fall season.
“I didn’t really want to go that way,” he said, “but I just felt more at ease with the long putter. I can’t say I ran the tables at RSM, and I don’t putt as good as I did when I anchored, but it is better than I was with a short putter.”
In his pre-putt routine, Pettersson takes two practice strokes from an anchored position. He then moves his putter about a quarter-inch away from his chest when making the actual stroke. No one has accused him of anchoring with his modified stroke.
Mike Bell, the 2006 U.S. Senior Amateur champion, has returned to the long putter. Bell, 70, of Indianapolis, said he “tried everything” on the greens, including putting cross-handed, but the long putter has relieved tension in his stroke.
“The key for me is having the left elbow pointing toward the hole,” he said. “I relax my hands and rock my shoulders. Using a long putter allows me to put my body in this position. It’s easier for me to stay still, but short putts are still more difficult than when I anchored.”
Bell says he has been told by some Champions Tour players that they have refused to sign scorecards when playing with Langer and McCarron.
“My hand is very close to my body, but not touching it,” said Bell, comparing his technique to the strokes of Langer and McCarron. “If I have the chance before a round, I try to show my playing partners what I’m doing. I say, ‘Guys, it’s going to look like I’m anchoring, but I’m not.’ ”
The careers of former major champions Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley have regressed since Jan. 1, 2016. Neither has won a Tour event since the ban went into effect. Former anchorer Tim Clark, a two-time Tour winner, has suffered from bone spurs in his back since 2015, so his health problems have made it difficult to gauge any effect that the anchoring ban has had on his career.
There does seem to be some consternation from Pettersson and Bell with the USGA’s proposed rules changes, which are set to take effect in 2019. While the game increased in difficulty for those who used to anchor, it will become easier from a scoring standpoint for the masses with the proposed rule changes. They include expanded use of red-marked penalty areas, being able to ground a club and move loose impediments in a penalty area and leaving the flagstick in the hole.
“I feel like the immigrant who stood in line and then watched the laws change,” Bell said.
“I’m not a huge fan of the USGA,” Pettersson said. “They over-complicate everything.”
The ban on the anchored stroke doesn’t seem to be accomplishing much more than creating controversy for golf. That’s why Rule 14-1b should be rescinded in 2019.
Such a move certainly would fit with the USGA’s initiative to make the game more enjoyable and simpler for the masses. By acknowledging its mistake and scrapping Rule 14-1b, the USGA would take a monumental step toward changing its image in the game.
Ted Bishop, who owns and operates The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind., and is the author of “Unfriended,” was president of the PGA of America in 2013-14. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @tedbishop38pga