Featured Golf News
Golf's Governing Bodies Ban Anchored Putters
As many observers expected, golf's governing bodies banned the use of anchored putters. On Tuesday, the United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club outlawed the clubs, which have been used by four of the past six major champions.
After a vetting and comment process that began late last year, Rule 14-1b will go into effect in 2016. The ban does not affect all long putters; only golfers who hold the club against their bodies to create a "hinge" effect are involved.
"We strongly believe that this rule is for the betterment of the game," USGA president Glen Nager said. "Rule 14-1b protects one of the important challenges in the game - the free swing of the entire club." (See below for the full transcript of the announcement.)
"We recognize this has been a divisive issue, but after thorough consideration we remain convinced that this is the right decision for golf," added R&A chief executive Peter Dawson in a separate announcement.
Among the high-profile players affected by the ban are 2011 PGA champion Keegan Bradley, 2012 U.S. Open and British Open winners Webb Simpson and Ernie Els, and 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott. Each of these players has come out in opposition to the proposed ban at one time or another.
Scott began using the club more than two years ago on the advice of his instructor. "Now we're making rules for the betterment of the game based on zero evidence? Incredible," the Australian recently said. "What did they think when they allowed it?
"You're dealing with professional athletes who are competitive, who want to find better ways . . . What do they think when they've got super-talented golfers putting in thousands of hours of practice with a long putter, short putter, sand wedge, whatever? It was just a matter of time. They're going to get good."
"The understandable objections of these relative few cannot prevent adoption of a rule that will serve the best interests of the entire game going forward," Nager responded Tuesday. "Indeed, rather than being too late, now is actually a necessary time to act before even larger numbers begin to anchor and before anchoring takes firm root globally."
The PGA of America, an association that oversees 27,000 club professionals throughout the U.S., conducted a poll earlier this year that found the vast major of its members were opposed to a ban. The organization said such a prohibition would throw yet another barrier in front of people to play golf, a game that has suffered diminishing participation in recent years.
The PGA of America said it was "disappointed with this outcome," but acknowledged that golf's ruling bodies conducted an open discussion prior to the ban. "We do not believe 14-1b is in the best interest of recreational golfers and we are concerned about the negative impact it may have on both the enjoyment and growth of the game, it said in a statement, adding that its board will meet in late June to "decide how best to proceed."
Right after the ruling, the PGA Tour made the following short statement: "We would like to thank the USGA for providing the opportunity for input and suggestions relative to Rule 14-1b over the last several months. During that time, various questions were raised and issues discussed.
"We will now begin our process to ascertain whether the various provisions of Rule 14-1b will be implemented in our competitions and, if so, examine the process for implementation."
The full decision by the USGA can be found at http://www.usga.org/rules/Understanding-Rule-14-1b, and below is the full transcript of the joint news conference by the USGA and R&A announcing the ban.
GLEN NAGER: Good morning, everyone. As you know, last November after an extensive review, we proposed Rule 14 1b to prohibit anchoring the club and making a stroke. Having now heard and considered many very thoughtful comments both for and against the rule, the governing boards of the USGA and the R&A have now adopted that rule effective January 1, 2016.
This rule has broad support across the international golf community, but because some may still disagree with this decision, as chair of the USGA's governing board, I wanted to ensure that our reasoning is understood by all. Rule 14 1b protects one of the most important challenges in the game of golf: The free swing of the entire club. The traditional stroke involves swinging the club with both the club and the gripping hands held away from the body, requiring the player to direct and control the movement of the entire club. Anchoring is different. Intentionally securing one end of the club against the body and creating a point of physical attachment around which the club is swung is a substantial departure from the traditional free swing.
Rule 14 1b eliminates the potential advantages that anchoring creates, potential advantages such as making the stroke simpler and more repeatable, restricting the movement and the rotation of the hands, the arms and the club face, creating a fixed pivot point, and creating extra support and stability that may diminish the effects of nerves and pressure, that anchoring provides these potential advantages is confirmed by those who play, teach and observe the game.
Players say they anchor for these reasons. Instructors advocate the stroke for these reasons. And those who oppose anchoring point to these potential advantages as the basis for their opposition. Indeed, some of the commenters on Rule 14 1b object to it precisely because they think that without anchoring, some golfers might play less well and thus play less frequently.
Now, a few commenters asked that we had not shown statistically that anchored putting is a superior stroke, but it's important to understand that the playing rules of golf are not based on statistical studies, they're based upon judgments that define the game and its intended challenges. One of those challenges is to control the entire club and the swing, and anchoring alters that challenge.
Moreover, the issue here is not whether anchoring provides a statistical demonstrable advantage to the average golfer or on every stroke or in every circumstance. What matters here is whether by diminishing obstacles inherent in the traditional stroke, anchoring may advantage some players at some times. Statistics are not necessary to resolve that issue.
A few other commenters suggested that anchoring must not be advantageous because relatively few use it, but that suggestion ignores the fact that many, many golfers believe that anchoring is not a proper way to play the game and don't anchor for that reason. Also the trend over the last two decades is toward remarkably increased use of anchoring, a trend that's particularly worrisome, given that beginners and juniors are now being taught anchored strokes.
The bottom line is that anchoring has generated serious division within the game and among players about whether those who anchor play the same game and face the same challenges. Such divisiveness is corrosive to a game that's based on sportsmanship. Rule 14 1b will serve the game by removing the cause of this division. Now, a few commenters argued that it is unfair for us to now adopt Rule 14 1b on the view that the playing rules have allowed too many to anchor for too long. We respectfully disagree.
The notion that a rules change must be made soon after an issue is identified or else be considered forever foreclosed, regardless of negative effects on the game, is contrary to the history and the needs of the game. Many role revisions have occurred only long after an issue was first identified, such as the changes related to croquet-style putting, the 14 club maximum and the stymie.
More recently the issue has been ongoing about issues such as slow play, use of video evidence, scorecard penalties and other controversial rules issues. The passage of time cannot bar us from addressing these issues if the game is to thrive, for it often takes time to refine the issues, assess potential solutions and build a consensus needed for change. Players at all levels know that the rules are subject to change at least every four years and they adapt accordingly. Furthermore, the burdens of this new rule are much less than some have suggested. Recent surveys indicate that even with the recent upsurge in anchoring, anchoring is currently used by only 2 to 4 percent of all golfers in the United States and Europe, and even fewer by players in other parts of the world.
Rule 14 1b leaves these relative few with many options for playing the ball. It does not ban any equipment. A player can use the same long putter or the same belly putter, take the same stance, grip the club in the same way and make the same pendulum style stroke. He or she need only move his or her hands slightly off of the body. The rule also leaves available a vast number of other grips, styles and methods.
Putting without anchoring has been used at some point by virtually all who play the game, and many players have used both methods in practice and/or in play, switching from one method to another with limited transition time. With more than two and a half years before this rule takes effect, the small percentage of golfers who are affected by this rule have plenty of time and plenty of means to adapt. Of course the rule does eliminate the potential advantages of anchoring, and we have heard, and we genuinely empathize with those who will need to adjust. But the understandable objection of these relative few cannot prevent adoption of a rule that will serve the best interests of the entire game going forward.
Indeed, rather than being too late, now is a necessary time to act, before even larger numbers begin to anchor and before anchoring takes firm root globally. Let me also comment on the objection that's been made that Rule 14 1b might negatively affect participation in the game. The fact is that the game is growing worldwide, and anchoring is hardly used where much of this growth is occurring. Moreover it's been documented that the major causes of recent reduced participation in the United States and Europe where national economies have been weak are the expense of the game, the time that it takes to play the game, and the perception that the game has not always been made fun and accessible for juniors and the like. No meaningful data, and let me repeat, no meaningful data, supports the notion that anchoring plays any material role in driving participation rates.
Indeed, the recent upsurge has occurred mainly because golfers believe that anchoring helps them to play better, not because it's their only resort. The USGA and the R&A care deeply about participation in the game. That's why we're leading numerous initiatives about the health of the game, on expense of the game and pace of play among others. But the USGA and the R&A must also protect and preserve the game and its challenges for all players worldwide for the long term, and that is the point of Rule 14 1b. For this reason we've been unable to suggest the proposal that Rule 14 1b be applied only to elite players, through either permanent or temporary bifurcation of the rules or an optional condition of competition. The method of stroke is fundamental to the game and integral to the game's appeal so that we can all play on the same course with the same equipment under the same rules.
To adopt a rule or a condition of competition that enabled non elite amateurs perhaps 30 to 40 times a round to gain the potential advantages of anchoring while prohibiting professionals and elite amateurs from doing so would effectively create two different games and undermine the integrity, the traditions and the global appeal of this game. We understand that some golfers are expressing concern with this change, but the proper solution is not to allow alteration of the challenges of the game or to pull the game apart. The proper solution is to work together to help these golfers overcome their concerns.
Let me conclude by underscoring that we respect very much that some golfers and some golf organizations have raised questions about this rule. For the reasons I've offered and for reasons that are stated in greater detail in a document posted on our website today, we are convinced that there are compelling answers to these questions. We hope that the few who have expressed concerns about this rule know that they have been heard and can appreciate our reasons for concluding that this rule is in the best interest of the game, even if they would have concluded differently. We ask that all join with us now in moving forward for the good of the game. Thank you very much.
Q. A two part question, the second related to the first. Mike, do you yet know whether the PGA Tour will follow suit with this and adopt the rule?
MIKE DAVIS (USGA Executive Director): First of all, we've had ongoing discussions with Commissioner Finchem and others at the PGA Tour about it, and they, like we asked them to do, gave comments on the proposed rule. But at this point it would simply be conjecture on our part and would really be inappropriate on our part to go to the next level, would they follow the rule. I would say that's our answer on that.
Q. If the new rule against anchoring causes bifurcation where the PGA Tour goes its own way, will this stand you've made be worth that consequence?
MIKE DAVIS: I think as Glen said in his opening remarks, I think this was about protecting the fundamentals of what we believe the game has always been and that we do believe this has been a divisive issue that needed to be cleared up. It's an issue of controversy that's gone on for decades now. It would be conjecture to say if that ever happened. But we feel good about where things are right now. We've talked to the different organizations, and one of the things that came out beyond just this anchoring thing is that worldwide there was a broad consensus that the world wanted one set of rules and the world wants the R&A and the USGA to govern those rules.
Q. Glen, Mike, in the last year or so, have you visited golf club manufacturers or talked with them on the phone in consideration of their perspective?
MIKE DAVIS: Yes, we have talked to a number of them. As you're well aware, this is not an equipment rule, this is a playing rule that defines and clarifies what a stroke is meant to be, but yes, we've absolutely heard from various manufacturers. We deal with upwards of 1,000 different manufacturers that submit different products to us for approval, and I would say through this process we actually heard from very few. I think they view it as I won't say - it would be unfair to categorize it as a non issue, but with the manufacturers we've heard quite a few that say they support the R&A and the USGA and their governance of the rules. We're going to follow this. We've had a few other manufacturers not question the principle of this change but wonder is this the right time to do it or will this negatively affect participation. But yes, we have talked to them. But since this was a playing rule, this was really open for notice and comment to the entire golf world.
Q. Glen covered this a little bit in his opening remarks, but what would you say to the recreational player, the $2 Nassau guy who may have gone to anchoring to escape the yips, to alleviate a physical problem or simply to enjoy the game more?
GLEN NAGER: Well, I'm a recreational golfer so I certainly understand the anxiety that a recreational golfer feels with all of the challenges in the game, whether it be playing out of a bunker or hitting a chip shot or whether it be putting. This rule leaves all of us plenty of options for playing the game and enjoying the game. That golfer who you're referring to can and will have time to transition and plenty of means to transition to play under this rule and to continue to enjoy the game.
Q. You make the point that this is not an equipment rule, but can you foresee a scenario where in time for the 2016 revisions you would make a ruling to preserve the traditions of the game that would apply to equipment?
MIKE DAVIS: We looked at this. It's interesting, if you go the whole way back to the late-'80s, the USGA and the R&A looked at the length of putter, when really it was the 1980s when you start to see - we started to see long putters become more commonplace. And the USGA and R&A concluded back then that on balance, it just wasn't appropriate. It wasn't the right thing for the game of golf to restrict the length of a putter. We stand by that today. And for some that would question why don't you just limit the length of the putter or deal with it that way, it's really the anchoring that has bothered us. We want to protect the tradition of holding the club in two hands and swinging it freely away from the body, and if you do it by length of putter, you're going to negatively affect some people that we didn't want to negatively affect.
There's people that want to stand tall because of back issues, there's people that want to use a longer putter because they want to spread their hands out. Maybe that helps with some of the nerve problems that were brought up. Ultimately if we went to a shorter putter you could have some shorter people that have, let's say, larger midsections that could still anchor, versus you'd have some taller, thinner people that would have to bend way over. So we've never thought this was an equipment issue, we were always bothered by the anchoring.
Q. Mike, why is it important that the PGA Tour be on board with this?
MIKE DAVIS: When we write and interpret the rules of golf, we do it for millions of golfers worldwide, 50, 60 million golfers, whatever that number happens to be. As you well know, the PGA Tour is a very small group, a few hundred players, but they have a big impact on the game. As we like to say, when white belts appeared on the PGA Tour, guess what: They appeared in recreational golf.
I think it's really important that the PGA Tour and all the professional tours, the LPGA and so on, continue to follow one set of rules. We have, as I think you well know, have gotten very positive feedback from the tours around the world saying that they like one set of rules, they like the R&A and USGA governing those, so if there was some type of schism we don't think that would be good for golf, and we are doing what we think is right for the long term benefit of the game for all golfers, and we just can't write them for one group of small elite players.
Q. Have you talked about the possibility of disputes in the future, either in competition or in the everyday posting of scores?
MARK NEWELL (USGA Executive Committee Member): It's one of the things that we talked about in the rules of golf committee process in developing this rule. We're comfortable that the way the rule is drafted that it will be clear. It relies on the integrity of the player. The basic prohibition is that one cannot intentionally anchor the club, either directly or by using an anchor point. Many of the rules of golf rely on integrity, including judgments about the intent of the player. Although there could be close to the line questions, we think those will be few and far between. We think we've provided guidance already and can continue to provide education to players, and we don't think there will be a significant likelihood of disputes in competition.
Q. Some of the documents in reading over it, you talk about the decision about this rule being definitional as opposed to sort of based on statistics, and certainly in the past, most notably with the groove rule, statistics were a big part of the decision making process. Can you talk about why in this case the definitional approach was appropriate, and looking forward, how would that type of thinking apply in the case of future rulings?
MARK NEWELL: The grooves rule was an equipment rule. The rule we've adopted here is a playing rule, and what we've emphasized, and you can see this in the report that we've published on our website, is that the playing rules of golf are based on judgments about the essential nature and challenge of the game and related judgments about whether alternative acts or practices may reduce the challenge of the game. Equipment rules sometimes are based on technical analysis about the effect of particular new types of equipment or particular specifications of the clubs. The playing rules are based on judgments about what the game is and how it should be played.
Q. There's a school of thought that if the PGA Tour, PGA of America, potentially even Augusta National, all were to allow anchoring to continue that your role as the rule making authority would become obsolete. What do you say to that?
GLEN NAGER: Let me address that. We can't speculate about what others are going to do, we can only try to do the right thing for the game, which is what we're trying to do now. Two, we've been writing the rules of golf and setting the gold standard in the rules of golf for over 100 years, and all of the other organizations that you've referred to have chosen to play by our rules because they know they're the gold standard. The comment process brought that out in a particularly compelling and frankly flattering way, that the world golf community said we want one set of rules and we want them provided to us by those who have experience at doing it, those who are independent and those who are unbiased, and that's what the USGA is and that's what the R&A is, and that's why we hope that these organizations will continue their past behavior of playing by a single set of rules for the good of the game, a game that's growing globally, will be going to the Olympics and needs one set of rules to thrive.
Q. In the event of any legal challenges, why do you believe the USGA is on solid footing?
GLEN NAGER: Let me start by saying that we're going to do whatever we have to do for the good of the game because that's our mission. Our mission is not to avoid legal challenges. Our mission is to determine the appropriate rules for the game that make the game strong for the long term. We believe that that's what golfers want, that's what golf organizations want, and we believe that the incredible passion that was demonstrated in the comment period shows how passionate people are about the game, that they don't want to tear the game apart. The people don't want litigation, they wanted to be heard and we heard them.
In the event that any litigation is brought, we'll respond to whatever the claims are, but I can assure you this, as you mentioned a reference to Mark's professional training and experience and my professional training and experience, we have looked at this from the legal perspective, as well, as we feel confident of our position.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.