Rich Stevens: Golf’s belly putter ban will leave indelible mark
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem has plenty of allies in his opposition of the decision made by the Royal & Ancient (R&A) and the United States Golf Association (USGA) to ban the anchoring of the putting stroke.
Beginning in 2016, rule 14-1B will go into effect, reading that a golfer "in making a stroke, must not anchor the club, either directly or by use an anchor point."
This is the beginning of the four-year rules cycle for the governing bodies.
What will be permitted is the claw grip, cross-handed, long putter not anchored, mid-length putter not anchored, grip resting against forearm, forearms held against body without anchor point, traditional grip and one or both elbows braced against body.
What will be prohibited in 2016 are mid-length putting anchored against the stomach, anchored long putter, anchor point created by forearm and end of club anchored against chin.
The penalty for illegal use of a putter is a two-stroke penalty in stroke play and a loss of a hole in match play.
Finchem hasn't said the PGA Tour will follow the lead of the R&A and USGA, but you can expect the PGA Tour to cave, despite what Finchem said in February.
"We don't attempt to denigrate that position in anyway whatsoever," he said three months ago. "It's just on this issue, we think if they were to move forward they would be making a mistake."
If the PGA Tour chose to allow anchored putting for its sanctioned events, it wouldn't be permitted during the U.S. Open and British Open, making for an interesting dynamic among tour players. Many players would need two putters, unless they opt to putt conventionally with a long shaft, which isn't the most comfortable of options.
The PGA Tour and PGA of America have voiced their opposition to the ban, while the European Tour, the LPGA Tour and many other golf organizations favor it.
On a more regional level, the opposition is palpable.
"I think it's stupid personally," said Edgewood Country Club head pro Craig Berner, who won the West Virginia Open in 2005 at Snowshoe's Raven Golf Club. "They're hitting golf balls 370 yards but they're worried about anchored putters."
Berner - who has anchored his putter off and on since 2005 - admits that anchoring his putter makes his stroke more manageable. He said it "takes the hands out of it a little bit more. It's a little bit of an advantage, but I wouldn't call it cheating."
However, he and five-time Open champion Brad Westfall pointed out that not many of the PGA Tour's top money winners anchor their putters.
Although four of the last six major championship winners, including 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott, anchor the putter, that strategy is used by only three of the top 20 players on the PGA Tour's money leaders.
None in the top six - Tiger Woods, Brandt Snedeker, Kevin Streelman, Billy Horschel, Matt Kuchar or Phil Mickelson - anchor. Scott is seventh.
"I knew when he (Scott) won the Masters, they would switch to the short putter," Westfall said. "They don't want to see a long putter win these tournaments. You can take a guy on the tour who hits it 345 yards and hits it straight and hits his wedges good, he has a good chance of scoring. That (equipment) has changed the game more than any of these things."
Berner and Westfall agree that oversized club heads and different golf balls designed to help long hitters and short games have impacted the game more than anything.
"If the USGA wants to tackle something, attack the ball and attack the driver," Westfall said. "That has changed the game for the tour guys, these young bucks who hit it nine miles. If (Jack) Nicklaus would've played today's game, Freddie Couples said Nicklaus would've hit the ball 375 yards."
Ken Tackett, the executive director of the WVGA, said many of the other equipment improvements fell through the cracks and he's glad this one didn't.
"Certain things have gotten past them, specifically the golf ball and the material that golf clubs are made of, like shafts that are so light and stiff," Tackett said. "This might be a step in the right direction to curb some of those mistakes made with not stopping technology."
It started with Charlie Owens in 1983, when he began using a 51-inch putter anchored to his sternum, helping him to win twice in 1986.
In 1991, Rocco Mediate became the first player to win a PGA Tour event with a putter anchored to his sternum.
Paul Azinger declared, in 2000, that he was "instantly better," anchoring his putter after winning his first PGA Tour event in more than six years.
Players have 2 1/2 years to change their putting style. The players most affected will likely be those on the Champions Tour - the PGA Tour's senior tour.
However, it will have an indelible impact on the PGA Tour as well.
"I think it'll affect a lot of people," Westfall said. "I'm really not going to worry about it until the time comes. It's definitely going to be an adjustment. It might work out for the best, you know?"
Said Berner: "I hope it doesn't hurt (my game). I don't think it will. Is it an advantage? A couple shots, on the greens, the 3-footers, it'll make a difference. I'll use it until 2016."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at email@example.com or 304-348-4837.