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There’s a monster storm cloud on the horizon of the golf world. It revolves around the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and their recent proposed rule change that would disallow anchoring a long putter against the torso.
The USGA and the R&A are the arbiters of the Rules of Golf, and they issue a new book on rules every four years. Between each edition, the rules of golf are interpreted and explored, then changes are officially made for the year in which the book is issued. Our current Rules of Golf is the 2012-2015 edition. In 2016, the next edition will come out.
The USGA is the governing body of golf for the United States; the R&A is the governing body for the rest of the world and they work in tandem because of the international scope of the game, for professionals and amateurs.
Basically, the proposed new rules change will prohibit golfers from anchoring long putters against their torso. Golfers can use the long putters but the end cannot be anchored against the body.
These long (belly or chest) putters have been around for more than 20 years. Orville Moody won the 1989 U.S. Senior Open with a long putter that he pressed against his chest while swinging the clubhead. Paul Azinger won the 2000 Sony Open with a belly putter. This year, Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open with a belly putter and Ernie Els won the British Open using a belly putter.
I called a bunch of people last week and got enough opinions for a month of columns. No one is happy. Some pros and amateurs are for the change, others are against it. Everyone agrees the issue has stirred up a hornet’s nest.
Terry Johnson is the tournament director for the NGA Professional Golf Tour. Its slogan is “Where tomorrow’s PGA champions are playing today.” He has been a member of the PGA for 22 years and he sees many problems with the change the USGA is proposing.
“The rule change is proposed in October 2012 and it is being discussed among professionals, amateurs, the PGA, the USGA,” Johnson said. “Our sole mission at the NGA Professional Golf Tour is to bring guys into the PGA Tour, and we will mirror whatever the USGA says.
“Our NGA Carolinas Tour is different. It’s still a professional tour, but we allow carts and players can use range finders, unlike the regular NGA Tour. The putter issue might become a local rule eventually for lower-level professional tournaments and for amateur events. It would be like the ‘lift, clean and place’ rule in a local tournament.”
Terry sees the problem exacerbated because a whole generation of golfers has grown up using belly or chest putters.
“How do you take it away from them?” he asked. “What about the older golfer who developed a case of the yips and now is back in the game because of the belly putter? I never thought they would disallow the anchoring of the longer putter. If it’s such an advantage, why aren’t the top 10 golfers in the world all using a long putter?”
I spoke with Michael Dann, assistant director of the Carolinas Golf Association. He is responsible for course ratings and handicapping.
“I don’t use a belly putter myself, but it will be interesting to see where this goes,” he said. “The problem is in the enforcement of this new rule. What if a golfer is wearing a big jacket and his putter touches it? Is that a penalty? Most of the players I’ve talked with are against this new rule.
“They may make exceptions to it, especially for people with disabilities. Golfers with only one arm, anchor their putters, maybe that will be allowed. The USGA and R&A will probably give more clarification on the issue, like they did with regulation golf balls and grooves on the irons and the COR (Coefficient of Restitution, or bounce on the clubface of a driver). It’s all still under discussion and I’m sure they are listening to what’s being said.”
Rusty Harper, a PGA pro from Alabama, works at the CGA as a tournament director.
“For the weekend golfer, it’s not a big deal,” he said. “The use of the longer putter may allow older people to continue playing the game longer. If it’s taken away, will they quit?
“It’s not an equipment rule per se, people can still use the longer putters, but they must hold it out from their body. Who is going to police that? It’s difficult to see that kind of thing unless you’re right next to the person. Those who use the longer putters will have a stigma attached to them. Are they cheating somehow?
“Many of our juniors have grown up using the longer putters. How do you take it away?
“What about the guys who won the majors with long putters? If the new rule is adopted, they will now be stigmatized. It’s a mess for golf and the USGA.”
Mike Verhoosky is the 2012 men’s club champion at Lockwood Folly. He has won its championship four times. In 2007 and 2012, he won the Brunswick Beacon Tournament of Champions.
“They should have outlawed the long putter years ago. Their problem is that they waited too long, allowing both professionals and amateurs to use it for all these years,” he said.
“The rules of golf state that a player must have two hands on the club at all times, nothing previously indicated that you could anchor any club on the body. There are lots of problems with this long-club issue. For example: what about the one-club length rule when you move the ball away from a cart path or fence? Can someone use a very long putter for that measurement?
“It will be interesting to see how many pros go back to using the short putter with the 2016 rules change looming over their heads.”
PGA pro Jeff Davis teaches at the Sea Trail Golf School.
“I’m not affected personally because I never saw an advantage to using one,” he said. “I’d like to know if there has been any research on the subject. Is there any scientific data on short versus long putters? Is there any verifiable data?
“I never thought they would ban belly putters. I never thought it was a bad thing. If it is such an advantage, why aren’t all the top players in the world using them?
“Many young players today started with long putters. They were taught by their golf coaches to use them. Some are looking at golf scholarships. Do you take away their putters and make them start over? There are just too many grey areas right now.”
“Quite frankly, I don’t care if touring pros use putters that go way above their heads and fly their country’s flags on them. Golf is a difficult game, not just a game of putting. The more important stroke is the one into the green. I want to play good golf and I want to watch good golf, and if a belly putter makes better golfer, then I’m for it.”
Dear readers: Let me know what you think of the proposed rules change. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll run a story on my straw poll in a few weeks.
Golf Gab groaner
When you look up, causing a dreadful shot, you will always look down again at exactly the precise second when you should be watching the ball if you ever want to see it again.
Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for The Beacon. Reach her at email@example.com. Follow her at facebook.com/elsa.bonstein.