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Questionable Play: Why We Should Bring Back Anchored Putting

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Questionable Play is GolfWRX version of a mailbag from the perspective of a millennial who also happens to be a purist, which is to say, I’m a twenty-something who often practices with a persimmon driver and walks most of the time. As with any other piece on this site, we highly encourage comments. We’d also like you to send questions that can inspire future columns to mailbag@golfwrx.com to we can keep this column rolling. Let’s do this!

This edition of Questionable Play is anchored in an old and potentially tired subject, but that doesn’t prevent it from being interesting. The USGA is trying to “modernize the rules of golf,” and it’s hard to say whether the fans will have any significant impact in the USGA’s new initiative to “simplify” the rules of golf. They have solicited opinions from every corner of the golfing world in the last six months, though, so why don’t we give them one more?

Leading up to the USGA rules revision in 2012, there was a debate centered around whether or not the USGA was going to ban an anchored putting stroke, design the rule so that the putter had to be the shortest club in your bag, or leave it alone and let people continue to anchor. There was fiery discussion on both sides of the argument, and many of the prominent members of the golf media (namely Brandel Chamblee) believed it was finally time for bifurcation, or two sets of rules: one to govern the amateur game, and another to govern the professional game.

I didn’t agree with bifurcation (still don’t). Many aspects of golf that make it different are rooted in tradition and nostalgia, for better or worse. Bifurcation wouldn’t have been a big deal, but it would have taken away something that no other sport can boast; in golf, everyone plays by the exact same set of rules from Tiger Woods to the weekend warriors. (See, that’s what happens. The previous sentence isn’t necessarily rational, but it’s how golfers view their own world, which is fine.) I’m glad the rules weren’t split, but I still think the governing bodies got the anchor ban wrong.

Brandel Chamblee beat his opinion drum a little louder than normal a couple months ago when he called out PGA Tour Champions veterans Bernhard Langer and Scott McCarron (though most of his attention was on Langer) for what he considered to be anchoring of the putter. Both players have long used broomstick-style putters and Langer has been doing everything but flogging his playing competitors with it as of late. Langer now holds the record for most major wins on the penultimate senior tour.

Langer and McCarron have both been defended by the USGA. Here’s the statement:

Over the last two years, the USGA has worked with the PGA Tour Champions and other professional tours to support education and adoption of Rule 14-1b. We are confident that rule has been applied fairly and consistently and have seen no evidence of a player breaching the rule, which does not prohibit a hand or club to touch a player’s clothing in making a stroke. Integrity is at the heart of the rules and how the game is played worldwide, and this essential value has made the game enjoyable for all golfers. We will continue to work with our partners at the R&A to listen and review all of golf’s rules, with an eye on making them easier to understand and apply.

That statement, accompanied by statements from Langer and McCarron, seemed to calm the storm a bit, but it didn’t settle the debate. Videos of Langer making a stroke with the camera zoomed in on his chest continue to make the rounds. Below is the most damning one of Langer. If you look closely, it simply looks as though his thumb is touching his shirt, but it’s impossible to say if his thumb is touching his chest.

The USGA got it wrong for this reason; you can’t definitively prove golfers are anchoring from the videos, and if your rule is based on intent, then you HAVE to trust the player. Otherwise, you’re just going to breakdown the trust between the organization and the players who are governed. Anyone who’s watched a single episode of Game of Thrones knows that a lack of trust between the governing body and the governed only leads to mutiny. The good news? The solution is easy.

The only way I see to end this squabble about anchoring is for the USGA to retract the rule and allow anchoring once again. The USGA got it wrong when it banned the anchored stroke, because all it did was complicate the rules of golf more. And as the keepers of the rules look to revise what’s in place, now is as good a time as any to own up to a mistake and reinstate anchoring into the game. There are a couple of precedents for the USGA and R&A retracting rules over the last century or so. Here are two straight form the USGA’s website:

1. “The 1956 code eliminated the penalty for a ball hitting an unattended flagstick in the hole when played from the putting green (but by 1968, both rulemaking bodies had agreed to restore the penalty).”

2. “Seeking to speed up play, the 1968 code introduced a new rule allowing a player to clean a ball on the putting green only once (before the first putt); and, in stroke play only, requiring the player to putt continuously until the ball was holed (but these changes proved impractical and unpopular, and were revoked in 1970).”

The second example is a perfect fit for this scenario, because it’s fair to say that all of this debate and calling a player’s integrity into question is not the direction anyone wants to go. It’s not great for the game, which is to say, the anchoring ban is impractical.

The USGA, while it’s “modernizing the rules of golf,” should retract the anchoring ban and let players use the stroke they were allowed to use prior to 2016 so we can all move on. If the USGA was going to ban anchored putting, it should have done it in 1991 after Rocco Mediate became the first player to win on the PGA Tour using an anchored putter. The USGA didn’t, and it missed a chance. The only thing the ban has accomplished in the last 18 months is to put players in a strange predicament where they have to defend themselves to people from all over the world.

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Adam Crawford is a writer of many topics but golf has always been at the forefront. An avid player and student of the game, Adam seeks to understand both the analytical side of the game as well as the human aspect - which he finds the most important. You can find his books at his website, chandlercrawford.com, or on Amazon.

36 Comments

36 Comments

  1. Roy

    Aug 19, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    Need to accept the fact that we already have 2 sets of rules. What percent of amateurs play it down, hole out all putts, walk back to the tee for a lost ball or OB or even go thru the proper process of taking relief from the cart path 100% of the time??

    • Dave

      Aug 20, 2017 at 8:38 am

      One should never have to walk back. If one is not sure …PROVISIONAL !!!

  2. Rich Douglas

    Aug 19, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    I think putting is way over-emphasized in the game. Anything that makes putting easier I’m generally in favor of.

    But not this.

    If the anchored putting stroke using a long putter was truly better, everyone would be using it by now. But it is not. What it DOES do is help a few yippy guys to get it to the hole when they ordinarily could not. The stroke, with the long putter, makes some awful putters okay. But it does NOT make one an outstanding putter. Still….it is too much of an artificial assistance and eliminates some of the natural differences between players’ putting abilities. It is NOT a golf stroke. And how the USGA can consider the broomstick “conforming” and Bryson DeChambeau’s rather innocuous putter “non-conforming is beyond me.

    Keep the anchor ban. Limit the putter–a club that already has a specific definition in the rulebook–to be the shortest club in the bag. Give everyone on the professional tours 2 years to adjust; a decade for everyone else playing under USGA/RA conditions.

  3. Ryan

    Aug 19, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    Man, there sure are a lot of butthurt people on here. Anchored putting has never been proven to be an advantage. I don’t here any of these people fighting for the traditions of the game trying to bring back persimmon or jackets and ties. How is a ball not being fairly struck, if anchored? Also, if it was better, why didn’t everyone do it, and why didn’t the anchorers win a lot more often? I’ll bet Hagen, Hogen, Jones, etc would be much more surprised by the 460cc monsters we tee off with than a long putter.

  4. Bester

    Aug 19, 2017 at 5:18 pm

    Anchor shmanchor — ban the stupid thing cause it’s not part of the traditional game which is keep your hands together and low and no extended putter shaft.

    • joro

      Aug 20, 2017 at 6:24 pm

      Let me ask you Bester, is the Hot Ball, the 300 yd. hot faced Drivers and rebound Irons and Woods part of the tradition. You people who are all over banning the Putter have no clue what really affects the “Tradition of the Game”. And how about the Bag Carrier spending 2 or 3 minutes on every shot telling the player what to do and how to do it, the yardage, wind, etc. Make the player play on his own instincts and not have an encyclopedia telling him what to do. Let them figure the yearage, wind, and allow for other things. This is not game anymore of skill, it is a science using page age technology. Bring the real game back and see what happens.

  5. Mike C

    Aug 19, 2017 at 9:26 am

    The argument that anchoring isn’t an advantage therefore should not be banned isn’t valid because it wasn’t banned because anchoring was an advantage. It was banned because the ruling bodied determined that when you don’t have to control both ends of the putter is isn’t a stroke. Also if you suffer from the yips, I can tell you firsthand that using the broom stick putter unanchored is still a cure

  6. UnclePhil

    Aug 19, 2017 at 4:30 am

    I had no idea anchoring was disallowed, who knew? Bernie and Mac seem to be collecting checks quite well using the alleged illegal broom. As most have already stated, shorten the ridiculous putter to 40″ long and anchor it all you want!! It’d be very interesting to see how creative a privileged pro could get to anchor a 40 inch’r! What a joke!! Scott’s hand is obviously touching his chest from whatever angle you observe from. Forearm to rib cage, ala Bernie Lang’a is anchoring period! Where’s the tour enforcement? Where are the umpteen angles during a tournament to keep these guys within the rules? What, would it be unpopular to close the ring on these obvious rule benders?
    TRAVESTY!!!

  7. james

    Aug 19, 2017 at 12:02 am

    My last post was posted by mistake……Long story……My apologies to Mr. Crawford.

  8. james

    Aug 18, 2017 at 11:56 pm

    How about eliminating ridiculous articles written by writers who know very little what they are writing about.

  9. Dat

    Aug 18, 2017 at 7:17 pm

    Ban Bernhard Langer.

  10. Steve

    Aug 18, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    Another simple solution would be two new rules.
    1) maximum grip length of 12″ or something close to a reasonable length.
    2) no part of the player can touch the shaft during a stroke. Exception for unusual stances with ball well above feet, playing from knees, etc. or this rule could only apply on the green.

  11. Oldplayer

    Aug 18, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    And while they are at it revoke the groove rule also 🙁

  12. Peter Schmitt

    Aug 18, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    I think I oversimplify this topic, but here’s my opinion. Long putters were around for ~25 years. If it TRULY was an unfair advantage to have a long, anchored putter as opposed to a 34″-35″ long putter with a standard stroke, why wasn’t every golfer in the world anchoring their putter?

    Let them anchor it. For that matter, let them lay down on the green with a pool cue for all I care.

    • Oldplayer

      Aug 18, 2017 at 3:52 pm

      Don’t forget the anchoring ban came in after 3 of the 4 majors were won in one year using the belly putter. That was more the target IMO and not the broomstick.

    • Adam Crawford

      Aug 18, 2017 at 4:05 pm

      I agree with your comment entirely. In 2011, Mike Davis did an interview on Morning Drive saying that anchored putting wasn’t a big deal and they didn’t think it was changing the way kids were learning the game (which is the foundation of their issue with it according to their public statements) and ultimately changing the nature of putting. But I think it was a knee jerk reaction to Keegan Bradley, Ernie Els, and Webb Simpson winning 3/5 majors from PGA in ’11 to Open Championship in ’12.

  13. Greg V

    Aug 18, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    There should be a maximum length for all clubs, including putters: 48″. Anchor all you want.

    Hint: Langer’s putter is a lot longer than 48″. And his stroke is a levering action, not a proper golf stroke. If the USGA had not allowed putter longer than 48″, belly putters would have worked, but broom sticks would not.

    • J-Tizzle

      Aug 18, 2017 at 4:34 pm

      incorrect, his putter is 45″. Plus the difference between a 48″ putter and a 50″ putter is probably just a comfort thing for a player. So I’m sure if they allowed up to 48″ someone using a 50″ would just widen their stance or bend over a little more.

  14. Doug

    Aug 18, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    Simple solution. There must be a clear and visible gap between the upper hand and the body. This includes and shirt, sweater, or jacket the player may be wearing. If that cannot be accomplished, (regardless of weather conditions), the long putter cannot be used.

  15. Tom54

    Aug 18, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    Here’s a solution I haven’t heard yet. Regular PGA tour, no anchoring. When you hit 50, anchor away all you want. The senior tour is mainly a place for seasoned pros that already had nice careers. Let them enjoy the game and competition as long as they can.

    • J-Tizzle

      Aug 18, 2017 at 4:35 pm

      What about us regular non-pros? Always allow? Never allow.

  16. Wizardofflatstickmountain

    Aug 18, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    ‘Penultimate’ means second to last. Doesn’t make sense in the article.

    • Chopper

      Aug 23, 2017 at 2:33 pm

      So you don’t think, Hagen, OTM, Hogan, Jones, Nelson, Palmer, etc… are staging some truly epic tournaments in the afterlife?

  17. Teacher2

    Aug 18, 2017 at 11:32 am

    Let’s be brutally honest about anchored putting; it should be banned for pros but allowed for recreational players because the latter don’t practice enough and they likely have bad backs which hurt when bending over to putt.
    For the pros, the real reason they use the long putter is because they suffer from the yips with the traditional gripping. The long putter eliminates the yips and rescues their game. Pros should be physically fit to play and not use the long putter as a crutch.

    • Adam Crawford

      Aug 18, 2017 at 11:52 am

      I do think it was a yips cure for many players, but if you look at the players that went to it because of the yips, it didn’t significantly improve their putting. Even when Adam Scott won the Masters, it wasn’t because he putted out of his mind. The long putter is not a cure all, there’s no such thing. It still takes practice and honing a skill.

  18. Alfriday

    Aug 18, 2017 at 11:29 am

    “The only way I see to end this squabble about anchoring is for the USGA to retract the rule and allow anchoring once again.”

    Or they could limit the length of the putter.

    • acemandrake

      Aug 18, 2017 at 11:38 am

      🙂

    • Adam Crawford

      Aug 18, 2017 at 11:48 am

      I really don’t think that would do it unless they made it less than 37 inches, and for guys that are 6’4″ that wouldn’t be fair. You can anchor anything 37″ or higher.

  19. Ike

    Aug 18, 2017 at 10:42 am

    The USGA and R&A blew it on this one by allowing cheaters the opportunity to “ANCHOR” the lead arm against the body thereby “ANCHORING”. If the lead arm does not move, it is “ANCHORED”.

    • Adam Crawford

      Aug 18, 2017 at 10:49 am

      I see your point, but don’t agree with the logic. You can’t claim that if the lead arm doesn’t move that it is anchored. Maybe he practices hours and hours to keep his arm steady?

    • J-Tizzle

      Aug 18, 2017 at 4:37 pm

      Anchoring is defined as a fixed point. Your entire forearm is not a fixed point, plus the end of the putter still floats freely, therefore, not anchored.

  20. Heich

    Aug 18, 2017 at 10:26 am

    Yeah, he’s anchored in that video

    • Adam Crawford

      Aug 18, 2017 at 10:52 am

      You can say that all you want, but therein lies the problem. You can’t prove it based on a video because you’re not physically examining his position. Sure it looks like he’s anchoring, but unless you tried to slip something between his thumb and chest then you can’t prove it. Which is the crux of the issue, it can’t be enforced because it’s based on player’s intent. Humans are inherently flawed when it comes to self examination.

      • Fang

        Aug 18, 2017 at 12:14 pm

        You can’t “prove” anything outside of closed systems like maths, he was anchoring.

      • Heich

        Aug 19, 2017 at 9:29 am

        You can clearly see in this video that the hand on the chest moves WITH the chest and upper body and not independently. Therefore it is anchored.

        • jack

          Aug 19, 2017 at 4:57 pm

          agreed .. clearly anchoring, clearly cheating-

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Inside the Ropes: 5 things you didn’t know about playing on the PGA Tour

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Golf finds a way to take a hold on you… whether you become entranced by the skill of the world’s best professionals, fall in love with the feeling and beauty of a well-executed shot, or simply enjoy getting outside and having fun — the game is addictive.

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The Tour is almost like a private school of sorts. It’s a select group of a couple hundred guys traveling around playing these events. The jocks, the nerds, the geeks, the loners; you see a little of everything. As much as there’s a sociable aspect to traveling on Tour and getting to know these people, it’s a dog-eat-dog world where everyone is playing for their livelihood and playing privileges.

5) The “Pressure”

A season-long race can come down to a single shot making the difference — for some it’s between winning and losing a tournament, and others it’s between keeping and losing your card. The cameras, the grandstands, the noise… it can all be quite distracting. The idea is to block all of that out and pretend you’re playing like a kid, focusing with pure imagination for the shot. All the extra attention can help heighten the focus further, adding inspiration to “give the people what they want” and hit even better golf shots.

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Listen to this episode on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes.

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