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Opinion & Analysis

Op-ed: Banning the anchored stroke is bad for golf



By Ryan David

GolfWRX Contributor

There has been speculation for over a year now, and we finally have some sort of confirmation.  The USGA and the R&A have hinted they will ban the anchored stroke sometime “in the coming months.” USGA Executive Director Mike Davis presented the topic recently to the PGA Tour Policy board, to mixed reviews. While I’m sure the USGA understands it will have a fight on its hands from professionals, I’m not convinced they understand how a belly ban will hurt the game overall.Keegan Bradley spoke out recently, telling Golfweek,

“I’m going to do whatever I have to do to protect myself and the other players on Tour.”

Ernie Els, who won The Open Championship in 2012 with an anchored stroke (remember, Adam Scott lost the Open with a long putter) has famously been quoted as saying,

“As long as they’re legal, I’ll keep cheating like the rest of them.”

Okay, fine. To me, Bradley doesn’t issue the statement as a protection of an advantage. He understands that as a professional an equipment change of that magnitude requires a major adjustment and really doesn’t equal the playing field. It’s obvious that in the world of golf, anchoring the putter is a divided and heated issue. It’s also an irresponsible and short-sighted move by the USGA and R&A to ban it.

In a nutshell, the mission of the USGA serves to preserve and foster growth of the game to all who love and respect it. No mention here of preserving integrity of Tour players or tour equipment. A ban on an anchored stroke would leave the casual/beginning golfer in the cold. In order for the game to grow, it must appeal to a wider audience. An anchored stroke helps derive enjoyment out of the game far sooner for a new golfer, increasing the likelihood of retention. We’re a passionate and driven community here at GolfWRX, so thinking about golfers at the margins can sometimes be difficult.

The USGA ‘Tee-it-Forward’ initiative was a step in the right direction to growing the game. By helping players understand the relative distances and advantages of playing a slightly shorter course, the USGA opened the game to a broader audience. To me, it just seems a little odd that one hand promotes a faster, simpler game while the other takes strides to make it more difficult for some. If I were a cynic, I’d imagine Mr. Davis sitting back and saying, “Play up guys, because your wedges are duller, your putter is shorter and you need all the help you can get.”

Understandably, It is a delicate balancing act to build an inclusive environment for new golfers and reign in Tour players from shooting the lights out. They’ve spent too much effort and time during these last few years focusing on pros and not building relationships with beginners and casual players.

The governing bodies need to take a step back and generate a holistic view of putter performance and regulate from there. In my hasty analysis, I could not find any rules regarding weight or MOI rating.  Since most of the belly putters of note are mallet style, is it possible that the anchored stroke alone is not the entire driver of the advatange of a belly putter?  Although a ban on anchoring seems a foregone conclusion at this point, I’d hope the USGA/R&A would take a deep breath, ignore the media frenzy and make the right decision for the future of the game we all love.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum. 

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  1. Tim Schoch

    Mar 6, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Bernhard Langer. He turned his putting around with the long stick. So have many others. Whether is it psychological or a cure for the yips or a very real advantage, I think it is individual to each player’s needs. A golf swing is a swing, not a shove. It is irrelevant if we’re waking up to this after so many years. Better late than never. Unless we want to see players strapping drivers to their forearms or employing elevator spikes that lift you up above hazards and hills. The PR damage is already done.

  2. Jim M

    Nov 8, 2012 at 11:19 am

    There is zero statistical evidence to suggest that the long putters provide any advantage. When the USGA spoke to the policy board, they admitted that the proposed ban was more about perception than reality. The announcers keep insisting that it gives someone an advantage, so the public believes it gives someone an advantage. I fail to see how golf is a better place if we drive Langer, Couples, Els, Scott and Bradley from the game

  3. ElVerde

    Nov 6, 2012 at 10:08 am

    Golf is inherently a game that allows tinkering with equipment…I think of NASCAR as pretty similar. We all have to work within the same framework, but there is room to play.

    This is why golfers can use different shafts, different drivers, different putters, even different length clubs, etc. It’s like using a different gear ratio in a NASCAR…as long as it’s in the same transmission as everyone else!

    The anchored stroke is a fundamentally different stroke, and that is why it should be banned. It would be like running a rear-engined NASCAR…not necessarily better or worse, but DIFFERENT.

    Someone else up here mentioned straddling the putting line, and I think it’s a pretty apt comparison. Where do we draw the line?

  4. adam

    Nov 4, 2012 at 10:13 am

    14 year-old Guan Tianglang of China just qualified for the 2013 Masters. He uses a belly putter. If you don’t ban them now, we’ll see more and more kids go in that direction. It’s now or never, babay.

  5. Courtney Zimmerman

    Nov 1, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    On a website like this where people are gaining distance through perfecting launch etc through high end shafts and tinkering, if you are going to ban anchoring because of the advantage it provides, then all competition should go back to steel shafts and persimon heads and blades only. Lets take away distance gained by weaker smaller players and you will go back to guys like Tiger dominating through strength. Leaves most of the new competitors out of the winners circle. I dont use an anchored putter currently, I have used one and don’t make any more putts with or without but am a much better lag putter without. Doing what I mentioned is no different than what they are doing with guys like Keegan who have had the option their entire lives to play with the long putter and now that success comes to them they are calling it an unfair advantage. USGA and R&A are being too quick to judgment on this one. Senior competitors in USGA events who need it for their back and are successful are hosed. Does this mean they are a bad putter with a short putter, no, it simply allows them to practice and play more, isnt that the point?

    • JG

      Nov 1, 2012 at 5:54 pm

      no, all arguments wrong. Senior players with bad backs??? haha wow. The can have a putter as long as they want. It is anchoring that is the issue not length. Its against the rules already!! why it was ever approved for tournament play is beside me.

  6. kevin smith

    Nov 1, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Keegan uses his shirt to anchor the butt end of his putter. Watch how he lifts his shirt and then positions the butt.
    What is next , a shirt with a stomach holster built in soo he can anchor his putter and also carry the american flag at the olympics?????

  7. kevin smith

    Nov 1, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Anchoring of the putter is the question , not the Belly or long putter….This anchoring of the putter is bad for the game of golf!!!

  8. Zooch

    Nov 1, 2012 at 9:51 am

    People who dislike belly putters only dislike them for asthetic reasons. If you’re honest. It’s going to be an arguement that nobody will win until someone can produce some empirical evidence to show that these really are the bain of golf. and PS they’ve been around for a while.

  9. Prut

    Nov 1, 2012 at 9:50 am

    If you had a $100, you wouldn’t be able to buy an anchored putter.

  10. obvioustroll

    Nov 1, 2012 at 8:56 am

    i bet 100 dollars that if you had an absolutely flat surface and a 5 meter putt, anchored putters will have higher consistency of making it… they should ban it.

  11. Tim

    Nov 1, 2012 at 8:34 am

    All I know is that at 64 yo I was ready to give the game up due to my putting. Since going to the belly I find myself enjoying the game again.

    I am an not a professional and there will never be a time now that I will be one. However, I am sure that I represent a much higher number than the professional ranks when it comes to enjoyment of the game. Banning the body-anchored putter will set back our games to the point of reducing the number of players that the USGA wants to see playing each year. I am sure the equipment mfg feel the same.

  12. Jeffrey

    Nov 1, 2012 at 7:48 am

    There is no advantage to a belly or anchored putter. It’s just a different method. I have extensively tested belly vs short putter using on course data and software stroke data and I was slightly better with a short putter. Anchoring a putter removes freedom and feel from a stroke. If an anchored putter was truly an advantage everyone on tour would use it because their putting stats would dramatically improve. Belly putter banners seem to look at it like the ones who use it get an advantage like using a titanium 460 cc driver vs a persimmon wood.

  13. James

    Nov 1, 2012 at 5:59 am

    You can’t be serious that belly putters keep hundreds or thousands of people interested or willing to take up the game of golf, because its easier to score? Surely factors such as affordability and time (especially for people with young families) a far more influential factors.

    Belly and broomstick putters and their allowed use have been a blight on the game for too long,. It’s not golf it’s croquet – and any argument that says differently comes from a place of self interest.

    The problem is not a ban, it’s that they’ve been allowed in competition in the first instance.

    As for allowing pros to have different rules to amateurs(?) That is a terrible and flawed argument. If anything pros should uphold the rules and if anything play to stricter standards and set an example to the rest of us – not be given a break because it is their chosen profession.

    Good luck in court Keegan. I am sure your very expensive lawyer is talking up your chances.

  14. chris

    Nov 1, 2012 at 1:54 am

    Let’s not worry that Keegan hit driver 9 iron to a 497 yard hole…surely the belly putter is what is ruining the game!

    This discussion is a laughable joke.

    • March

      Nov 1, 2012 at 11:00 pm

      Very true. Carbon fiber, graphite, titanium clubs, 3,4 and 5 compound laser straight balls. Putter heads of every shape and size. But the belly putter is the only thing that is in focus. Oh yea, changing the grooves was another huge jump in curbing the pros.

  15. Christian

    Oct 31, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    Keegan Bradley is one of my favorite players, and I use to be against the belly putter completely and I thought it was a crutch as well. I still think the belly putter gives the player an advantage, however, banning it would be bad for the game if you ask me. Yes nerves is a part of the game, but is your driving and iron play nerve proof? Is bunker play and flop shots not affected under pressure? All of them are. A belly putter is a great training aid if you ask me. And I think it won’t affect putting statistics in the long run. I think if you take it away it does more harm than good. I use a conventional putter and I will continue to because it’s comfortable and it’s what I know. I think they should be legal, period.

  16. joe

    Oct 31, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    The usga should have addressed the belly putter years ago. Doing so now just because young guys are winning with it seems like it was a response directly to those guys. I think Keegan has a point given the amount of work he has put in to master the belly putter. I never liked him before but his style of play and grit, and now standing up for what he thinks is right (even if I disagree with him) shows character.

  17. Gm

    Oct 31, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    NOT banning the anchored putter is bad for golf, just as square grooves was bad for golf.

  18. Randall

    Oct 31, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    They are not making the game harder for the hackers. Most weekend golfwrx don’t follow the rules, so it will not affect. The fact is the rule book has said no part of the club can be anchored to anything other than the hands. The pros have been cheating for years; hence Ernie’s statement. They need to be held to a higher standard. I love watching Keegan and Web play, but they are breaking the rules

  19. Kkoz17

    Oct 31, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    I disagree. When a golfer is a notoriously bad putter and then switches to an anchored putter and becomes an above average putter, that is a clear problem. Ban them and don’t look back!!!!!

    • Gm

      Oct 31, 2012 at 9:06 pm

      Precisely! And by Keegan saying that he will take the Rules to court, he’s ADMITTING to the whole world that the anchored IS HELPING him make putts. Duh.

  20. jay hall

    Oct 31, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    The fact is the USGA and R&A should NOT set the rules for the professionals. The pros should have different rules from the amateurs, the game they play is night and day from 99.9% of amateurs out there so why make rules that make it harder for the guys who sux!!!

    • Gm

      Oct 31, 2012 at 9:05 pm

      @jay hall

      That still doesn’t help Keegan, does it? You’re saying that the Amateurs should be allowed to anchor but not the Pros, if the USGA and R&A are to set different rules? What???

      • sean_miller

        Nov 2, 2012 at 2:17 pm

        Isn’t the point of the article that it’s beginners and ultimately the entire game of golf that will suffer because of this ban? The Keegan Bradley bit is in there to justify using that awesome photo from The Ryder Cup. On that point though, I’ve been in Golf Town a couple dozen times since Keegan won the PGA Championship and not once have I seen anyone checking out a belly putter. If they’re selling them people must be sneaking in and buying them when nobody is looking . . . and using them on courses I never play. I did not see one pleyer using a belly putter this summer. Not sure what part of North America depends on these abominations for golf to survive but it sure isn’t Western Canada.

  21. Bill Miller

    Oct 31, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    They allow these crutches, and I’ll start putting astraddle my target line. What’s the difference? None IMO.

    • Steve Loomis

      Nov 8, 2012 at 12:16 pm

      Professional golf is played by the elite few, who play the game at the highest level, have access to the most advanced equipment and instruction, and play under the penultimate conditions on the world’s best golf courses. When one considers all of the things that are “banned” or “outside the rules” like kneeling on a towel, or stradling the line. Is it really that absurd to suggest anchoring the club or gripping it in any other way but with your hands should not be banned? Grow up boys you are the best, if not then move over and get out of the way.

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Gear Dive: Legendary club builder Larry Bobka speaks on Tiger’s old Titleist irons



Legendary club builder Larry Bobka joins us in the first episode of our new podcast called “Gear Dive,” hosted by Johnny Wunder, GolfWRX’s Director of Original Content. Gear Dive is a deep look into the world of golf equipment, and Wunder will be interviewing the craftsman, the reps and the players behind the tools that make up the bags of the best golfers in the world.

Bobka, our first guest, is a former Tour rep and club builder involved in some of the most important clubs of the past 25 years. From his days at Wilson Golf working with legends such as Payne Stewart, Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer, he transitioned into the Golden Age of Titleist/Acushnet building clubs for Tiger Woods, Davis Love, David Duval and Brad Faxon. He currently runs Argo Golf where he builds and fits handmade putters for Tour players and amateurs alike. He’s one of the Godfather’s of modern golf equipment.

Skip to 45:30 for the discussion about Tiger’s Titleist irons.

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Gary Player joins our 19th Hole podcast, talks past and future of golf



Hall-of-Famer and career Grand Slam winner Gary Player joins host Michael Williams for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf tournament and Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri. Player talks about the past and future of the game, including his take on everything from reigning in the golf ball and golf courses, to advocating for more testing for performance enhancing drugs on the Tour. Steve Friedlander of Big Cedar Lodge also appears.

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Opinion & Analysis

Let’s Retire Old Man Par: A Modest Proposal



In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical essay entitled “A modest proposal,” in which he suggested that the Irish eat their own children. As might be expected, the piece drew a great deal of discussion and controversy. He was of course not serious, but simply attempting to make a point. As you will read this piece contains “A Modest Proposal” as well, but it is not intended to be satirical. I am for the record dead serious.

The golf industry is wringing its hands, trying to find a way to bring new players into the game, while at the same time keeping those that are in the game from leaving. They have initiated any number of programs designed for this purpose. How successful have they been? I would venture that they have barely moved the needle.

Barriers to the game

What we do know is that today there are three major barriers that confront the industry. They are first, the time required to play the game; second the costs associated with playing the game; and third the difficulty of the game.

There are among those adults that start the game, three distinct different groups:

  1. Those who would like to start playing golf but for any number of reasons decided not to take up the game.
  2. Those who once played more frequently but have reduced the number of rounds that they play.
  3. Those who started to play the game but then after a short period decided to leave it.

Those who leave the game

Those in the golf industry, the hand-wringers, have developed any number of programs to bring new players to the game. I would ask the question, “What is the point, when almost an equal number of players that start playing the game each year, decide to give it up within a span of a few months.

Does it make any sense to continue to put water into a bucket when there is a hole in the bottom? Of course not, but that is effectively what is being done. The first question to be ask, why do these new players quit the playing after a short time? In my opinion, the number No. 1 reason is the method of scoring being used.

Were an exit poll to be conducted asking these people why they quit playing, I seriously doubt they would answer truthfully. Who would want to admit that they were discouraged by their inability to succeed at any endeavor? The two answers that would be given the most often would be 1) that golf is too expensive to play; or 2) that they simply didn’t have time.  In this case both answers serve to preserve the individual’s dignity. And who could blame them?

The concept of par

Why did these individuals find the game difficult? The short answer is that while golf is a hard game to learn, there  is a more compelling reason.  I would venture, that the underlying reason they quit the game is that it ceased to be fun because of how they viewed their performance. And for one central reason… the concept of par. The idea that an amateur golfer, especially a beginner, should measure their level of success against an imaginary set of numbers that represents what an expert player would score on each hole is on the surface ridiculous.

You might imagine a beginning player scoring an eight on a par-four hole after hitting six good shots and then two putting for an eight. In the context of their ability, they should be ecstatic — but of course they are not (because as their playing partner reminds them) they were four-over par on that hole. The time has come for Old Man Par to retire. And retire permanently. He is killing the game.

Perceived failure

In another scenario, the beginning player scores sixty for nine holes, which is an excellent score given the short amount of time they might have spent playing the game. And yet their nine-hole score was 24-over par. How would that make you feel? Would you be encouraged or discouraged? You might imagine yourself back in school and regardless of the amount of work that you put into a given class you always receive an “F.” At some point, would you give up?

Why should every golfer be judged by the same standard when there is such inequality in their ability? The equivalent would be placing a high school freshman in a graduate-level college course, expecting that they could perform at the same level as the other graduate students. The disparity in knowledge, based on age and experience, is precisely the reason why there are different grades in school. The same disparity exists among golfers. In this case, the difference being the ability to perform on the golf course as opposed to the classroom.

What about the second group of players that now plays less than they did in the past? Could it be that they are no longer having fun playing the game?And then there is the third group, those that consider playing the game but abandon it for another sport. Could it be that they are intimidated by the scoring system, knowing that as a beginner par is an absolute impossibility?

Old man par 

The legendary Bobby Jones was the first to coin, perhaps with the help of his friend O.B. Keillor, the phrase “Old Man Par.” Jones was, of course, the greatest amateur to have ever played the game. He won the Grand Slam in 1930, retiring then at the age of 28.

The time has come to retire “Old Man Par” and devise a new system for measuring a golfer’s progress in the game. I know that those in the USGA. would reject the concept immediately for fear of, and here is a $10 word used primarily by attorneys, “bifurcate” the game. What that word essentially means in this context in having more than one standard. The USGA is responsible for preserving the nature of the game, but at the same time it should be equally concerned with preserving the future of the game.

Personal par

What I would suggest is a system based on the principle of what might be termed “personal par.” This was essentially the system that was used to groom a young Tiger Woods. As a young child, he was not capable of reaching the longer holes in regulation, making par a virtual impossibility. Consequently, his coach wisely devised a system in which par was adjusted upward based on his ability at a given point in time. This served to keep the young child feeling good about his performance and subsequent progress.

This is the type of system that needs to be devised for the health of the game. The system would begin at a nine-hole level using a par of thirty-six as a basis. The actual numbers are not as important as the basic concept. There would be within the nine-hole and the eighteen-hole groups five different levels as follows with assigned par for each hole and eighteen holes roughly equal with the player’s ability.

As players improved, they would graduate from one level to another based on their total score. The handicap system would work in similar fashion as it does now with a single modification. The strokes give from one player to another would depend on the level in which they fall and the par assigned to that level.

The personal par handicap system would not be as exacting as it is presently used, but it would be sufficient to allow players to be reasonable competitive without any significant sacrifice. There would then be two scoring systems then, allowing players to choose which one they wanted to use. Or a recommendation might be given that until they reach a given scoring threshold that they use the personal par scoring system.

There would, of course, be the usual concern with something new being injected into the system, but the proposed change would be no greater than when the system of equitable scoring was introduced or when courses were first assigned a course rating number.

A few years ago, when life-long teacher and educator Dr. Gary Wiren was inducted into the Golf Teacher’s Hall of Fame, he wanted to pass along a single piece of advice to those teachers in the room. “Gentleman,” he started and then paused for emphasis. “We must find a way to make the game more fun for our students.”

I’m in full agreement with Dr. Wiren. The question is, “What is the best way to accomplish that goal?” I believe that that the first step in that direction is to change the scoring system so that golfers experience more satisfaction and accomplishment. That is what makes learning fun.

And so, I would have you consider “The Modest Proposal” that I have put forward. And rather than attempting to find reasons why a revised scoring system couldn’t never work, for the benefit of the game, look for the same number of reason why it could work. The time has come for Old Man Par, as we know him, to retire. He has served us well, but he has become an anarchism. He is as obsolete as the horse and buggy. Let’s hand him his gold watch and let him enjoy his golden years in peace.

And at the same time, let’s welcome the “new kid on the block” who will pave the way for the next generation of golfers pioneering a scoring system that promises to make the game more “fun.”

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19th Hole