When touring pros like Adam Scott, Webb Simpson, and Keegan Bradley started winning tournaments with long and belly putters last year, sales of unconventional putters skyrocketed. It grew hard to find them on the rack at many retailers. Odyssey Golf, which manufactures the White Hot XG Sabertooth belly putter used by Bradley, reported that sales increased more than 400% last year.
However, just when it seemed that the unconventional putter boom might resuscitate the stagnant golf equipment industry, the USGA and R&A are posturing to deliver a proverbial punch to the belly of club manufacturers. According to an article by James Achenbach in Golfweek, the USGA, at the urging of the R&A, plans to conduct an inquiry into the putting technique known as “anchoring,” in which the butt of the putter is secured against the body. In belly putting, the grip end of the putter is secured against the abdomen. In chest putting with a long putter, the grip end of the putter is secured against the chest.
Ever since long and belly putters appeared on the market, concerns have been expressed that anchoring the putter departs from the traditional concept of the stroke. Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson have suggested bans on belly putters, as did Ernie Els several years ago — prior to turning to the belly putter last year in a search for a cure to his putting woes.
Tiger Woods criticized belly putters at the Memorial Tournament in 2004. “I thought the art of putting is to try and figure out how to swing both arms together,” said Woods. “Anything fixed, I don’t think that’s right. That’s the art of putting, is to try to figure out how to get your synchronization done with both arms and your hands at the same time.”
There is precedent for banning an unconventional putting technique. In 1968, the USGA prohibited Sam Snead’s croquet style of putting, ruling that it is impermissible to straddle the line of putt. Some observers contend that Snead’s technique was actually less inimical to the traditional concept of a stroke than anchoring, since his arms and hands flowed freely. In 1989, the USGA condoned long putters, but has been silent on the issue since.
According to Golfweek, at the USGA’s annual meeting last week executive director Mike Davis indicated that the USGA and R&A have been discussing anchoring, and that the USGA intends to take “a fresh look” at the issue. “More players are using it, both on the elite level and the recreational level,” he commented. “We want to be sure that we are looking at all the angles and thinking about what is in the best interest both of the traditions of the game, the history of the game, and what we think would be good for the game.”
Achenbach suggested that any attempt to draft a rule prohibiting anchoring “would in all probability become the biggest challenge in the history of equipment rulesmaking. It would constitute a major rules decision.”
The USGA has indicated no time frame for its study of anchoring, nor has it committed itself to taking any action. So, for now, you’re free to continue to use your belly or long putter. No doubt, firms like Odyssey Golf, which is expecting a banner year for sales of such putters, would prefer to see the USGA adopt a “go slow” approach.
Jack Ross is the editor of Ross’s Rulings. He completed an intensive PGA/USGA rules workshop and has officiated at state amateur competitions. He does not use a belly or long putter.