With Webb Simpson’s recent victory at the U.S. Open, two of the last three majors have been won by players using belly putters. (Keegan Bradley bellied his way to victory at the PGA Championship last August.) Watching Simpson sink his championship-clinching 4-foot putt on the 18th green while anchoring his putter to his abdomen might have been the tradition-obsessed USGA’s worst nightmare. It certainly renewed speculation about the fate of unconventional putters.
As reported here in March, the USGA and the R&A are conducting an inquiry into the putting technique known as “anchoring,” in which the butt of the putter is secured against the body (the abdomen] with the belly putter, the chest with the long putter.) A number of prominent golfers, including Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, and Tiger Woods, have advocated bans on unconventional putters on the theory that anchoring departs from the traditional concept of the stroke.
Putting to rest speculation that any action is imminent, USGA executive director Mike Davis recently indicated that he expects a decision by year-end. He also confirmed that if the USGA and R&A take any action, they will likely approach the question as a stroke issue (prohibiting anchoring), rather than an equipment issue (placing limits on putter length). He stressed that any decision will be predicated on what is in the best interest of the future of the game, and not on recent developments on the Tour or Webb Simpson’s performance at Olympic. Davis also indicated that there will be plenty of lead time for golfers to adapt to a new restriction, since any change would not become effective until the next rules revision in 2016.
Any such modification of the stroke rule would mean the rules gurus would have to devise a definition of “anchoring,” which could prove challenging. Even before the advent of longer putters, Billy Casper braced his left hand against his left leg while stroking his putter. You could still have a belly putter in your bag, but without anchoring this would seem pointless. Currently, the only prohibition in putting is that the player may not straddle the line of putt, unless done to avoid standing on another player’s line of putt. This restriction was a response to Sam Snead’s croquet-style of putting in the late 1960s.
Some observers have urged that any restriction on anchoring should be limited to the PGA Tour and major championships. However, the USGA and R&A have long resisted any such “bifurcation” of the rules of golf or equipment standards. So, if the USGA ultimately decides that anchoring is inconsistent with the traditional concept of the stroke, you might have to give up that belly putter. Or hope your friends in your league don’t call you on it.
Jack Ross completed an intensive PGA/USGA rules workshop and has officiated at state amateur competitions.