Recently the USGA and R&A passed a new rule banning anchored putters, a trend that has been evolving since 1924. The first belly putter patent was granted in 1965 and for almost 50 years no large party had an issue with it. That is until Keegan Bradley won the PGA Championship in 2011, the first player to ever use an anchored putter to win a major. When 2 more unconventional putters were wielded the next year to win major tournaments, the USGA swooped in to put an end to it. In light speed for the USGA, an organization that usually moves slower then a glacier, a rule was presented, tabled, passed and enacted in only 2 years. Their new ordnance will ban the blasphemous belly putter from golf come 2016. The USGA and R&A claimed that this monstrosity was out of the spirit with the game and gave the competitors that use it an unfair advantage. What a bunch of nonsense.
Before I go any farther, let me premise my argument by saying I am a Class-A PGA Professional working on the front lines on a green grass facility. I have worked in almost every golf environment and worked with a lot of different memberships. I have held positions in Arizona and Scotland and everywhere in between. I do not use a belly putter and never have. I have putted with one but after a couple hours of screwing around, found that it didn’t make me any better and I was uncomfortable. While I don’t claim to be an expert on everything in golf, I do believe my finger is a little closer to the pulse then the bureaucrats at the USGA who are still living in the time of Bobby Jones. I see the game evolve, and its a good thing. In fact it may be the only thing that keeps us afloat. But more of that later.
If the belly putter was a weapon of mass destruction, every pro would be using it just like they all use large headed drivers and graphite shafts. However at the end of 2013, only 3 of the top 20 of Golf’s World Rankings used an anchored putter of some sort. A similar stat can be seen in the FedEx Regular Season Rankings where only 4 of the top 20 used a anchored putter.
|World Ranking||Anchored?||Fedex Points||Anchored?|
|1||Tiger Woods||Tiger Woods|
|2||Adam Scott||X||Matt Kuchar||X|
|3||Phil Mickelson||Bradnt Snedeker|
|4||Hendrik Stenson||Phil Mickelson|
|5||Justin Rose||Bill Haas|
|6||Rory McIlroy||Billy Horschel|
|7||Steve Stricker||Justin Rose|
|8||Matt Kuchar||X||Jordan Spieth|
|9||Bradt Snedeker||Henrik Stenson|
|10||Jason Duffner||Keegan Bradley||X|
|11||Zach Johnson||Adam Scott||X|
|12||Graeme McDowell||Boo Weekley|
|13||Jim Furyk||Kevin Streelman|
|14||Luke Donald||Jason Day|
|15||Keegan Bradley||X||Jason Duffner|
|16||Jason Day||Dustin Johnson|
|17||Sergio Garcia||Webb Simpson||X|
|18||Lee Westwood||Zach Johnson|
|19||Charl Schwartzel||Harris English|
|20||Jordan Spieth||Steve Stricker|
Now it is true that some of these players like, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, win despite their putting. However, if you look at the Top 10 in the 2013 Strokes Gained Putting statistic, none of the players there use a belly putter. If anchored putting was this huge advantage you would think that these lists would be crammed with players who love the belly putter. The answer is much farther then the truth though.
Many players see the belly putter as a resurrection of their playing careers. No, right now I am no longer talking about the Adam Scotts. I am talking about the normal people that keep golf in business, who now enjoy the game again because of the belly putter. I have heard horror stories about the Yips almost forcing players to quit the game. It was not enjoyable to them anymore. However, this new look and feel gave them some confidence to stay in the game. I have played with many of these people and statistically it hasn’t helped them much. They still miss short putts and fan on long ones. Call it the placebo effect though. Even though this new tool is not helping their game too much, the confidence they gain from the switch does, and keeps them on the golf course.
Golf is in decline. There is no way around it. The NGF reported that in 2011, 157.5 of facilities closed while only 19 opened. Both of which are the extremes of the bell curve so far. Economically these numbers aren’t shocking. Golf is an expensive, time guzzling sport in an era of fast movers. Because of these factors consumers who consider themselves avid golfers, are now moving away to being occasional golfers, and occasional golfers are quitting. Now these numbers aren’t the fault of the anchoring ban. Ignored ladies and youth programs, as well as a dissolving middle class are the main issues we’re dealing with. However, why pass a rule that discourages a group of people from playing while the game is in decline? It makes 0 since to me.
The USGA is going to do what they are going to do. Like all bloated, authoritarian bodies they live in a realm that is sometimes a far cry from reality. Statistically, belly putters don’t seem to give anyone an advantage over the field. In fact most of the best putters in the world still use a short putter. Belly putters make the game more palpable to a mass of people who seem to be starting to shun it. The PGA does have an option though. Forget what the USGA says. Run your tournaments, and allow the use of belly putters. Pass a rule to keep them on tour. Do anything, except let the USGA stifle innovation. The PGA Tour is the only professional sport that is governed by amateurs, but why? Because it has always been that way? The game needs to evolve and adapt if the industry expects to survive, not be stuck in the stone ages.