Not for much longer it seems. In the tempest that is the game of golf, it's a case of anchors away. After a frenzy of deliberation over the past year or so, the Royal & Ancient and the United States Golf Association, the two governing bodies of the game, last night announced a proposed rules change that would ban the anchoring of a club while making a stroke. The long putters that have burgeoned in popularity and use will still be allowed in the bag but the controversial process of anchoring the club to a fixed point, be it the chin, chest or belly, or with a forearm being held against the body to establish an anchor, is set to be outlawed. The debate will continue, though.
Peter Dawson and Mike Davis, the respective heid honchos of the R&A and the USGA, said that they would accept further comment on the issue over the next few months before the final judgment is passed in the spring of 2013. If all goes according to plan, the proposed Rule 14-1b would be scribbled into the Rules of Golf when the next edition is updated for January 1, 2016. Should a player fall foul of this new rule during tournament play, he or she will be penalised two shots in strokeplay while the punishment in matchplay will be loss of hole.
"Throughout the 600-year history of golf, the essence of playing the game has been to grip the club with the hands and swing it freely at the ball," said Davis. "The player's challenge is to control the movement of the entire club in striking the ball, and anchoring the club alters the nature of that challenge. Our conclusion is that the Rules of Golf should be amended to preserve the traditional character of the golf swing by eliminating the growing practice of anchoring the club."
Since its first appearance on the scene some three decades ago, the long putter has witnessed a surge in popularity at all levels in recent seasons. They were once the reserve of those who had lost their nerve on the greens and were at the end of their tether when it came to putting, or those who simply had difficulty making the necessary, physical stoop over a conventional, short putter. Now they are being wielded in gay abandon across the golfing spectrum. Even the 14-year-old rising Chinese star, Guan Tianglang, who will play in next year's Masters having won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, has adopted a belly putter in his formative years.
Figures for the PGA Tour in the US suggest that the number of players using such clubs has gone up from 6% between 2006 and 2010 to 11% in 2011 and to 15% this year. At some events on the other side of the Atlantic, long or belly putter usage was up to 25% .
During July's Open Championship at Royal Lytham, Dawson counted up 16 belly putters and 27 long putters amid the 156-strong field. Ernie Els, who famously said that "as long as it's still legal I'll keep cheating like the rest of them" won the Claret Jug that week with a long putter tucked into his belly. Els, of course, was the third player to win a major title in less than a year with an anchoring method, following Keegan Bradley's US PGA triumph of 2011 and Webb Simpson's US Open win in June of this year.
Dawson added: "Anchored strokes have become the preferred option for a growing number of players and this has caused us to review these strokes and their impact on the game."
Despite the threat of legal action against the two ruling bodies, should the ruling go through, Davis and Dawson are determined to remain, well, anchored to their decision.
"We need to do what we think is right and shame on us if we are scared of litigation in doing the right thing," said Davis.