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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Golf's governing bodies will announce their decision on what would be a significant rules change regarding putting -- specifically whether players will be allowed to anchor the club to their body during the stroke -- on Wednesday.
For months, the United States Golf Association and the R&A -- which administers the game outside of the U.S. and Mexico -- have been mulling a change to the rules that would prohibit anchoring the club, a practice that has become more common with long putters and belly putters.They have scheduled a news conference for 8:30 a.m. ET Wednesday to announce their ruling. If the rule is proposed or enacted, it likely would not go into effect until 2016, when golf's rulebook is slated to be updated next.
USGA executive director Mike Davis and R&A chief executive Peter Dawson had both promised some direction on the rule by the end of the year.
Long putters, around for decades, became popular on the Champions Tour in the 1980s. Players on the 50-and-older circuit realized they could produce a steadier stroke if they anchored the end of the putter against their body. It generally was considered a club for players with back issues or putting problems.
Rocco Mediate became the first player to win a PGA Tour event using a long putter in 1991; Paul Azinger was the first to win using a belly putter in 2000.But the issue of using a long putter has taken on more importance of late. Three of the past five major champions have used a belly putter, including Keegan Bradley, the first to win a major (2011 PGA) using a belly putter. "I'm obviously not happy with the ruling, but I respect the USGA, and especially (executive director) Mike Davis," Bradley said. "They make the rules, and I'll adjust appropriately. But I'm going to accept the challenge and hopefully do well when they do ban it.'' Webb Simpson began using a belly putter in 2004, won the 2012 U.S. Open, followed by Ernie Els at the Open Championship. "People have said to me having a belly putter takes the hands out of it," Webb said. "Well, I was shaking in my boots the last putt at the U.S. Open. So short putter, belly putter ... I was nervous as can be.''
Els had been outspoken in his distaste for the putters, going back as far as 2004 when he felt the clubs should be banned. "Take a tablet,'' he said at the time, referring to a player's ability to calm his nerves.
Even last year, after grudgingly using a belly putter after his own troubles on the greens, Els said he felt the clubs should be outlawed but joked, "As long as they allowed it, I'll keep cheating."
Recently, Els' thoughts have changed. He now understands where those who use such putters are coming from. Is it fair to change after all this time? Els noted that using a belly putter is not automatic, and it takes plenty of practice to figure out how to use one. And those against a ban point out that none of the game's top putters use one.
Any ruling wouldn't ban the putters, but it would ban anchoring. So a player still could use a long putter as long he does not rest his hand against his chest during the stroke; same for the belly putter, as long as it is not pressed up against the body.Tiger Woods agrees that players should not be allowed to anchor the putter against the body. "I just believe the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves; having it as a fixed point, as I was saying all year, is something that's not in the traditions of the game," Woods said. "We swing all other 13 clubs. I think the putter should be the same. It should be a swinging motion throughout the entire bag.''
Hall of Famers such as Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer have spoken out against anchoring, too, saying it is not a true golf stroke. Brandt Snedeker, who won the FedEx Cup in 2012 and was the PGA Tour's leader in a statistic called strokes gained putting, is also in favor of a ban.
"I feel like they should be banned,'' Snedeker told the Golf Channel last week. "I've got no problem with longer putters if you want to make sure they're not anchored; I've just got a problem with anchoring. There's a reason why guys that have belly putters use them: They work. If they didn't work, they wouldn't use them.''
Azinger offers another view, including the notion the game has bigger problems aside from long putters.
"For 11 years, everyone said nobody can win a major with a belly putter; Keegan does it, Phil (Mickelson) tries it, and now they want it banned?'' Azinger said. "I'll say this, the Great Big Bertha (one of the first medal drivers made by Callaway) made wooden drivers look like a 4-wood. Now the Great Big Bertha looks like a 4-wood.
"Everyone hits today's drivers farther, not everyone will putt better with a belly putter or, like the drivers, everyone would use it."
Some players have suggested they would exhaust all avenues available to them to still be allowed to anchor their putters.
The PGA Tour and the European Tour always have followed the rules set forth by the USGA and R&A, respectively.