DOES ANCHORED PUTTING REQUIRE A RULE CHANGE IN GOLF?

 

The 2014 golf major season is fast approaching.  The 2013 Masters was won with a putting style to be banned in 2016, which at the time was within the rules of golf (USGA, 2013, para. 1).  The rule change, approved in the months following the Masters victory, followed a series of recent wins in majors by multiple players using anchored putting styles.  Ironically, before the Masters in 2013 PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement there was an “absence of data or any basis to conclude that there is a competitive advantage to be gained by using anchoring” (Ferguson, para. 7).  Does each putting style which is freely available and used within the rules by a small number of players with no universal evidence of improvement require a rule change?  As observed in 2013, sometimes the answer is yes.  What exactly prompted the rule change is unclear.  Golfers around the world experiment with variations in putting styles.  With the standard putting stroke, the grip of the putter is attached to the hands (or hand) with the arms moving freely with the grip end of the putter unattached from the trunk, chin, shoulder, or chest.  With the anchored pendulum stroke, the grip end of the putter (or attached hand) is anchored to a fixed part of the body other than the hands, arm, or forearm with the ball in the standard position.  In this manner, the putter is pivoted on a point located on or near the trunk with the same pendulum stroke.  There are no issues of pace of play, obvious performance improvement, revenue, safety, or massive use (i.e., “only 2 to 4 percent of all golfers in the United States and Europe”, USGA, 2013, para. 18).  The USGA contends that “The bottom line is that anchoring has generated serious division within the game and among players about whether those who anchor play the same game and face the same challenges” (USGA, 2013, para. 12).

Individual styles abound throughout golf.  Banning of anchored putting is an example of how an individualistic, successful, and rule-abiding style may prompt a rule change.  The opportunity for anchored putting has been available for the history of golf.  Specific examples are unclear as to the “serious divisions” alluded to by the USGA in reference to the putting style.  The perception of “serious divisions within the game” may be related to the recent success in major championships.

If recent success in the majors is unrelated to the decision and there is no statistical evidence of performance improvement, then the grounds for the rule change are elsewhere.  If golf traditions allow for technological improvement and individual style, then individual styles within the rules should be allowed to continue.  Each golfer has individual styles relative to each club, shot, and situation.  Enjoyment of the game with anchored putting by a small fraction of golfers (i.e., 2-4%, USGA) has eventually resulted in a prohibited putting style for reasons apparently related to the tradition of the game.  If the grounds for rule changes are related to traditions of golf, then in traditions reside hickory shafts, golf balls made from feathers and rubber, bladed putters, and walking instead of riding powered carts between shots.

Ferguson, D.  (2013).  PGA Tour opposes ban on anchoring putter strokes, says Finchem.  Retrieved March 12, 2014 from: http://www.pga.com/golf-equipment/equipment-feature/pga-tour-opposes-ban-anchoring-putter-strokes-says-tim-finchem

USGA. (May 21, 2013).  Transcript of USGA press conference announcing final decision on Rule 14-1b.  Retrieved October 9, 2013 from http://www.usga.org/NewsSF.aspx?id=21474856140

Dr. William W. (Wirt) Edwards is the Academy’s Chair of Sports Exercise Science.  He can be reached at wedwards@ussa.edu.

 

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