Golfers won’t be able to make strokes with a club anchored to their bodies under a proposal by the sport’s rulemakers sparked by changes in putting.
A stroke in which the putter’s butt-end is rested against a player’s body to create a pendulum-like swing has been used by players to win three of golf’s last five major tournaments.
While the clubs -- including long-handled and so-called belly putters -- wouldn’t be banned, their intended method of use would be under the rule proposed to take effect in 2016
“This is all about the stroke,” Mike Davis, executive director of the U.S. Golf Association, said during a media conference call. “We believe a player should hold the club away from the body and swing it freely.”
The leaders of the USGA and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of Scotland, and their respective rules and equipment directors, disclosed the decision this morning.
The long putter has been a boon to club manufacturers battling a drop in a marketplace worth almost $150 million. While long clubs can still be used, a ban on anchoring likely would make some of them less effective and draw opposition from club makers.
The two groups said they consulted with legal advisers before drafting the proposed rule.
“Shame on us if we’re scared of litigation,” Davis said. “We can’t make that part of our decision. We understand that there will be certain players who aren’t happy about this.”
Putter companies have struggled to sell clubs in the last decade. In 2011, sales of putters at golf courses and in golf-specific shops accounted for $141.3 million, down 30 percent from $200 million in 2003, according to data provided by Kissimmee, Florida-based Golf Datatech. It was the ninth straight year of declining sales.
While belly anchored putters have been around for two decades, their use was mostly limited to players on the 50-and-over senior tours. Their popularity has increased among junior golfers and PGA Tour players in recent years, drawing concern. In 2012, 15 percent of professional golfers used anchored putters, up from 6 percent from 2006 through 2010, the two groups said.
The rule, which will be reviewed for three months before a final decision is made, would apply to strokes used with any club on the course, not just putters, the two groups said.
A ban on anchor-style strokes has been supported by many of the games top players, including Arnold Palmer and 14-time major tournament winner Tiger Woods.
“The art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves,” Woods told reporters yesterday at the World Challenge event in Thousand Oaks, California. “Having it as a fixed point, as I was saying all year, is something that’s not in the traditions of the game. We swing all other 13 clubs. The putter should be the same.”
The decision won’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2016, when the newest edition of the Rules of Golf will be published. It will affect players worldwide, from millionaire professionals to weekend duffers, as well as a club-making industry that has struggled through the last decade.
Peter Dawson, chief executive of the St. Andrews, Scotland-based R&A, said his group and the Far Hills, New Jersey-based USGA are focused on a player’s stroke, not the club itself.
“Anchored strokes have very rapidly become the preferred stroke of a number of players,” Dawson said. “Our conclusion is that anchored strokes threaten to supplant traditional strokes, which with all of their frailties, are integral to the longstanding character of our sport.”
A violation of the rule during play would result in a two-stroke penalty or a loss of the hole if used during head-to-head match play.
In the last two years, professionals Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els have won major championships using putters anchored to their body. Guan Tianglang, a 14-year-old Chinese golfer, used a so-called belly putter to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship this month, earning a spot in April’s Masters Tournament. He will be the youngest competitor in the history of the event, the first major of the golf season and the only one never won with an anchored putter.
The USGA sets the rules for the U.S. and Mexico, while the R&A covers the rest of the golf world.