Golf’s rulemakers banned anchored putting strokes, a technique that has been used by players to win four of the past six major professional tournaments and drawn both support and opposition throughout the sport.
The outlawing of a stroke in which the player’s putter rests against the body to create a pendulum-like swing will begin Jan. 1, 2016, the U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient Golf Club said in a statement. While the proposed rule is intended for all players, the U.S. PGA Tour, the world’s top professional circuit, hasn’t yet said if it will adopt the ban.
The new rule, known as Rule 14-1b, will not alter current equipment rules and allows for the continued use of all conforming clubs, including long-handled and belly putters, provided they are not anchored to the body.
“We took a great deal of time to consider this issue and received a variety of contributions from individuals and organizations at all levels of the game,” R&A Chief Executive Officer Peter Dawson said in the statement. “We recognize this has been a divisive issue but after thorough consideration we remain convinced that this is the right decision for golf.”
The use of anchored putting strokes, which first gained popularity among players on the 50-and-over tour, has increased at all levels over the past decade. While many players, including 14-time major tournament winner Tiger Woods, oppose its use, others including South Africa’s Tim Clark and American Keegan Bradley are against a ban and have threatened possible legal action.
The governing bodies said they consulted with legal advisers before drafting the rule, which if violated 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 event of any litigation, I can assure you of this, we have looked at this from a legal perspective as well and we feel confident of our position,” USGA President Glen Nager, a Stanford University Law School graduate and partner in a Washington, D.C.-based law firm, said in a press conference.
The U.S. PGA Tour said in a statement that it will review the ban and discuss it with its Player Advisory Council and Policy Board members over the next month before issuing any comment.
While the stroke is used primarily in putting, the ban would apply to its used with any club on the course.
“Anchoring creates potential advantages, such as making the stroke simpler and more repeatable, restricting the movement and rotation of the hands, arms and clubface, creating a fixed pivot point, and creating extra support and stability that may diminish the effects of nerves and pressure,” Nager said. “We have heard and genuinely empathize with those who will need to adjust. But the understandable objections of these relative few cannot prevent adoption of a rule that will serve the best interests of the entire game going forward.”
Bradley became the first player to use a so-called belly putter to win one of golf’s four Grand Slam events when he captured the 2011 PGA Championship.
Clark has cited a wrist condition he was born with for the need to rest his putter’s handle against his chest while playing. He has used the stroke for 16 years.
Australia’s Adam Scott won the Masters Tournament in April using a putter that he anchored against his chest. Tianlang Guan, a 14-year-old Chinese amateur, became the youngest player to make the 36-hole cut at the Masters while using a similar stroke.
In 2012, 15 percent of professional golfers used anchored putters, up from 6 percent from 2006 through 2010, the two groups said when disclosing the proposed ban in November.
The U.S. PGA Tour had opposed the ban, while the European PGA Tour had said it would support the decision to outlaw the stroke.