Bellies and Broom-handles Under Threat: Putting Changes
The big fuss being made over the anchored stroke versus the free-swinging stroke is nothing new. We just think it is because the percentage of pros employing anchored putters has suddenly risen over the past few years. Orville Moody won a Senior Open over three decades ago by using an anchored putter, and a lot of recent winners have done the same. They argued about it then, and they’ll argue about it again. However, this time, official action is being taken, and the verdict is definitely slanted away from the full-length contraptions.
Of course, it feels good to have absolutely anything anchored to something else in the golf swing. Watching Arnie in the sixties, I resolutely jammed a bent right leg into a straight left one, and cling faithfully to that stance to this day. Putting is maddening, but if it were possible, I would trade anchored putters for an anchored pitching or sand wedge, any day (yes, I’m still using antiques like pitching wedges – it’s my own tribute to the traditional.
The United States Golf Association apparently doesn’t care what you anchor against what, so long as you swing the club freely, and I begrudgingly cede the point. In fact, as Tiger Woods notes, it’s been a long time coming. We barely paid any attention at all to putting as an aspect to study within the game of golf until Sam Snead’s era. Ben Hogan was more than dismissive of play on the green, and probably would have agreed to having it done away with, if he’d been asked. Hogan overtly informed Billy Casper that if he wasn’t such a good putter, he wouldn’t be a pro golfer at all.
The objection is clear and understandable. To anchor the putter creates a joining of the club with the body in a way that forms a hinge. Pros with putting problems have embraced it, and three of the last five major winners use either a broom-handle or belly putter. Whether the USGA likes it or not, anchored putting has become part of the culture, from the local muni course to the Masters.
Back to Tiger, it is worth noting his belief that every other club is swung, and that swinging is the core tradition of the game, its central physical reality. He also believes that swinging and controlling nerves are central to being a winner in the game, and I am persuaded. Jack Nicklaus backs him up. The no-nonsense great reminds us that every manner of technological and rule change has come along over the past eras. We’ve always gotten over it, he reminds us, and we’ll get over it this time. The rule change is not anticipated until 2016, after all, so one would assume that all champion belly putters have the time to rework their sideways pendulums.
Some variations of the anchored putters are out there as well. Fred Couples uses one that rests against his stomach, but is not anchored there. The ruling there is unclear. Matt Kuchar uses a mid-length that rests against the arm, which is probably ok. Carl Pettersen of Sweden and Tim Clark of South Africa want to keep their anchored clubs, and threaten to get all legal about it. There are financial issues at stake, with the industry manufacturing an increasing number of the popular clubs.
Regardless, if the 2016 change goes through, using one will mean a lost hole in match play, and a two-stroke penalty in stroke play. It’s all fine with me. I never win anything, anyway. I’m going to continue jamming that leg into the other one, and hope for the best.