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Golf bodies propose ban on anchoring belly putters

Webb Simpson, who won the 2012 US Open, uses a long putter.

Chuck Burton/AP/File

Webb Simpson, who won the 2012 US Open, uses a long putter.

Golf’s worst-kept secret was revealed Wednesday morning, with the sport’s two main governing bodies — the US Golf Association and the R&A — announcing a proposed rules change that would ban the anchored putting stroke, which has been used by multiple players to win recent major championships.

Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA, made it clear that the proposal is not an equipment ban. The long and belly putters that have soared in popularity in recent years can still be used, but under the new rule, the grip end of the putter — or any club, for that matter — can’t be anchored to the body in any way.

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“We believe a player should hold the club away from his body and swing it freely, whether it’s a putt, a chip, a pitch, a bunker shot, an iron shot, a recovery shot, or a shot played from the teeing ground,” Davis said. “We think this is integral to the traditions of the game. Golf is a game of skill and challenge, and we think that’s an important part of it.

“This change is really going to . . . define what the stroke should be. We really think this is good for the game moving forward to make this change.”

A final decision from each governing body on whether to accept and implement the proposal will be determined three months from now, giving both the USGA and the R&A time to consider the views, reactions, and suggestions of those throughout the golf world. If passed, the proposal would take effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

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It has been a divisive issue, especially in the past two years, with more and more professional golfers winning some of the biggest events using an anchored stroke with a longer putter. Some of the most vocal advocates of the putting style, including 2011 PGA champion Keegan Bradley, have threatened legal action if the governing bodies take drastic action.

Bradley, in California for the elite, small-field World Challenge, backed off that assertion this week, when the announcement was imminent.

“I’m obviously not happy with the ruling, but I respect the USGA, and especially Mike Davis,” Bradley said. “They make the rules, and I’ll adjust appropriately. I’m going to accept the challenge and hopefully do well when they do ban it.”

Bradley, Webb Simpson (2012 US Open), and Ernie Els (2012 British Open) have all won majors with long or belly putters, using an anchored stroke. Adam Scott nearly won the British in July, and Carl Pettersson tied for third at this year’s PGA. Tim Clark won the 2010 Players Championship and has more than $19 million in tour earnings. All anchor the putting stroke with broom-style models.

Simpson has putted with an anchored stroke since 2004, when he was a freshman at Wake Forest. It’s the only style he has used since turning pro, but sensing the growing rift that would eventually force the USGA and R&A to weigh in, he has been preparing for Wednesday’s announcement, frequently practicing with a shorter model.

“I expected the day to come, and so I just wanted to be ready. I didn’t want to be shocked,” said Simpson, also playing in this week’s World Challenge. “I basically said I’m ready to implement the short putter at any time now. I’ve heard rumors of this for a long time, so it was one of those things where I’m not worried.”

Data gathered at PGA Tour events still show that players who use traditional length putters without an anchored stroke remain the majority, but Davis and Peter Dawson of the R&A pointed out Wednesday that the usage of longer putters has continued to increase, especially over the past two years. It became a trend impossible to ignore.

“Anchored strokes have very rapidly become the preferred option for a growing number of players, and this has caused us to review these strokes and their impact on the game,” Dawson said. “Our conclusion is that anchored strokes threaten to supplant traditional strokes, which with all their frailties, are integral to the longstanding character of our sport.”

That, in a nutshell, is the argument that has been used against the anchored stroke.

“I just believe that the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves,” said Tiger Woods, who has never used a longer putter. “Having it as a fixed point is something that’s not in the traditions of the game.

“We swing all other 13 clubs. I think the putter should be the same. It should be a swinging motion throughout the entire bag.”

If the proposal is accepted, players who have anchored will have almost three years to find an alternate method. Assuming it becomes a new rule in 2016, Davis said that any infraction — there would have to be an intent to anchor, since accidental contact would not be a breach — would result in a two-stroke penalty in medal play (for each violation), and loss of hole in match play.

Obstacles, such as litigation, could remain. Or perhaps an argument is made over the next three months that prompts the USGA and R&A to change their minds.

Barring that, the option of jamming a belly putter into the gut, or affixing the grip end of the putter into the chest or chin, is about to become a thing of the past, at least when it comes to competitive golf. It’s a decision the governing bodies are comfortable making, by considering the future.

“We think we are giving plenty of options, plenty of creativity to golfers to figure out other methods,” Davis said. “We are just simply saying, we do not think anchored strokes should be a part of the game moving forward.”

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.
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