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Local golfers split on ban of anchored putting

Some, but not all, like new rule

The anchored putting stroke helps Joel Simpson so much he’ll still use it.

Jessica Rinaldi for the Boston Globe

The anchored putting stroke helps Joel Simpson so much he’ll still use it.

Joel Simpson has used an anchored putting stroke while playing golf for the past five years. The initial switch to a long putter was in response to the unfortunate arrival of the yips, not terribly uncommon. More recently, the putting stroke has helped calm Simpson’s hands, which have a tendency to shake from neuropathy, a painful condition he has battled since being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 13 months ago.

Far be it for golf’s two governing bodies, then, to tell Simpson he’s using an action that will be against the rules. The 59-year-old Charlestown resident doesn’t care about Rule 14-1b that was approved Tuesday and will ban anchoring, beginning in 2016; Simpson will play by his own rules, even if they fly in the face of the US Golf Association and the R&A.

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“I disagree with the decision. If they want to do it for the professionals and tournament golf, that’s one thing, but I think the regular Joe, the amateur, should be able to continue anchoring,” said Simpson, after playing a casual round Tuesday at George Wright Golf Course in Hyde Park.

“They’re always trying to make golf more popular, but it looks like they’re losing some people. I think they should make it easier and faster, and if the anchored putter helps that, I think it’s good for the game.”

Tuesday’s announcement by the USGA and R&A came nearly six months after the rule was proposed, and followed a 90-day comment period that had tours, players, and organizations taking sides and gearing up for a fight, hoping to sway the decision. Some, such as the PGA Tour and PGA of America, staunchly opposed the proposal. Others have strongly supported it, contending that anchoring a club to the body isn’t in the spirit of the game and could bring an unfair advantage.

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Decades after anchoring made its debut in golf, the two groups that write the rules issued their verdict: Anchoring will not be allowed. That leaves some wondering why it took so long, and many others complaining that it will hurt, not help, the growth of the game at a time when golf can least afford it.

Local reaction seemed to follow mostly along company lines.

“The MGA supports the USGA and the R&A as the rules-making bodies, and we will certainly fall in line with their recommendations,” said Joe Sprague, executive director of the Massachusetts Golf Association, which oversees golf in the Bay State and runs a number of tournaments, both for amateurs and professionals.

Countered Scott Munroe, a professional at Nantucket Golf Club who has been an outspoken advocate of using a long putter anchored to the body: “At the end of the day, it’s going to hurt golf. The USGA, they’ve dropped the ball here, but they’ve dropped it before.

“They’ve let this go on too long. They’re going to get sued, it’s going to hurt the integrity of the game. We don’t need that, we need everybody to be together.

“Plus, statistically speaking, the best putters on all the tours around the world do not use belly putters or long putters.”

Numbers vary, but even with the recent spike in major tournaments being won by players using long or belly putters — Keegan Bradley (2011 PGA Championship), Webb Simpson (2012 US Open), Ernie Els (2012 British Open), and Adam Scott (this year’s Masters) — the new rule won’t affect a large percentage of players, because the vast majority continue to use putters of conventional length.

Still, the divisiveness of the issue, the threat of litigation, and whether the PGA Tour will adhere to the rule or ignore it figures to keep the anchor debate alive. Not to mention the scene at every golf course once the rule takes effect. If you get paired with someone who uses an anchored stroke, will you speak up? Is it any different than propping up the ball to get a better lie, even in the fairway, or picking up a 2-foot gimme? The Rules of Golf disallow those, as well.

What about the impact it might have on handicap indexes? If someone continues to use an anchored stroke — it’s the anchoring that is being banned, not the long or belly putter — and records scores for handicap purposes, should those scores be counted? Is the player’s handicap index an accurate reflection?

“Golfers who play even a fair amount of golf, I don’t think they want to be accused of skirting the rules, so they may end up changing their equipment,” said Leigh Bader, who owns and operates Pine Oaks Golf Course in Easton, and the popular Joe & Leigh’s Discount Golf Pro Shop. “There’s a bigger picture here, but I’m not smart enough to find out what it is.

“This just doesn’t feel like the right time to be having this conversation. I think it’s very unfortunate that we’re spending time not focusing on other things, like growing the game, and this has nothing to do with growing the game.”

Unless something changes, everybody — tour pros like Bradley, and amateurs who play in competitions ranging from club championships to state and national tournaments — who anchors a putter has more than two years to find another way.

Don’t expect Joel Simpson to change. Golf is serving an important purpose as he continues his ordeal against pancreatic cancer. Doctors have suggested he remain active, so he’s playing golf, up to six times per week. An anchored stroke adds to Simpson’s enjoyment, so with apologies to the new rule, he’ll politely refuse to abide.

“It’s a cruel enough game without having to three-putt from 15 feet all the time because your hands are shaking. When you make a few putts, you have a lot more fun,” said Simpson, who suggests bifurcation, which would create two sets of rules, for professionals playing at the highest level, and everybody else.

“The honest reality for me is that the ban will probably outlive me. But I’m convinced that I’m going to [anchor] for the rest of my life, however long that is.

“I think for the recreational golfer, it should be a fun game. Golf has always been a stickler for the rules, but I’m going to keep using it.”

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Big name golfers who could be affected

Four of the past six major champions used an anchored putter. A look at some notable players who will be affected by the proposed anchor ban (* with anchored putter; x — Champions Tour):

PlayerWins/majors*Comment
Keegan Bradley3/2011 PGAFirst to win a major with anchored putter, which really ignited the great debate
Webb Simpson3/2012 US OpenFirst player since 1976 to win US Open in second start
Ernie Els1/2012 BritishLast year on anchored putter: “As long as it’s legal, I’ll keep cheating like the rest of them.’’
Adam Scott3/2013 MastersFour years ago, pre-anchored putter, missed nine cuts, including three of four majors
Carl Pettersson5/noneHas used anchored putter for 16 years, which includes his entire PGA Tour career
x-Bernhard Langer18/2Resurrected career with anchored putter in 1996; most prolific winner on Champions Tour
Guan TianlangNoneAt 14, he’s the youngest to make a cut in a major (2013 Masters)

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