Last November, after an extensive review, we proposed Rule 14-1b, to prohibit anchoring the club in making a stroke. Having heard and considered many thoughtful comments for and against the proposal, the USGA and The R&A have now adopted the Rule, effective January 1, 2016. This Rule has broad support across the world-wide golf community. While some may disagree with this decision, as Chair of the USGA’s governing board, I want to ensure that our reasoning is understood by all.
Rule 14-1b protects one of the important challenges in the game – the free swing of the entire club. The traditional stroke involves swinging the club with both the club and gripping hands held away from the body, requiring the player to direct and control the movement of the entire club. Anchoring is different: Intentionally securing one end of the club against the body, and creating a point of physical attachment around which the club is swung, is a substantial departure from that traditional free swing.
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.
That anchoring provides such potential advantage is confirmed by those who play, teach and observe the game: Players say that they anchor for such reasons; instructors advocate the stroke for such reasons; and players who oppose anchoring point to such potential advantages. Indeed, some object to Rule 14-1b precisely because they think that, without anchoring, some golfers might play less well (and thus play less).
Some object that we have not shown statistically that anchored putting is a superior stroke. But the playing Rules are not based on statistical studies; they are based on judgments that define the game and its intended challenges. One of those challenges is to control the entire club, and anchoring alters that challenge. Moreover, the issue is not whether anchoring provides a statistically demonstrable advantage to the average player, or on every stroke or in every circumstance. What matters here is whether, by diminishing obstacles inherent in the traditional stroke, anchoring may advantage some players at some times. Statistics are not necessary to resolve that issue.
Others suggest that anchoring must not be advantageous because relatively few use it. But many golfers believe that anchoring is not a proper way to play the game and have not anchored for that reason. Also, the trend over two decades is toward remarkably increased use – a particularly worrisome trend now that beginners and juniors are being taught anchored strokes.
Anchored putting has generated serious division about whether those who anchor are playing the same game and facing the same challenges. Such divisiveness is corrosive to a game based on sportsmanship. Rule 14-1b will serve the game by removing the cause of this divisiveness.
Some argue that it is unfair to adopt Rule 14-1b, on the view that the Rules have allowed too many to anchor for too long. We respectfully disagree.
The notion that a Rules change must be made soon after an issue is identified, or else be considered foreclosed, regardless of negative effects, is contrary to the history and needs of the game. Many Rule revisions have occurred only long after an issue was first identified, such as the changes relating to croquet-style putting, the 14-club maximum, and the stymie. More recently, discussion has been ongoing about slow play, use of video evidence, scorecard penalties, and other such Rules issues. The passage of time cannot bar us from addressing such issues, for it often takes time to refine the issues, assess potential solutions, and build the consensus needed for change. Players at all levels know that the Rules are subject to change at least every four years, and they adapt accordingly.
Further, the effects of this new Rule are much less than has been suggested. Recent surveys indicate that, even with the recent upsurge in usage, anchoring is currently used by only 2-4% of all golfers in the United States and Europe, and by even fewer in other parts of the world. Moreover, Rule 14-1b leaves those affected with many options for playing the ball: It does not ban any equipment – a player can use the same long putter or belly putter, take the same stance, grip the club in the same way, and make the same pendulum-style stroke; he or she need only move the hand or club slightly off the body. Also, a vast number of other grips, styles, and methods remain available. Putting without anchoring has been used at some point by virtually all who have played the game; and many players have used both methods in practice and/or in play, switching from one method to another with limited transition time. With more than two and a half years until the Rule takes effect, the small percentage of golfers who are affected have plenty of time and means to adapt.
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. Indeed, rather than being too late, now is actually a necessary time to act —before even larger numbers begin to anchor and before anchoring takes firm root globally.
Some object that Rule 14-1b might negatively affect participation in the game. But the game is growing world-wide – and anchoring is hardly used where much of this growth is occurring. Moreover, the major causes of recent reduced participation in the United States and Europe – where national economies have been weak – are the expense of the game, the time that it takes to play, and the perception that the game is not always made fun and accessible for juniors and the like. No meaningful data suggest that anchoring plays any material role in driving participation rates. Indeed, the recent upsurge has occurred mainly because some golfers believe that anchoring helps them to play better, not because it is their only resort.
While we care deeply about participation and are thus leading numerous health of the game initiatives, the USGA must also protect and preserve the game and its challenges for all players world-wide for the long term. That is the point of Rule 14-1b.
For this reason, we cannot accept the view that Rule 14-1b should be applied only to elite players, either through permanent or temporary “bifurcation” of the Rules or an optional condition of competition. The method of stroke is a fundamental aspect of the game; and an integral part of the game’s appeal is that golfers at all levels can play the same course with the same equipment under the same Rules. To adopt a Rule or condition of competition that enabled non-elite amateurs, perhaps 30-40 times a round, to gain the potential advantages of anchoring, while prohibiting professionals and elite amateurs from doing so, would effectively create two different games and undermine the integrity, traditions, and global appeal of the game.
We understand that some golfers are expressing concern with this change. But the proper solution is not to allow alteration of the challenges of the game and pull the game apart, but rather to work together to help these golfers overcome their concerns.
We respect that some golfers and golf organizations have raised questions about this Rule. For the reasons I have offered, which are further elaborated in a statement posted on our website, we are convinced that there are compelling answers to these questions. We hope that those who have expressed concerns know that they have been heard and can appreciate our reasons for concluding that Rule 14-1b is in the best interests of the game, even if they would have decided differently. We ask that all now join with us in moving forward for the good of the game.