Commentary | Belly-putter ban bad for golf, both for pros and amateurs

jdill@bradenton.comDecember 20, 2012 

Golf's mighty powers have issued a proclamation, declaring anchored putters will be illegal starting in 2016.

The United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, the governing bodies on the rules of golf, came to the conclusion in late November that anchored putters need to go. Anyone wishing to use one will be docked a two-stroke penalty or forfeit a hole in match play.

The decision, though, is just wrong.

If an anchored putter is supposed to give players a competitive advantage, then why do players still miss putts?

At the top level, professionals using anchored putters and not the traditional flatsticks are viewed as having a leg up based on the USGA and R&A's recent ruling. However, those pros aren't making every putt.

Webb Simpson, who won the 2012 U.S. Open, uses a belly putter and tied for 54th in the PGA Tour's putting strokes-gained category for 2012.

Another belly-putter champion, Keegan Bradley, also didn't crack the top 10 in putting stats for this past season. Bradley, who ranked 27th in putting on the PGA Tour, is a former PGA Championship winner.

Ernie Els won the British Open last July and revived his career with a long putter.

However, Els completed his latest major victory when another user of long putters, Adam Scott, blew a six-shot lead on the final day.

Having the golf's oldest tournament come down to two men with broom handles was just too much for the R&A, and the chatter about banning that type of putter increased in the months that followed.

It's why we're at this point, a dangerous point for golf fans.

Just because players win golf tournaments with anchored putters doesn't mean that's why that player had a better week than the field.

What happened to the old adage that it's not the equipment, it's the player. How many times has someone in your foursome blamed the stick he or she was wielding for a wayward shot? It happens more often than anyone cares to admit.

Gene Sarazen is considered the inventor of the sand wedge. If the legendary Squire had his club banned from golf all those years ago, could you imagine playing out of a bunker -- especially the potholes in Scotland and England where the Open Championship gets contested -- without the higher lofted sand wedge?

Sure, there have been incidents throughout the history of the game where rule changes were for the better. Getting rid of the stymie was a good change, because players no longer were forced to putt around a ball in their way on the greens or chip over them -- a tactic that could be a detriment to the condition of a course's greens.

But this time, golf's governing bodies have it wrong.

Why make a change to equipment that has been around for quite some time and has gained a foothold among golfers of all abilities?

"I don't think it will make a difference to the amount of professional golfers we'll see," said West Florida Golf Tour owner Carl Wakely, who estimates about 7 or 8 percent of players on his tour use an anchored putter. "... There's a goal, certainly from what I can tell, to make the game more accessible and make it easier for more people to play. And I think the anchored putter did that."

And golf can't afford to lose amateur players who may have revived their game through switching to an anchored putter.

Outlawing anchored putters is just the first step. It's a slippery slope, because, who knows, hybrid clubs could be next on the USGA and R&A hit list. The governing bodies should evaluate how costly those moves could be.

Jason Dill, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7017 or via email at jdill@bradenton.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jason_Dill.

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