The hallowed "Rules of Golf" will undergo a rare and controversial change, as the sport has placed a ban on "anchor putting," a tactic that has threatened to over take the game. A new rule, 14-1b, will make it illegal to hold the butt end of a putter against your body, "anchoring" the club for a more stable stroke. Technically, golfers may still use long putters or belly butters, provided they don't actually brace it against their bodies during their stroke, but since that defeats most of the purpose of using the long putters, as Adam Scott (shown above) did during his Masters win last month, the rule change may effectively banish the clubs from the game.
Why the change now? Belly putters have been around for more than 30 years, but have only been adopted by a handful of PGA Tour professionals, partly because they were seen as a crutch, if not outright cheating. Golf's governing bodies mostly ignored the issue (previous calls to ban them were rejected) until four of the last six major championship winners won their tournaments with an anchored stroke. Several golf associations and top players, including Tiger Woods, have spoken out against anchored putting, and the outcry finally led to the new change.
But the decision goes far beyond the private clubs and major tournaments of PGA and European tours. Thousands of regular golfers have adopted the long putters. Even the PGA of America pushed back against the ban, believing it would discourage new players and hurt the sport's growth. (The USGA claims there's no evidence of that, and it's also part of the point. They don't want beginners learning the anchored technique.) And don't forget the club manufacturers who will discontinue whole product lines and find it hard to differentiate themselves when everyone is using the same style of putter.
In the end, there's no real evidence that anchoring gives golfers a statistical advantage, but rulemakers felt that the stroke is so different that it changes the very essence of the game. Why they waited so long to do something about it instead of nipping it in the bud is hard to fathom, but just like golf itself, change can move pretty slowly. In order to give golfers who use the long putters time to adjust, the ban won't go into effect until 2016.