Sunday, August 5, 2012

Thoughts On The Anchored Putting Situation...

Currently the R&A is reviewing the legality of ‘anchored’ putting methods. This is a bit different from saying that long putters and belly putters would be banned because the idea is more about the putting technique of anchoring the putter against your body. Superstar amateur Beau Hossler was using a belly putter at this year’s US Open, which he borrowed from a member at his club, but was putting with it in a non-anchored fashion. So what the R&A (not the USGA) would be ruling upon would not affect a player like Hossler who doesn’t anchor the belly putter across his body.

First, let’s get some things about of the way that are of lesser importance. The USGA is not ruling on anchored putters at this time. The R&A covers most of the rest of the world when it comes to the rules governing golf. However, more often than not the R&A and USGA work in conjunction with each other. Years ago the R&A allowed for a smaller sized golf ball which would allow the ball to travel further. That’s one reason why international golfers often struggled playing in the US, they had to get used to the shorter flying golf ball.

Also, the R&A used to allow for drivers with a higher COR. The COR is essentially the ‘trampoline effect’ or ‘hotness’ of the driver face. The USGA has set it at 0.830. The R&A allowed the COR to go as high as 0.900. This higher COR means that the ball will fly at a higher speed when hit directly on the sweetspot. Eventually the R&A decided to put the COR limit at 0.830 as well. Thus, the real importance of this ruling is that if the R&A bans anchored style putting, odds are that the USGA will follow.

One of the other things to get out of the way is the R&A’s concern about a golfer using a long putter as the club for drops from hazards, ground under repair, etc. in the ‘2 club length process.’ The fix for that is simple, change the rule to you cannot use a putter for the ‘2 club length drop.’


To me, the crux of making a piece of equipment legal or illegal comes down to ‘is it in the best interest of the game.’ This is where I do not envy the R&A and USGA for having to determine this because that’s such an ambiguous concept to attack. And often times what happens is some people are going to place a great importance on certain aspects as being ‘good for the game’ than others.

One of the big questions I would ask is ‘will it hurt the popularity of the game and if so, is it worth hurting the popularity of the game in the long run?’

I’ve heard the claim that people will quit the game quite a bit if they have to go back to playing with the yips. That’s something that should be addressed, but that does not necessarily mean that a piece of equipment should be made legal in fear of people quitting the game. Imagine there was a putter that had some sort of device that made putting virtually automatic, but cost $10,000 for the putter. Thus, the wealthy could now become world class putters without having any skill. The governing bodies would have to rule against that even if those who could afford the putter claimed that they would quit the game. In that situation, it is worth making illegal in spite of hypothetically losing players.

However, the real crux of the situation is that the reality is that golf will probably not lose 0.5% of its players if the anchored putting style is illegal. For starters, the overwhelming majority of golfers do not have the yips. And a good percentage of anchored putting style golfers use the style because they essentially feel that will work for them in the meantime and then a few months down the road they will probably try a ‘standard’ putter with a ‘standard’ putting stroke because that’s what they will believe works for them in the end. Lastly, many players who have the yips don’t even really know it. The higher handicaps who have the yips just think they are terrible putters and often don’t care about it because they view it as their own lack of talent.

That leaves us with the lower handicap players who use the anchored style to combat the yips. And personally I view their talk about ‘quitting the game’ as an empty threat. Why? Because they love the game so much to begin with that they probably will not leave the game because they cannot putt as well anymore.

Where I have almost exclusively heard talk about golfers leaving the game and seen actual golfers leave the game is usually due to the point where their ballstriking regresses so much that they cannot fix those issues and no longer enjoy the game. While I have my complaints about titanium drivers from a competitive perspective and how they have changed the game, I think in the end they did get more golfers into the game because the experience of hitting the ball further with much more forgiveness has made the game much more enjoyable for them. Ballstriking tends to have a much bigger impact on the level of a golfer’s enjoyment in almost every golfer I’ve ever encountered.


Another question the governing bodies need to ask is ‘what’s the situation of anchored style putter manufacturer’s and the impact it would have if we essentially banned these putters?’

This is something to account for since it led to a huge lawsuit by PING back in the 80’s and the only reason it didn’t lead to one with the new grooves rule a few years ago is that they tweaked the rules and in the end, it worked out in the OEM’s favor, financially.

While I’m not a big fan of PING, I do agree with their side back in the square grooves rule in the 80’s. The USGA made the grooves legal and when PING’s sales sky-rocketed and they stockpiled their inventory to meet those sales, the USGA wanted to suddenly ban square grooves. Furthermore, their actual impact on performance was never really determined as good, bad or indifferent. So I can side with OEM’s in that regard.

With the latest grooves rule, I was against it for the fact that it would mean many golfers would wind up having to purchase new equipment. Particularly in a time when the economy was in extremely rough shape. In the end, none of the statistics back what the USGA claimed would happen once the U-Grooves were banned. But, they did offer an option that was not completely unfair to the manufacturers as well.

I don’t see that situation here with the anchored putters. First, I believe the inventory is far, far less. Secondly, the option is there to either trim down the shafts to make them into a ‘normal putter’ or remove the shafts and replace them with different shafts to make them more like a ‘normal putter.’

Eventually I get to asking myself ‘is there a clear hypocrisy in banning the anchored putting style versus other styles that are currently legal to use?

I usually hear this complaint from pro-anchored style golfers about the cross handed grip. In general, I disagree with them because the typical cross handed grip is not anchored or held against something at all. In fact, there are many golfers who just happened to grow up thinking that the lead hand should be the lowest on the grip. I don’t find the typical cross handed grip to be out of the ordinary in ‘what a swing should look like.’

However, it does negate things like Bernhard Langer’s original cross handed grip, where he used his right hand to clutch the left wrist and make a stroke. Here’s a diagram below of that.


Nor do I find grips and putting motions like ‘the claw’ or the ‘saw grip’ to be a ‘normal swing motion.’


So in that sense, I feel the pro-anchored putter people have a point.

Then we get down to the biggie ‘does the anchored putting style increase performance despite not increasing talent and skill?’

Here I can see both sides of the argument. For the anti-anchored putter side, my statistical research has shown that in general, the PGA Tour players who have gone to the long putter have improved their putting using the Putts Gained formula.

I can also see the point that part of the game is about the ability of the golfer to handle their nerves. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t hold somebody like Jack Nicklaus as all that special and the Ryder Cup would just be another pro event.

But in my opinion, putting is much much more about having a good speed/touch, good aim and the ability to read greens far more than it is about stroke mechanics. It’s not even that close of a contest, IMO.

One of the all-time great putters, Loren Roberts, utilizes a bit of a ‘cut-across’ stroke according to SAM Puttlab data. Yet, he’s the ‘Boss of the Moss.’ His great putting has to do more with getting the putter face square to the target at impact consistently, having a great touch on the greens and being able to read those greens.

When I think of the truly greatest putters on the PGA Tour over the years, I think of Luke Donald, Greg Chalmers, Aaron Baddeley, Tiger Woods and Brian Gay….all using standard putters with a standard putting style.

And for all of the talk of Adam Scott’s putting, he finished 144th in Putts Gained last year. This year he’s currently tied for 78th. However, what people do not realize is that Scott was ranked FIRST in putts gained back in 2004, when he had a standard style putter.

I also look at some of the best anchored putters on Tour and I think of Scott McCarron who went from an above average putter with the long stick to one of the best on Tour. But that didn’t happen until he and his caddy started to learn AimPoint’s system of reading greens. The same has happened for Bo Van Pelt, who now utilizes AimPoint and has went from a mediocre putter to a top-10 putter, while still using a ‘standard putter.’


Currently, I am considering a belly putter myself. Although I would like to wait and see what the governing bodies decide on the matter. My feeling is that if I can find a belly putter that I aim well like my current putter and I can automate the putting stroke to a degree, that may help in the end. However, I am looking for that possible infinitesimal improvement and I have no idea whether or not that will happen.

And that’s why I tend to lean towards keeping the anchored putting style. I think a lot of it is more of a psychosomatic deal than anything else. I don’t think it’s worth the hassle and possible uproar to ban something that we have no unearthly idea if it’s truly in the best interest of the game.


1 comment:

Denny said...

I have a tough time justifying the banning of a certain style of putting. Traditional putting has been beside the ball with the arms hanging to the side but if tradition is broken, does that mean the rules have been breached? I see more of a difference in the golf ball over the years, which has increased distance and improved shot making and putting. Should a standard ball be adopted? Watch the ball manufacturers go crazy if this thought is even whispered. I am not sure that Sam Snead's croquet putting style would have been banned if it were used earlier in the history of golf.