USGA Proposes Banning the Anchored Putting Stroke

Normally I don’t post twice in one day, but this is not normal. Today’s post is a call to action.

Yesterday, the USGA proposed, as expected, a rule change banning the anchored putting stroke, effective in 2016. It also opened a 90-day comment period during which it will receive and consider commentary from anyone who care to opine. Please opine (below).

Regular readers of this space know that I am totally opposed to such a rule change. If you wish to be refreshed, the “belly putter” link under the Labels heading on the right will guide you to my earlier thoughts on the subject.

There is an argument that the anchored stroke gives some players an advantage. This does not hold up to any statistical evidence thus far presented.

So far, the USGA has released no statistical study showing the professionals who anchor putters are better putters as a group the the rest of their comrades. Nor is there any evidence relevant to amateur golfers.

I have heard that among the top 25 putters in the PGA statistics for 2012, there is not one player who anchors. Since I don’t know who anchors and who doesn’t, I’ll have to take that claim on face value, but I don’t think it’s wrong.

In your neck of the woods, if you think other golfers are beating you because of anchored putting, then you can try it, too. After all, are you the only one left playing with a wooden-headed driver? Of course not. You saw the advantage and switched. So did the pros.

The other argument that I have heard in support of the ban is that this not a traditional stroke.

It comes down to the sentiment that this is not the way golf has always been played and if we want it to stay golf, we can’t allow this stroke to remain legal. This is the way we’ve always done it. What does your boss say when he asks you why you’re doing something in a particular way and you give him that answer? You learn pretty fast that’s the wrong answer. It is here, too.

Lots of things about today’s golf aren’t traditional. Hybrid irons aren’t traditional. 460cc driver heads aren’t traditional. Two-piece golf balls aren’t traditional. Graphite shafts aren’t traditional. Steel shafts aren’t either, but it’s 80 years too late to get started on that one.

Let’s not forget that golf is a game that People Play. People=the masses. Play=enjoy. We don’t need golf to exist as perfection on paper. It is for the people who play the game that the rules should be created, the millions of recreational golfers for whom golf is their hobby, their happiness. The rules should reflect who they are.

Nor does golf exist solely for the elite players and the rest of us follow along thankful for the favor. Only for a vanishingly small percentage of players is it a career. They need rules, too, but there is no ultimate reason why the rules for each set of golfers needs to be the same. It certainly isn’t in other sports.

What is the Summer Game that everyone in America plays? It isn’t baseball, it’s softball. Baseball (or, hardball), is for young, strong men. For the rest of us, baseball has been modified so we can play it. The general rules of each game are the same, but softball is a game within reach of anyone who can swing a bat, throw, and run.

One game allows everyone to enjoy the outlines of a game they would otherwise lack the physical ability to play. This is where the anchored stroke comes in and this is where golf’s ruling bodies need to make an accommodation.

There are thousands of golfers who would just not be able to putt if not for being able to anchor a long putter of some kind. These are people who are too inflexible to bend over and putt. People who have physical infirmities or handicaps.

Why make golf difficult and painful for people who are out there getting exercise and enjoyment?

And, yes, some people have the yips.

One official reason supporting the ban is that putting should be a test of nerves and the anchored stroke takes that away. That’s fine if you’re a competitive golfer. But if you’re just out there to hit the ball around the course and have fun with friends, you’re not out there to be “tested.” Why make golf harder people than it needs to be if all they want to do is get in the out of doors and have enjoy yourself?

What is comes down to is this: anchored putting is an issue in professional golf. The governing bodies of each professional tour are allowed to make their own rules. They follow the USGA and R&A rule book, but they can make any exception they want to. If they feel that the anchored stroke is disrupting competition on their tour, they can institute a ban on their own, or ignore the new rule if they choose to.

But that is not a practical solution here. Tours will not thumb their nose at the official rules. That’s why there has to be two sets of rules, one for professional competition and one for amateur competition.

Professional baseball did this. Amateur baseball players, even college players, and softball players, use metal bats. Professional baseball players, though, have to use wooden bats. There’s a good reason. Put metal bats in the hands of major league hitters and you could have more home runs in a game than foul balls, not to mention the safety issue. Some pitcher would likely get killed by a hard shot through the box.

I know the USGA hates the word bifurcation, but it’s necessary because, as Bobby Jones said, “There are two distinct kinds of golf — just plain golf and tournament golf.”

It is time to fully admit that two different games are being played, and it is the game of the millions to which the rules in general should speak, and there are thousands of us who need the anchored putting stroke to be able to play and enjoy our playing.

An exception for professional golf can be inserted, but for the rest of us, things are just fine like they are.

If you wish to submit a comment to the USGA, you send a surface post or e-mail. Find out how to do either at


A Winter Improvement Program – The Finish

After the ball has been struck, the swing ends by the golfer continuing the turn to a finish position of some kind. What is little appreciated is that this position goes a long way toward defining everything that happens beforehand, and therefore deserves careful attention.

Probably the best way to say it is that a finish should be a finish. It should be a position of repose, of calm completion. It should not feel like the swing is over and you are hanging on.

Ideally, you would be facing your target squarely. This is, in fact, a good way to check your alignment. If you were to take a practice swing, where you are looking when the swing is over is where you are aimed.

But where your hands are, where the club is, all that depends on the type of swing you have, and there is no one position that is best. Your swing takes you to where it will. Wherever you end up, though, you must be in perfect balance.

Try this. Set up, without a ball, close your eyes, and swing to the finish. Eyes still closed, are you balanced? Are you about to fall over? Do this a few more times until you get it right. This exercise might do more good for your swing than any swing modification.

I’ll let one of my favorite authors, Percy Boomer,* say it for me:

“When I go up to address my ball, I do not think of pivoting (as you do); I think of following through. I think of the end, not the means. So if you and I are standing together on the tee, I am mentally playing my shot through to the finish while you are preparing to play yours through your pivot. My feel is based upon what constitutes a good shot, while yours is based upon what prepares the way for the creation of a good shot–obviously much further back in the golf conception.”

If the goal of your swing is a good finish, then the mind will create a swing which leads to that finish, with a clean, solid strike along the way.

* Author of, On Learning Golf, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1946.


A Winter Improvement Program – Through Impact

Happy Thanksgiving! See if you can get away for nine holes in the morning while the turkey is in the oven.

We’re now at the high point of the swing — hitting the ball. In order to hit the ball straight, the clubface has to be square to the club path, which has to be headed right for the target. Add on that to make a clean strike, the club has to each its low point about an inch or two in front of the ball. All this with the club moving at about 85 miles per hour. It’s a wonder we can ever do it.

When we do things that require precision, we use our hands. Only our fine motor skills can respond with the accuracy we need. The same applies to golf, or so many golfers think. You hear that hitting the ball well is a matter of hand-eye coordination.

The problem is that’s the worst way to think about hitting the ball. While your hands can save a shot occasionally, more often than not they add to the confusion.

You also hear that the hands do nothing in the swing except hold onto the club. That’s a better direction for you to go. You hit the ball with your swing, not with your hands.

This is, however, very difficult advice to follow. Holding a tool in our hands but not using our hands to make it do its job is something we never do anywhere else. The habit is so strong that it’s hard to turn off when we play golf. Yet, that’s exactly what we have to do.

You can practice the feeling of the handless swing by holding a club out in front of you with the shaft parallel to the ground. Now slowly, very slowly, swing the club back and forth around your body. Watch how when you swing to the left, your forearms rotate and your right hand ends up on top. When you swing back around to the right, your left hand ends up on top, and at no time do you have to make this happen. It is a natural movement based on the way our body is constructed.

When your swing is about to deliver the clubhead to the ball, merely allow this natural forearm rotation to act. Using your hands at this point will only interrupt what should be natural.

Practice this move a lot this winter. It gives you the best chance at getting the clubhead back to where it as at address, which is the way to good shot-making.


Practicing Golf Indoors

When you’re learning a foreign language, they’ll tell you that fifteen minutes every day is better that two hours on Sunday. It’s that periodic repetition that keeps the ball in the air which does the trick.

Golf is the same way. If you can practice fifteen minutes a day, you can keep your game in tune even if you can’t play.

Putt across the carpet. Step up to each stroke like it’s a putt on the green–go through your whole routine. Practice three- and four-footers by rolling the ball over a tin can lid. Practice 30-footers in the same way, using a pillow for a backstop. The important thing here is that in making your 30-foot stroke, you hit the ball on the sweet spot and still roll the ball over the lid.

Get a carpet remnant and chip off that with plastic balls into the pillow you used for approach putts. Ball first, ground second. Rotate through all your chipping clubs over a period of days.

Hang a mattress pad or a blanket over a curtain rod in front of one of your windows and hit pitches into it (use plastic balls, please, and hit off a carpet remnant to save wear and tear on your flooring.)

Full swing? You can swing under an 8-foot ceiling with a 7-iron or less, but for a longer, club, step outside. If you have a back yard, you can hit plastic balls into a net or against that mattress pad. If you’re an apartment dweller, well, just swing. Before very swing, go through your entire pre-swing routine.

Just do something, every day.


A Winter Improvement Program – Transition

There are so many parts of the golf swing that are important, it’s hard to single out one part and say it’s the most important. So I will say that a major part is the transition from the backswing to the downswing. This is where all the good work you have done so far, set up correctly, swung back correctly, can be made use of or thrown away.

There are two issues here. First, you’re changing the direction of your swing movement. What is the first thing that moves? What leads off the downswing? Second, you don’t hit the ball with your backswing. You don’t hit it with the early part of your downswing, either, so you need to find a way to keep from getting ahead of yourself — trying to hit before it’s the right time. The temptation to do that is great, and many recreational golfers give in.

So. You’ve wound yourself up to the right, and now you’re ready to start unwinding. Make the first move down with your lower body, on the left side. By lower body I mean from the hips down.

What part of your lower body you move first is up to you, because the entire thing moves as one piece. You can move your left knee toward the ball to get everything going, you can slide your left hip to the left a bit, or, if your left foot comes off the ground a bit on your backswing, you can plant the foot on the ground again for your first move. As soon as that one thing moves, though, the rest of the left side follows.

To solve the second problem, keep the orientation of your upper body the same in the early part of the downswing. That is, your entire upper body feels like it is in a cast and is merely being carried around by the turning of the lower body. It will all unfold in time.

Practice your transition by swinging back, then applying your left-side trigger. Swing down only to where your hands are about as high as your right hip, and stop. You should have the majority of your weight tending toward the left side, and while the angle between your left arm and shoulder line has started to open up, the angle between your left forearm and the clubshaft should be the same.

Practice this a lot. It’s how to turn a hit into a swing, which is the way to better ballstriking.


A Winter Improvement Program – Backswing

The purpose of the backswing is to put the club in a position to hit the ball squarely and with authority. The best backswing position for you is the one that lets you come down into the ball freely and without any hitches.

In order to find the position that fits your physique and flexibility, try this exercise.

Take your stance over a ball and:

1. Lift your arms until your upper arms are next to your ears. The clubshaft should be pointing away from you. Stay in your address posture, i.e., do not stand up straight in addition.

2. Without moving your hands, point the clubshaft straight up in the air by bending your wrists toward your head.

3. Turn your hips to the right until they come to a comfortable stop. Let your trunk and arms keep turning to the right as far as they will comfortably go.

That’s it. You’re there. Three steps to a backswing position that fits you.

Perform the exercise at a consistent rhythm. If you have a ticking clock handy, one move per second is a good pace. There’s no need to rush or slur the steps together.

After you have practiced this a bit, as soon as you get into that final position, go right into your downswing and hit through the ball. You might find this to be a freer and more balanced swing than the one you have now.

Keep doing this exercise until the position has fixed itself in your mind. Now you have a target to hit when you start back from the ball — you know the place at which your body needs to arrive.

It will never hurt to go through the exercise a few times every day just to remind yourself where you are headed when you take the club away from the ball.


Jim Flick — 1930-2012

Jim Flick, one of golf’s most respected, loved, and influential instructors, died on November 5th of pancreatic cancer. He was 82 years old.

Flick was a competitive golfer in his youth, and was Arnold Palmer’s roommate at Wake Forest in the early 1950s. After a brief try on the professional tour, Flick turned to teaching.

In his career he taught at the Golf Digest Schools, teaming with Bob Toski and co-authoring two books with Toski, How to Become a Complete Golfer, and How to Feel a Real Golf Swing. Flick’s book On Golf is a best-seller.

Later, Flick teamed with Jack Nicklaus to run the Nicklaus-Flick golf schools.

In addition to teaching amateur golfers, Flick was instrumental in turning Tom Lehman from a journeyman on the mini-tours to a major champion.

Flick’s conception of golf was to put away science and play more by feel. This video shows that teaching in action.

Fick was honored by Golf World magazine as one of the top ten golf teachers of the 20th century.

USGA LIkely to Ban the Anchored Putting Stroke

Earlier this year I mentioned that the USGA and the R&A would be ruling in December on anchored putting. Rumor has the decision now being announced in March, and the ruling could already be in the bag pending its announcement.

Even though anchored putting has been around for decades, the controversy did not arise until last year when Keegan Bradley won the PGA, and again this year when Webb Simpson and Ernie Els both won a major championship, all three using an anchored putting stroke.

Golf’s two governing bodies make the rules for tens of millions of golfers all over the world. But, because of the success of three (count’em, three) of those golfers, the rules for everyone could be changed.

Let us remind ourselves that golf belongs to the millions who play it for recreation. That several thousand play golf professionally does not give them ownership of the sport, and should not even be the driving factor in rules changes. Grooves notwithstanding.

Because three golfers had success at the right time with an anchored putting stroke, there is a very real chance that stroke will be taken away from many thousands of recreational players who need it to continue playing the game they love.

I’m talking about golfers who have the yips. Senior golfers who can’t bend over for the time it takes to hit a putt. Golfers of any age with back conditions which give them the same problem. The long putter with an anchored stroke lets them keep playing and keep having fun.

I’m a purist. I think you should dress well when you go out and play. You should follow all the rules even if it’s a recreational round. I believe in sinking every putt. I replace my divots and fix ball marks on greens. And so forth.

But you can be a purist to a fault. Saying that this is a “nontraditional” stroke might be true, but so what? It helps people keep playing their game. It helps keep them getting outdoors in beautiful surroundings, having fun with friends, doing something athletic, getting exercise.

I doubt that an organizing committee sat down in 1840-something and said that golf is intended to be played by swinging a club that is not anchored to your body. No. That’s just how it worked out.

The tradition of golf is that it is a sport which can be played as long as you can stay upright, which might be well into your 90s. Long after you had to give up tackle football, full court basketball, and so forth, you can play golf. Or if you were never good enough to play those sports or because of gender bias you were never able to, you can still play golf.

That is a tradition we want to foster and maintain, and if it takes anchoring your putter to make golf playable and fun (that is, not taking three strokes to the green followed by four putts, or after the first few holes putting makes your back hurt), then go ahead and anchor. I want you to play golf with me.

This week’s Golfweek magazine suggests that the professional tours might not go along with the ban if one is imposed. Wouldn’t that be something? The consequence would be that golfers the rule was intended to affect would be untouched, and golfers who really need an anchored stroke to keep playing would be out in the cold.

There are a lot of arguments for and against anchoring that I don’t have the space to go into. All I’m saying here, is that the hoo-hah seems be over the affect of anchored putting on professional competition. If that’s so, the professional tours can address it on their own. There is no need for me and my millions of peers to be affected as well.

Quite frankly, if you want to anchor and want to keep anchoring even after a ban goes into effect (the earliest would be the year 2016), go ahead. You wouldn’t get a handicap, and couldn’t play in tournaments, but if you don’t do that anyway, you won’t be losing a thing. The USGA advises us through the rules on how to play golf, but it does not command us.

Just in: GolfWorld magazine reports that Keegan Bradley will fight a ban in court and Tim Clark is making noise about the same thing. Should be interesting.