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Anchoring the putter -The Teleconference

(Photo: Bruce Young)
The R&A and the USGA held a joint press teleconference last evening Australian time. It was lengthy but in an endeavour to hopefully highlight the relevant points I have included the key statements and several questions and answers.

Peter Dawson:

Thank you, Joe and I echo your welcome to all parts. Thank you all for being with us.

Earlier this year, The R&A and the USGA announced that we were both reviewing the subject of anchoring. As you know better than anyone, there's been a widespread discussion of the issue throughout the international golf community, which has of course been noted by the governing bodies. Each organisation indicated that an announcement would be made before the end of this year, and that is exactly what we are doing here today.

The R&A and the USGA are announcing a proposed rule change that would prohibit the anchoring of the club in making a stroke. The proposed Rule, 14 1b, would prohibit strokes made with the club or a hand gripping the club, being held directly against the player's body; or with a forearm being held against the body to establish an anchor point that indirectly anchors the club.

Anchored strokes have very rapidly become the preferred option for a growing number of players, and this has caused us to review these strokes and their impact on the game. Our conclusion is that anchored strokes threaten to supplant traditional strokes, which with all their frailties, are integral to the long standing character of our sport. Our objective is to preserve the skill and challenge, which is such a key element of the game of golf.

The R&A and the USGA will use the next three months to listen to any further comments and suggestions from throughout the golf community before a final decision on the new Rule is taken by each organisation in the spring of 2013.

We believe we have considered this issue from every angle, but we do recognise the wide ranging interests in the subject, and we would like to give stakeholders in the game the opportunity to put forward any new matters for consideration. The proposed rule change would take effect on January 1, 2016, in line with the normal four year Rules cycle.

I'm now going to hand it over to Mike Davis, who will give you more detail on the proposed Rule and other surrounding matters.

MIKE DAVIS: Peter, thank you, and thank you for everybody who is joining us, both on the webinar and on the teleconference. I'm going to take several minutes here to go through what the Rule is about, but before I do that, let me take a little bit of time just to explain some additional things about why we are doing this.

First of all, it's very important to note that this is a purposely very narrow band, the proposed Rule change that we are talking about. This is going to be focused just on anchored strokes. In no way do The R&A and the USGA want to stifle creativity in making strokes by golfers.

And therefore, you are going to see that the way this Rule is written, we had an intent to allow many different types of strokes. That's the way golf has been done for many years. I'll also note, it's very important to understand, this is not an equipment change.

We are going to continue with long putters and we are going to continue with the belly putters. In 1989, we made a statement saying that we thought long putters were OK for the game. We stand by that statement today. This is all about the stroke.

And if you think about it, the stroke and the Rules, in the playing of the game, is one of the most fundamental things about the game of golf. We believe a player should hold the club away from his body and swing it freely; whether it's a putt, a chip, a pitch, a bunker shot, an iron shot, a recovery shot or a shot played from the teeing ground. We think this is integral to the traditions of the game. Golf is a game of skill and challenge, and we think that's an important part of it.

And if you think about golf that's been around for 600 years, the vast majority of the game has been played, by all golfers, not anchoring. And for those golfers that anchor today, I think we would say virtually every one of them; that the 60 million golfers in the world, some of whom anchor right now, we suspect that at some point in their golf careers, they did play the game without anchoring.

So what this change is really going to do today is it's going to clarify the game. It's going to define what the stroke should be. And we have gone roughly three decades with a fairly controversial and divisive issue, and we really think this is good for the game moving forward to make this change.

Looking forward, when we do make Rules changes, it's important to note what we go through, we look back at history and we also look at the present, but really, ultimately by definition, Rules changes are ultimately about looking to the future. That's what this is about. We think this is the right thing for the game moving forward.

So for those of you joining via webinar, I would ask you to look at that, and the first thing I'm going to go through is actually the proposed Rule. And so it starts out saying: "In making a stroke, the player must not anchor the club either "directly" or by use of an anchor point.

And if you look down under Notes 1 and 2, it really defines what '"directly" an anchor point means.

Before I get to Note 1, it's important for everybody to understand that this proposed Rules change is a change to what we are going to allow a stroke to be whether it's on the putting green, or off the putting green.

So this would prohibit anchoring if you are using some type of longer putter from off the putting green, or, we have been seeing in some cases fairly recently where players are starting to anchor chip shots. Maybe they are taking a hybrid club and sticking the club in their belly. So this would prohibit all anchored strokes.

So getting to Note 1, it says: "The club is anchored "directly" when the player intentionally holds the club or a gripping hand in contact with any part of his body.

And I'm going to stop there. The key to this is what we are talking about indirectly is you will not be able to take the club, or a gripping hand, and intentionally hold it against any part of your body. So that means: Your mid section, your chest, your chin, your armpit, your thigh. You also can't take a gripping hand to do that. So it's about both those things.

The other thing, it uses the word 'intentionally' in there. It's very important to know that there will not be a breach of this rule unless there's intent to anchor it. So if it's accidental, there would be no breach. And we see that throughout many of the Rules where the intent of the player does matter.

So let's get to some of the strokes that first of all, that are permitted under this new proposed Rule. First of all, here you have a player with a traditional length putter, traditional grip, obviously there's no anchoring going on. So this would be permitted.

Next you have a player using the same putter but he happens to be using a claw grip. No problem here because the player is not anchoring in any fashion.

Next we get to a player who is essentially almost doing the same thing but in this case, he's got his elbows kind of tucked into his side. No problem there. We would not consider this anchoring the club, and therefore, it would be a permissible stroke.

Here we have a player using a mid length putter, some people call it a belly putter, but there's no anchoring going on. So this would be permissible. We are not taking away use of any long club. This was a stroke that was used by Angel Cabrera when he won the 2009 Masters. Recently, we saw Davis Love using a mid length putter at a PGA Tour event in Sea Island.

And here you have a player using a chest length, or a long putter, and note here that the putter is not up against the player. The gripping hand, in this case his left hand, is not up against his chest; nor, is his forearm against the chest.

So in this case, the player can use a long putter, and can virtually make the same looking stroke, as if it was anchored up against him.

But I think that, you know, one of the keys to this whole thing is we think by anchoring, when you restrict the movement of the club partially by having it anchored, you create some stability. You create some support.

I think the difference now is we are seeing golfers who no longer see this as a stroke of last resort. They see it gravitating and ultimately, ladies and gentlemen, that is why we are making this proposed Rule change today. This is all about the future of the game. It's about us defining the game, defining a stroke, clarifying a very controversial and divisive situation.

And ultimately as we said, golf gets back to holding the club with two hands and swinging it freely. We have seen changes before with the governing bodies where we said, you know what, it may be fun to putt billiard style, but that's not golf. It may be good, effective, enjoyable to putt croquet style. That's not golf. Shuffleboard style, spooning, scraping, pushing, those are not considered strokes in golf, and that is why we are making this change today.

We feel strongly it is in the best interests of the game moving forward, and we certainly would acknowledge that some golfers will be not happy with this. But we would hope everybody understands that The R&A and the USGA are doing what we feel is in the best interests of the game moving forward.

h3. Selected Questions and Answers

Q - Were there any studies that concluded that any of the anchoring methods that are no longer going to be acceptable for play in 2016 actually produced better results on the greens or that people actually made more putts using them?

PETER DAWSON: In actual fact, I think we have to make it very clear that this proposed Rule change is not directly performance related. This is about defining the game and defining what is a stroke in golf.

If you think about it, it would be extremely difficult to gain any meaningful performance data, because there is no control experiment as to how a particular player might have putted had he been using a conventional stroke as opposed to an anchored one on a particular day.

In terms of comparing players who are using anchored strokes with players who are using conventional strokes, there is no compelling data to say one is better than the other. It's an individual thing for individual players.

But I emphasise the reason for proceeding with this Rule change is not performance related. It is about defining what is a golf stroke.

Q. You made a comment here that the stroke is a last resort by a lot of teachers today and we are looking at the future of the game. In this economic climate that we are weathering, we are losing a lot of golfers per year and your counterparts at the PGA are constantly saying growing the game. Was any consideration given for this maybe impeding progress of growing the game, The R&A traditionally known as the tradition of the game, or the USGA then says, for protection and for the good of the game. Can you chime in and give me a little bit of that, and let us know your thought process.

MIKE DAVIS: Sure, absolutely. That's a very good question because it's such an important topic.

And I can assure you that no one with The R&A and the USGA doesn't want to see the game grow and doesn't want to see it healthy, and we care about that greatly. And candidly, with what we do on a daily basis, we are doing nothing but trying to do everything we can to help the health of the game.

But let me clarify something you said. You said that the game is shrinking, it's not growing. But that would be true in the United States, and certain parts of Europe, Japan, but the game is growing in other parts of the world. Clearly in the U.S., other parts of the Europe, we are in a deep recession.

And when you look at study after study, you quickly find that golf's participation has much more to do with the cost of the game, the time the game takes to play, the accessibility of the game.

Skill and challenge are such an important part of golf for so many golfers, that's what brings them back to the game. That's why they play the game, and we don't feel that and again, this would be backed up by The PGA of America's own Golf 2.0 study that says, the participation levels have much more to do with cost and the time it takes. Difficulty is way down the list, and anchoring would only be a very, very small part of that.

So ultimately, we don't think quitting the game or not playing the game is really an option when this comes to this anchored stroke.

PETER DAWSON: I agree very much with what Mike has said. We do find in many, many surveys that the challenge of golf, that is what attracts people to the game, and what keeps people in the game. It wasn't me who said this, but I think the quote that anchored strokes are not being used as an alternative to quitting the game, it's fundamentally what we believe.

Q - You mentioned that in the last 18 to 24 months that this really became a pressing matter, yet players like Webb Simpson and Adam Scott have mentioned that distance increases, larger drivers, things like that have really been a bigger issue for the game for some time and changing the way skill is determined. I'm wondering if you can discuss why this was more pressing perhaps than that issue, especially as the Old Course at St. Andrews is needing to be modified to keep up with this changing game.

PETER DAWSON: If I can just address the Old Course issue very quickly, that's not the subject we are here to discuss directly. Under the proposals, there's been quite a bit of hysteria recently because I think they have not been well understood. There's absolutely no distance or lengthening of the golf course being proposed whatsoever; it's for other quite detailed reasons and I'm quite happy to discuss that with you separately.

As far as the distance issue is concerned, clearly that is very germane to the future of the game. It affects size of golf course, amount of land use, cost of play, and there can be no doubt at all that this distance issue has to be at the forefront of our minds at all times.

You'll recall The R&A and the USGA did issue a joint statement of principle 10 years ago now saying that if distances crept up further, we would take action. Distances have actually plateaued since then.

But I think the issues that surround the sustainability issue are coming more and more into play when we consider distance, and both The R&A and the USGA have research projects that are ongoing in order to make sure we are ready to address this at an appropriate time.

The fact that we have chosen to do something about anchored strokes that is a completely separate matter and it would be a mistake to feel that because we have done something about one that we don't care about the other.

MIKE DAVIS: Just to add to that, Peter mentioned 2002, the joint statement of principles, I can assure everybody, that The R&A and USGA have been quite busy on these research projects the last 10 years. And looking forward, we are very concerned about the long term health of the game, the sustainability of the game. We are concerned about water usage. We are concerned about the cost of the game; time, as Peter mentioned.

So this is something that we are taking very seriously, and certainly we are looking, also, at distance. We want to quantify if one day there was a need to reduce distance, and we are not suggesting today; that we feel that it's our duty, that it's part of our mission to look at the future of the game.

We want to understand what reduced distance might mean; how much matter would it save? How much cost would it save? For those courses that haven't been built yet, how much less land would it mean? That's important to the future of the game. We have 33,0000 golf courses in the world right now and we need to protect them. But furthermore, we need to protect those courses that haven't been built yet.

Q - You had mentioned the percentage of PGA Tour players who were anchoring. I wanted to know if you had any information on Champions Tour players and what impact do you think this will have on that tour?

MIKE DAVIS: Well, good question. I didn't have that at my fingertips right now. There's certainly a higher percentage of players anchoring on the Champions Tour, just like there is a lower percentage of players on the LPGA Tour that are anchoring. And we believe, and I don't have that in front of me, on The European Tour it's less than the PGA Tour.

But one of the things that's consistent on all of those tours is that we have seen an increase recently. In terms of the effect of it, I think the important thing to again restate is that this is a very narrow band.

We think we are giving plenty of options, plenty of creativity to golfers to figure out other methods. We are just simply saying, we do not think anchored strokes should be a part of the game moving forward.

Q. You guys have been very careful to make this not an equipment Rule change, but a playing Rule change. Has it become too costly in terms of possible litigation to even make any equipment rulings at this time?

PETER DAWSON: Frankly, no. As governing bodies, we take our role extremely seriously to do what we think is right for the game, and I can honestly say for The R&A, and I'll leave it for Mike to speak to the USGA, that litigation is not something that we consider in any depth or with any seriousness when we are trying to do what's right for the game of golf.

MIKE DAVIS: I agree with what Peter said, and I would furthermore say that we are in the governance business. We are here to do things that other groups, golfers, cannot do. They don't write and interpret, whether it's the playing Rules, the equipment Rules, the amateur status Rules, and we need to do what we think is right. And shame on us if we are scared of litigation for doing the right thing.

So we are always going to try to do the right thing and it would be unfortunate if we get involved in litigation, but we can't make that part of our decision-making. It just simply is not the right thing for the game.

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