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Anchors Away; 2016 means new rules now in play

ANCHORED putting has been around longer than many people think but as of tomorrow it will be a thing of the past.

WHEN Rule 14-1b comes into effect at midnight tonight, it will bring to an end one of the longest running, and in recent times most controversial, debates the game has ever known.

The new rule, which outlaws anchoring a club to the body, has been three years coming but the issue of unconventional putters and putting strokes has been around for much, much longer.

The first recorded references to anchored putting in professional golf came in 1924 when then prominent player, Leo Diegel, adopted an unusual method.

He bent at the waist at almost 90 degrees, similar to Michelle Wie, then stuck the butt end of the putter into his navel with his hands pressed tightly against the end of the handle.

It looked awkward but was moderately effective for the American. At the time, though, it appears it attracted little attention.

The next reference comes almost 40 years later when American inventor Richard T Parmley applied for a patent on a device he called the 'Body-Pivot golf putter'.

Sketches supplied in the patent application in 1961 clearly show what we now call a belly putter and in 1965 the patent was approved.

In 1966 PGA Tour player Phil Rodgers adopted a belly putting method first endorsed by the legendary Paul Runyan. He won twice that year.

Belly -putter

Runyan, twice a US PGA Championship winner and known as 'Little Poison' because he was short both in stature and off the tee but deadly around the greens, wrote about accidentally discovering the anchored method in 1936.

In a 1966 Golf Digest article on putting he revealed that at a windy Belmont Open 30 years earlier, in an effort to stabilise his body, he widened his stance, anchored the handle of the putter to his waist with his left hand and placed his right hand down the shaft.

“This system,” he wrote, “minimizes the adverse effect of nervous tension."

Despite the results of Rodgers' belly anchoring experiment the trend never caught on but some 17 years later a new anchoring method emerged: the broomstick.

It was 1983 and Charlie Owens, a Senior Tour player who had suffered both bad knees and a case of the yips, put into play a 51-inch putter that he nicknamed 'Slim Jim'.

For the first time a professional golfer used a putter that anchored to the sternum.

Three years later Owens won two over 50's titles with his unusual invention.

While Owens had success and a few pros dabbled with the long putter it was 1989 that the long wand again hit the headlines, this time in spectacular fashion.

Orville Moody, the surprise 1969 US Open winner who had long been known as one of history's best ball strikers and worst putters, won the US Senior Open using a 48-inch, sternum anchored broomstick putter.

Moody had been using the putter for a year at the time and, while he had had success with it before claiming one of the game's biggest events, it caused some raised eyebrows.

A campaign began to have the long putter outlawed but eventually the USGA and R&A ruled it was legal.

In September 1989, in a story in Golf World magazine, the USGA is quoted as saying long putters "are not detrimental to the game. In fact, they may enable some people to play who may not otherwise be able to do so."

With the blessing of the ruling bodies now formalised, the long putters became a more regular sight on the senior circuits with many of the over 50's claiming it was easier on the back, particularly for practise.

On the main tour, however, they were still a rare sight and it wasn't until 1991 that Rocco Mediate became the first player to win a US PGA Tour event using an anchored stroke.

Mediate, who had adopted the longer putter to ease back pain when practising, took out the 1991 Doral Open in a playoff over Curtis Strange.

Not everyone was happy with this outcome, though, and as Mediate himself noted in later years: “I was the anti-Christ of putting then.

“Trust me, I got some interesting comments on that putter.”

SWING THOUGHT - ROCCO MEDIATE:

[VIDEO:4574154668001]

While the golf community remained divided on the moral and technical rights and wrongs of the broomstick putter there was little in the way of innovation over the next decade or so.

But in 2000, everything old became new again when the 1993 US PGA Championship winner Paul Azinger won the Hawaiian Open by seven shots using a belly putter.

It was Azinger's first win in seven years and he credited the victory to the fluke discovery of the belly putter in his home club pro shop the previous year.

Rifling through a rack of putters he picked up a broomstick that had been designed for a much shorter person.

The length made it ideal to stick in his navel and, in his words, he immediately “made everything”

''I hit it all over the pro shop and made everything and then walked outside and made everything.'' he said.

Unlike when Mediate won nine years earlier, though, Azinger's success sparked plenty of interest from his fellow professionals and, over the next decade, belly and broomstick putters became much more common.

In 2003, eight PGA Tour events were won by golfers employing long putters including Steve Flesch at the New Orleans Open who said after his victory: “This is like cheating.”

With more players contending and winning over the next few years, particularly with the belly putter, the controversy over unorthodox putters and putting strokes continued to swirl but the authorities, as late as 2011, were still adamant they were a legitimate way to play.

In April 2011 USGA Executive Director Mike Davis appeared on Golf Channel and suggested there was no cause for concern among the game's governing bodies.

“We don't see this as a big trend,” he told the Morning Drive program. “It's not as if all the junior golfers out there are doing this.

“No one's even won a major using one of these things anchored to themselves. So we don't see this as something that is really detrimental to the game.”

It would be just a few short months before those words came back to haunt him.

In August 2011, PGA Tour rookie Keegan Bradley, who had used a belly putter most of his life, won the US PGA Championship in a play-off over Jason Dufner.

He was the first golfer to win one of the Grand Slam events using an anchored stroke, though more quickly followed.

In 2012 Webb Simpson belly putted his way to the US Open title, Ernie Els took the Open Championship with the same method a month later, and the following April Adam Scott completed the anchoring Grand Slam with a Masters victory using a broomstick putter.

With the wins piling up and golfers of all ages now using anchored methods, 2012 became the watershed year for authorities.

On February 21, Mike Davis revealed that, in conjunction with the R&A, his organisation were taking a 'fresh look' at the anchoring debate.

By November 28, the two bodies made a joint announcement that they were proposing to ban the anchoring of any club to the body from January 1, 2016, and opened a 90 day comment period to gather feedback from the industry.

As expected, furious debate followed with some professionals, South Africa's Tim Clark the most vocal, suggesting they would seek legal advice and consider taking action if the ban was approved.

At a meeting of fellow professionals early in 2013 Clark convinced his peers they should formally oppose the ban and on Feb 24, 2013, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem announced exactly that.

In lockstep with the US PGA, he said the proposal was “not in the best interests of golf or the PGA Tour.”

The protests fell on deaf ears, however, and on May 21, 2013 the governing bodies announced Rule 14-1b would come into effect on January 1, 2016.

Despite some tough words from then US PGA President Ted Bishop, who even suggested the possibility of creating a separate set of rules, the professional bodies eventually accepted the decision.

They did campaign for a 'Grandfather' period for amateurs to give up their anchored strokes but that, too, was rejected.

And so here we are on the eve of both a new year and a new era in golf. When you head to your local club tomorrow to tee up for your first competition of 2016, you can do so safe in the knowledge that none of your fellow competitors will be using an anchored putting method.

And after almost 100 years of debate, that's the first time in history anybody has been able to say that.

THE R&A EXPLAIN THE NEW RULES OF GOLF:

[VIDEO:4593404648001]

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