The Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R&A) and the United States Golf Association (USGA), the sport’s two leading rulemakers, on Wednesday announced a proposal for a ban on long putters being anchored to the body.
Langer, who suffered from career-threatening putting “yips” in the late 1980s and reverted to a belly putter in 1997, said he was opposed to the decision which could ban the practice of long putters being anchored to the player’s chest, stomach or chin by 2016.
“I am disappointed and I do not understand why they are banning it now after 35 years. If there is anything illegal about it, why did they not stop it right away?
“If you are talking about the history of the game and that long putters are not part of the history of the game, what about big metal drivers, two-piece balls or hybrids? Let’s face it, it is a progression of the game,” Langer said at Sun City on Thursday, where he was leading the Champions Challenge, the seniors’ portion of the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
Bill Haas, the American who is the co-leader of the Nedbank Golf Challenge after the first round, has used a belly-putter in the past and he believes the rule disallowing anchoring is fair.
“I had a lot of success with a belly putter last year, but then I became worse with it for a while. I don’t think it makes putting much easier, but it may be the wrong way to play the game. You should be putting with your hands and the putter should not be anchored. There’s a way to putt, but if people want to use a long putter, they should use them. I’m happy with my short putter now, it makes it more fun,” Haas said.
Langer pointed out that, although three of the last five major champions have used long putters, the game’s rulemakers have done nothing to halt the influence of technology in other areas, particularly drivers.
“They have never banned drivers, that is what they should be doing. Are these big metal drivers part of the history of the game, balls going for hundreds of yards?”, the former world number one said.
The rulemakers are apparently concerned that it is not just older golfers turning to the longer putters as a last resort to cure the yips, but younger players who are now taking advantage of the anchoring method. Fourteen-year-old Chinese golfer Guan Tianlang used a belly putter in his recent victory at the Asia Pacific Amateur and earned himself a place at next year’s Masters in the process.
Sweden’s Carl Pettersson uses a broomstick putter and is also in the Sun City field, but he declined to attend a press conference when it became clear he was going to be asked about the proposed new ruling.
Haas said despite the threatened outlawing of the practice, he did not see it as cheating and, apart from Pettersson, he mentioned a duo of recent major winners in Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson who use the long putter.
“I’ve heard Webb talking and he says that stats show that the top putters don’t use belly putters,” Haas said.
The proposal will undoubtedly give birth to heated debate over the next couple of years, with the rules only being changed after a long period of consultation.