"Is this what we want? Is this good for the game?" Mike Davis, the USGA's executive director, asked me rhetorically last year when I interviewed him after Bradley's win at the PGA. At the time, he honestly wasn't sure. Neither was he certain that the USGA and the R&A, which oversees golf everywhere but in the U.S. and Mexico, would ever need to adjudicate the issue.
For the most part, the long sticks failed to provoke much controversy, since the players who resorted to them were few in number and generally did so only when back problems or the yips forced them to. "We'd hate to pull these putters away from them because golf is a game. It's for fun and recreation," Davis said last year.Long putters have been around since at least the 1930s. Since the 1980s, they have been appearing sporadically on the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour. Orville Moody won the 1989 U.S. Senior Open with a broomstick. Johnny Miller, Paul Azinger, Vijay Singh and Adam Scott are among those who have long-putted their way to PGA Tour victories. Youngsters have taken up long putters big time. At several elite junior tournaments this summer, more than half the field employed anchored putters, according to Golfweek. Earlier this month, 14-year-old Guan Tianlang of China used a belly putter to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur, thereby qualifying for the Masters. He has never putted any other way.
By late spring, long putters had reached such a critical mass, and stirred so much criticism among traditionalists, that the USGA and the R&A knew they had to act. "We appreciate that there is much speculation about this and that we need to clarify the position as soon as possible," Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A, said after the British Open. They promised a decision by the end of the year (Wednesday qualifies) and specified that any proposed change would not concern the length of putters per se—that is, it would not be an equipment regulation—but rather a rule of golf concerning the anchored stroke itself.
The prospect of a ban has prompted several longtime anchor putters on Tour, including Bradley, Carl Pettersson and Tim Clark, to say they will fight such a ruling any way they can. "I believe they [the ruling bodies] are going to have a couple of legal issues coming their way," Els said last month in China. "We are talking about people's livelihoods."
What is clear, however, is that anchoring a golf club against the body during a stroke constitutes a fundamentally different type of golf swing, and that gives the USGA and the R&A a defensible place to draw the line. Golf's regulators have banned nontraditional methods of striking the ball before. Pushing, scraping and spooning the ball were disallowed in 1883. Using a putter like a pool cue was banned in 1895. Croquet-style putting, in which a player straddles the line of a putt, was nixed in 1968, much to Sam Snead's dismay.
If the USGA and R&A do propose a ban on anchored putting Wednesday, the measure won't be officially approved until those organizations' annual meetings next spring and won't go into effect for three years. That gives golfers time to adapt. Players with bad backs will still be able to use long putters, they just can't press the end against their bodies. Juniors will have no problem learning to putt the old fashioned way.