The 2014 Masters golf tournament airs from April 9-13 on CBSSports.com. This year, fans will be tuning in not only to see which golfer takes home the famous Masters green jacket, but also whether that golfer makes a win using the infamous anchored putter.
For non-golf fans: traditionally, golfers swing their golf clubs in a wide stance. You no doubt have a mental picture of a golfer with club upraised in a classic backswing pose. Putters, used for those close shots to get the ball in the hole, don’t swing as widely as other clubs, but they still swing.
Or, at least, they did.
The anchored putter, also called the long putter and the belly putter, has been around since 1965, but it has only recently become a controversial element in golf. As its name suggests, the anchored putter is literally anchored to the body to allow for greater putt control; the putter can either be anchored under the chin, at the navel, or against the arm. (Yes, it looks just as weird as it sounds, but golfers were never known for their fashion sense.)
In 2013, Australian golfer Adam Scott won the Masters in part by using an anchored putter — specifically, a belly putter. As Forbes noted, Scott’s win re-opened the anchored putter debate; famous golfers like Tiger Woods have gone on record speaking against the use of anchored putters in golf, as these putters in theory reduce the skill required to win the game.
The official word from the R&A and United States Golf Association is that anchored putters will be banned from the Masters starting in 2016. Their rationale? ”Freely swinging the entire club is the essence of the traditional method of stroke.” It is arguable whether the term “traditional” makes any sense here; the first Masters Tournament was held in 1934, meaning that anchored putters have been part of golfing for over half of the time that the Masters has been in existence. They are not “breaking tradition”; they are a part of golf, like it or not.
Adam Scott’s Masters win is not the only anchored-putter stroke threatening the famous tournament; Tianlang Guan, who at age 14 was the youngest player ever to play in the Masters when he made his 2013 debut, also uses anchored putters. Guan is a new fan favorite, and denying him the ability to shine will no doubt cause significant fan backlash.
We still have two Masters tournaments before anchored putters are officially banned; anything could happen during those two years, including a ban reversal. It may be time for the golfing community to take a look at its rules and understand that anchored putters are now a standard part of professional golfing; it may also be time to fully acknowledge that putting with an anchored putter takes just as much skill as putting with a “traditional” putter (you know, one that was invented prior to 1965).
Adam Scott has gone so far as to join with other golfers and hire a lawyer to defend the use of the anchored putter and, if justice is on their side, reverse the anchored putter ban. Will the rules of golf be settled in a court of law? Only time will tell.
Either way, expect the anchored putter debate to permeate the Masters tournament this year, especially if the Masters winner is a golfer who incorporates the anchored putter liberally into his golf strategy. Look for commentary on who uses the anchored putter and who does not, as well as speculation on why some golfers prefer to anchor their putters while others choose to let them freely swing. For better or worse, the anchored putter question is one of the most interesting things to happen to golf in years. So watch the 2014 Masters, and see if the anchored putter turns out to be the unlikely star of the show.