Nerves should be part of putting

Tiger Woods has had it right all along, and golf’s ruling bodies finally have it right, too.

Anchoring a putter against the body contravenes the spirit of the game. And now it will contravene the rules, too.

In a move that will cause seismic divisions throughout professional golf — and bring anxiety attacks to Sunday morning hackers with the yips — anchoring of belly and broomstick putters will be outlawed.

The United States Golf Association, which sets rules for the United States and Mexico, and Britain’s Royal and Ancient Golf Club, which governs the game throughout the rest of the world, announced the sweeping ban on Wednesday morning. Because of golf’s arcane structures, the change won’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2016.

Speaking on Tuesday ahead of his World Challenge tournament, Woods welcomed the ban he’s long advocated.

“The art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves and having it as a fixed point, as I was saying all year, is something that’s not in the traditions of the game,” he said. “We swing all other 13 clubs; I think the putter should be the same.”

The final straw for the game’s ruling bodies wasn’t so much that three of the past five major champions — Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els — became the first ever to win majors with belly putters, but that young players are not even bothering with conventional putters.

Guan Tianglang, a 14-year-old from China, used a belly putter to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship this month, earning a spot into the Masters, where he’ll be the youngest competitor in the history of the only major not won by a belly putter.

“One of the things that I was concerned about going forward is the kids who get started in the game and start to putt with an anchoring system,” Woods said. “There have been some guys who have had success out here, and, obviously, everyone always copies what we do out here, and that’s something that I think for the greater good of the game needs to be adjusted.”

Adam Scott, whose career has benefited since he switched to a broomstick putter in 2010, not surprisingly disagrees with those arguments.

“I understand about the kids using belly putters and not short putters, but they also have never used a 1-iron!” he wrote in an email. “That argument has no relevance, in my opinion. There is no proof that putting with an anchored style putter is easier, better or stops nerves. It is a different method that some people find more comfortable and others don’t. There are no facts to say that you WILL make more putts putting with an anchored putter.

“My opinion is that the governing bodies are in place to protect the integrity of the game not the traditions of the game.”

Scott was joined by Bradley and Simpson, who also spoke out against the ban on Tuesday. South African Tim Clark, who uses a long putter, already has threatened legal action.

“People have said to me, having a belly putter takes the hands out of it,” said Simpson, who’s already practicing with a conventional putter to prepare for the change. “Well, I was shaking in my boots over the last putt at the US Open. So short putter, belly putter, I was nervous as can be.

“To change something that drastic, it has to be based off facts and not what certain people think the tradition of the game looks like. Show me the facts.”

He and his anchoring brethren point to the fact that professionals who hold a putter against their bodies aren’t statistically among the best putters. But there are plenty of other pros who think that they’ve got an edge over the competition.

“I do think it’s an advantage,” said Steve Stricker, one of the better putters in the game. “Even though it is fair under the rules, I’m just not a huge believer in it.”

Brandt Snedeker, another good (conventional) putter, empathizes with “guys whose careers are at stake.”

“The USGA’s in a tough spot. They need to decide what’s the best thing for the game going forward, not make decisions just based on the PGA Tour,” he said.

“It has more to do with the fact that there’s a whole generation of golfers growing up who’ve never used a short putter. Now, is that keeping with the traditions of the game? Is that where they want the game of golf going in the next 40 or 50 years? I can see why they want to do something like this.

“But let’s be clear about this: The reason guys use belly putters is because they work. If they didn’t work, they wouldn’t use them.

“I’m against belly putters. I want guys who have a five-footer to win a golf tournament to feel as nervous as I do with that putter in my hands and let them deal with that and figure out a way to manage that. The belly putter takes that out of play a little bit.”

Not for much longer.