It’s 2016, which means the anchored putter era officially is over. Here’s how some players and equipment companies are coping.
January 12, 2016
By Jonathan Wall, PGATOUR.COM
It’s 2016, which means the anchored putter era officially is over. Here’s how some players and equipment companies are coping.
Following the final round of The RSM Classic, David Hearn posted a photo of his Odyssey White Hot XG #7 long putter on Twitter with the caption, "Goodbye old friend."
For Hearn and a few others in the field at Sea Island Resort's Seaside Course, the tournament marked the end of an era for one of the most talked-about pieces of equipment in professional golf.
The anchored putter.
Ever since the USGA and R&A proposed changes to Rule 14-1 of the Rules of Golf in the spring of 2013, the clock has been ticking for players who "anchor" the putter against their stomach, chest or chin to come up with an alternative method.
The anchored putting method has been used for nearly 80 years and had seen a bump in usage on TOUR in the last decade. But it wasn't until Keegan Bradley won the 2011 PGA Championship with a 46.5-inch Odyssey White Hot XG Sabertooth that the putter suddenly found itself under a microscope.
Following Bradley's win, the anchor chatter continued to build over the next two years, as Webb Simpson (2012 U.S. Open), Ernie Els (2012 Open Championship) and Adam Scott (2013 Masters) went on to win major championships with the belly and long putter.
After the conclusion of the 2013 season, the USGA and R&A announced the addition of Rule 14-1b to the Rules of Golf: a rule that prohibits anchoring the club when making a stroke.
"Our best judgment is that Rule 14-1b is necessary to preserve one of the important traditions and challenges of the game — that the player freely swing the entire club," said then-USGA president Glen D. Nager. "The new rule upholds the essential nature of the traditional method of stroke and eliminates the possible advantage that anchoring provides, ensuring that players of all skill levels face the same challenge inherent in the game of golf."
When the Jan. 1, 2016 deadline was officially put in place, players knew they had a three-year window to find an alternative. Some chose to treat the impending anchor ban like a Band-Aid, ripping it off as quickly as possible. Others, like Hearn, opted to use the putter until right before the deadline.
"Fortunately for me I putted on TOUR when I first got on in  with a short putter," Hearn said at The RSM Classic. "It's something I have done at a high level. I obviously prefer to putt the way I am right now, but I'm confident in my transition."
Of course, Hearn, who finished 27th on TOUR last season in strokes-gained putting, won't be the only player competing in the Sony Open in Hawaii with a new flatstick. This week's event at Waialae Country Club marks the first full-field TOUR event without the anchored putter.
"It's a change from one way of putting to something else, and that takes time," Hearn said. "You just have to trust what you're doing and feel comfortable with it when you're on the course in competition. I guess only time will tell."
Time will certainly tell if previous anchor users can find success with a non-anchored model. But if the last few years have taught us anything, it's that there's no such thing as a blueprint for a successful transition.
Webb Simpson, who used a PING G5i Craz-E belly putter, was one of the first to make a permanent switch at the end of the 2014 season when he put a conventional-length Odyssey White Hot Pro V-Line in play in Japan at the Dunlop Phoenix Open.
Wanting to avoid the temptation of going back to his belly putter, Simpson snapped the club over his knee and put it in his trophy case alongside the U.S. Open trophy that it helped win.
"I kept thinking in my head, just go one more year with the belly putter, you've had a great last four years," Simpson said. "So I felt myself kind of backing out, and I tried to justify it with, you know, all these things. In front of my wife, I snapped it over my knee."
While Simpson went the permanent route, others decided to leave the door ajar, in the event things didn't go according to plan. One of those players was Keegan Bradley, who replaced his trusty belly putter with a non-anchored version (41 inches) at the 2014 Memorial.
The 2011 PGA Championship winner returned to his belly putter briefly before switching back to a shorter, conventional-length putter at the Travelers Championship last year.
"Ever since I've switched to this recent putter that I have, it's a little lighter, it's shorter, I feel as though I've putted as well or better than I did before," Bradley said. "I had a putter early in the year that was longer and heavier that I wasn't quite as consistent with. So it's really nice to get on the greens and feel like I can make every putt I look at."
Another high-profile late convert was 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott. The Aussie opened 2015 with a conventional-length Odyssey White Ice Core #7 putter at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship.
But instead of giving the putter a lengthy test run, Scott went back to his Scotty Cameron Futura X Long in the run-up to the Masters. Wanting to give the long putter one last shot to win a major, Scott used the model for the rest of the season before moving into a 35-inch Scotty Cameron Rev X10 prototype — the putter had a similar head shape to the X6 putter Scott used at the 2015 U.S. Open — at the Presidents Cup last October.
"As far as putting goes, I'm putting very well," Scott said of the new putter. "I putted poorly this year with the long putter, which made everything quite frustrating when you do putt poorly for a long period of time, like the whole year, makes the game very difficult. So I've putted nicely since putting with the short putter and that's, I think, having a positive effect on the rest of my game as well."
Not everyone has felt a sense of urgency to switch in the last 12 months. For every Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley who started the transition process six months before the deadline, there were some players – such as Tim Clark and Carl Pettersson -- who chose to use an anchored putter until the bitter end.
Pettersson employed a broomstick-style model that was anchored to his chest, believing the putter gave him the best chance to win on a weekly basis.
"I've used a conventional-length putter in the last few years," Pettersson said. "I'm not worried. I'll probably go arm-lock, or if I decide to go conventional, possibly a back-weighted putter with a claw grip."
Clark has used an Odyssey 2-Ball Long putter for the last 11 years and the same putting method for nearly 20 years, anchoring the putter against his sternum. Unlike a majority of professionals who switched to the anchor method in search of a spark, Clark's situation is a bit more complicated due to a rare condition that prevents him from being able to supinate his wrists.
The South African has tried a conventional putter and most recently used BioMech's AccuLock Ace at the Frys.com Open, but neither method felt as comfortable as his old setup, where he keeps his left thumb on top of the grip and moves his right hand farther down the putter shaft.
"I've been using the same method for 20 years, and when you do something the same way, it's not easy to change," Clark said. "I'll figure it out, but you have to understand, this isn't going from a belly to a normal putter. This is finding a new putter and going to a different stroke using different muscles. That's the main reason why I used the [2-Ball] for most of the season."
When the calendar shifted from 2015 to 2016, it brought an end to the anchored putting stroke. What it didn't completely eliminate was belly and long putters. The clubs are both legal, provided the butt end of the grip doesn't touch your chest or stomach — or the forearm isn't used as an anchor point.
Floating the putter (not anchoring it to the body) is an option that could be used by players who have to adhere to the rules but don't want to make a significant change.
Steve Flesch has used the method with considerable success during his career. The TOUR veteran has been using a belly or long putter on-and-off for the better part of 10 years. During that span, Flesch captured three of his four TOUR titles with a belly putter; two of those wins happened to come when the belly putter grip was floating against his shirt.
"I did that because I putted better that way and didn't feel so restricted," Flesch told PGATOUR.COM. "To me, I used the end of the belly putter more as a reference point than a fulcrum point. I felt like I had to move too much during the stroke when it was physically touching me. But when it was there as a reference point, I felt like I could make a more athletic move with the putter."
While Flesch said floating could be a viable option for some players, he pointed out the grey area that has to be navigated to keep the method legal.
"When I was using the belly putter and won those two events in 2007, the grip was just brushing my shirt. It was never touching me, per se. But every once in a while on a long putt you'd take it back and it would touch you. That's when you have to wonder, 'OK, is that technically anchoring?' I believe it is."
It's possible you could see some players "float" a belly or long putter this year, but there's a better chance you'll see many use an alternative option like the counterbalanced putter.
Over the last three years, nearly every equipment manufacturer has released at least one counterbalanced model that features a heavier putter head and grip for added stability during the stroke.
Adding additional weight, especially in butt end of the grip, tends to take the hands and wrists out of the strokes while keeping the putter on a more consistent, repeatable path.
In some putters, the overall length of the grip is also slightly longer-than-average — the longer grip makes some standard-length putters 38 inches instead of 35 — which allows for multiple hand placement options and the ability to grip up or down, depending on the player’s preference.
The putter has been used by numerous players in the last few years, including Bradley, Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson.
The other alternative that's caught on recently is the arm-lock putting method that was deemed legal by the USGA and R&A under Rule 14-1b. Although a player can't anchor a putter to his chest or stomach, the arm-lock allows the putter grip to rest against the forearm in an effort to maintain a stable stroke through impact.
Matt Kuchar used a Bettinardi arm-lock putter to win the 2014 RBC Heritage.
"This has been a learning process," Kuchar said. "My style of putting with putting the putter up my left forearm started with a chat with Dave Stockton. I've always admired the way he putts and we were at a clinic together in Palm Springs and I just wanted to hear some of his thoughts. Before long, we were out on the green hitting a few different putts the way he used to do it.
"I wasn't doing it the way he wanted, so I said, 'What if I just take your putter, choke down on it and have the grip come up to my wrist and hit some putts.' Dave said that was a great reminder, and it reminded me of the way I used to putt as a kid because I had a big forward press. It ended up feeling like an extension of my left arm."
Different variations of Kuchar's arm-lock putter have also been introduced recently — the most popular being BioMech's AccuLock Ace putter that's been seen in the hands of Heath Slocum, Bo Van Pelt and Clark.
The putter was designed with a forward shaft lean that allows the club grip to rest against the leading forearm during the stroke. To achieve the optimal forward lean and lie angle, the shaft is attached to the rear of the putter head.
Go ahead. Name the biggest hurdle players face with the transition away from the anchored putter. There's a good chance "eye line" isn't near the top of the list.
"When you switch, there are things that no matter how hard you try to recreate a similar feeling or sensation, they are going to be a little different," said Johnny Thompson, Odyssey Golf's PGA TOUR rep.
One of the "things" that will likely change is the position of the eyes over the ball at address, especially for long putter users who choose to go with a more conventional-length model.
"If you use a long putter, it's likely 48 inches, which requires you to stand up when you address the ball," Thompson said. "You're looking at the ball and then tracking ball to target from a very different spot than you would with a short putter. Now it might not seem like that big of a deal, but when you're a professional and you're used to tracking ball to target from a certain spot, altering your eye line can be huge."
Adjusting the eye line can make a putt that once looked straight appear to be slightly off line. In other words, it can completely alter your mindset and setup.
It's possible to adjust to a new eye line, but as Thompson noted, it's going to require not only time on the practice green but getting acclimated to the new setup during a tournament.
"I don't think anyone knows how they are going to putt with something different until they are under the gun," Thompson said. "Eye line is just as important as getting used to a new release point if you used to anchor the putter to your stomach. But at the end of the day, it's about having that belief in what you're using, and feeling comfortable in your new setup."
Ultimately, that feeling of comfort will come from getting used to the new putter in a tournament setting. For players like Hearn, Clark and Pettersson, that process will start in earnest this week at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
“I don't know if you hear Keegan [Bradley] or whoever else, Adam [Scott], talk about it, the pressure comes when there's expectation," said Webb Simpson. "There's more focus on you, which you know. [There's] two ways to deal with it. One, it can negatively affect you, or two, you can realize that, hey, that's just how it is and you've got to play through it.”