- "Anchored" putting method to be banned by golf's rule makers
- Three of the last five majors have been won by players using "belly" putters
- The R&A and USGA announce changes in joint statement
- Threat of legal action over the proposed changes
The controversial method of putting whereby the club is "anchored" to a player's belly or another part of the body is to be banned from 2016, golf's law makers announced Wednesday.
The move follows victories for Keegan Bradley in last year's U.S.PGA Championship, his fellow American Webb Simpson at this year's U.S. Open and the triumph by South African veteran Ernie Els at the 2012 British Open.
All three players were using "belly" or "long-handled" putters with the club fixed on their midriff while putting out on the greens and it has been argued that they gained an unfair advantage using this approach.
The decision has been supported by 14-time major winner Tiger Woods. "I believe that the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves," he told his official website.
"Having it as a fixed point is something that's not in the traditions of the game.
"We swing all the other 13 clubs. I think the putter should be the same," added the former World No.1.
Claude Harmon, swing coach to Els, questioned why the decision had been made now despite belly putters being around for many years.
"I don't think it is the miracle cure that those in the media are making out," he told CNN. "Remember, the No.1 player in the world (Rory McIlroy) does not use a long putter, or the majority of those in the top ten," he added.
McIlroy, who won this year's U.S.PGA title and was top money winner on both the European and PGA Tours, later tweeted his approval of the decision.
"Fully agree with the anchoring ban," he said.
"Better image for the game of golf, skill and nerves are all part of the game. Level playing field in '16" the Northern Irishman added.
In unveiling their proposed changes, The Royal & Ancient (R&A) and the United States Golf Association (USGA) said they would "consider any further comments and suggestions from throughout the golf community."
There have been reports that leading players and club manufacturers could take legal action against the rule changes.
"Throughout the 600-year history of golf, the essence of playing the game has been to grip the club with the hands and swing it freely at the ball," USGA executive director Mike Davis said in the joint statement issued with the R&A.
"Our conclusion is that the Rules of Golf should be amended to preserve the traditional character of the golf swing by eliminating the growing practice of anchoring the club."
The amendments, which would come into force on January 1, 2016, do not mean belly or long-handled putters are banned, but it would be hard to see a use for them without the "anchoring" method.
"We believe we have considered this issue from every angle but given the wide ranging interest in this subject we would like to give stakeholders in the game the opportunity to put forward any new matters for consideration," added R&A chief executive Peter Dawson.