GOLING star Rory McIlroy has got his way after golf’s ruling bodies have banned the use of belly putters in three years time.
The R&A and USGA have announced proposed rule changes to prohibit the use of anchoring putters to the body.
The new move is due to take effect on January 1, 2016, in accordance with the regular four-year cycle for changes to the Rules of Golf.
Earlier, McIlroy, 23, who won the Race To Dubai last weekend with five birdies in his last round using a traditional putter, said: “I think the game of golf would be better off without it. That’s my personal opinion.”
But with a number of leading players having complained about the planned action, the final decision has still to be taken and both the R&A and the USGA “will consider any further comments and suggestions from throughout the golf community”.
Under the proposal, long putters like those used by recent major winners Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els could still be put in the bag in four years’ time, but could not be anchored to the body.
The ruling bodies said in a statement: “The proposed Rule 14-1b, which follows an extensive review by the R&A and the USGA, would prohibit strokes made with the club or a hand gripping the club held directly against the player’s body, or with a forearm held against the body to establish an anchor point that indirectly anchors the club.
“The proposed new rule would not alter current equipment rules and would allow the continued use of all conforming golf clubs, including belly-length and long putters, provided such clubs are not anchored during a stroke.
“The proposed rule narrowly targets only a few types of strokes, while preserving a golfer’s ability to play a wide variety of strokes in his or her individual style.”
Peter Dawson, the R&A chief executive, said: “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.
“Anchored strokes have become the preferred option for a growing number of players and this has caused us to review these strokes and their impact on the game.
“Our concern is that anchored strokes threaten to supplant traditional putting strokes which are integral to the long-standing character of the sport.”
The statement adds: “This timetable would also provide an extended period in which golfers may, if necessary, adapt their method of stroke to the requirements of the rule.
“In proposing the new rule, the R&A and the USGA concluded that the long-term interests of the game would be served by confirming a stroke as the swinging of the entire club at the ball.
“This proposal reflects the R&A’s and USGA’s responsibility to define how the game is to be played.
“Aspects of how a player must make a stroke have been addressed in past rules changes, such as the century-old rule codifying that the ball must be fairly struck and not be pushed, scraped or spooned and the 1968 prohibition on the ‘croquet’ style of putting.”
Mike Davis, USGA executive director, said: “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.
“The player’s challenge is to control the movement of the entire club in striking the ball and anchoring the club alters the nature of that challenge.
“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.
“As governing bodies we monitor and evaluate playing practices and developments in golf, with our primary mandate being to ensure that the Rules of Golf continue to preserve the fundamental characteristics of the game.”
The statement also says: “Although anchoring the club is not new, until recently it was uncommon and typically seen as a method of last resort by a small number of players.
“In the last two years, however, more and more players have adopted the anchored stroke.
“Golf’s governing bodies have observed this upsurge at all levels of the game and noted that more coaches and players are advocating this method.
“The decision to act now is based on a strong desire to reverse this trend and to preserve the traditional golf stroke.”
Each organisation is expected to take a final decision on the proposed change in spring 2013 and anyone wishing to provide written comments to the appropriate governing body is encouraged to do so by February 28.
Three of the last five majors have been won by players using a putter anchored to the midriff – Keegan Bradley at the 2011 USPGA, Webb Simpson at the 2012 US Open and Ernie Els at The 2012 Open – which has led to claims that it gives an unfair advantage.
However, those against the ban point out that the the top 15 players in the PGA Tour’s main putting stat in 2012 – Strokes gained putting – all use conventional putters.
Webb Simpson, preparing to play in this week’s World Challenge event hosted by Tiger Woods, says he is ready to cope with whatever decision is handed down.
“I’ve been working with the short putter now for a couple of years,” said the American, who switched to the belly putter in his college days in a bid for more consistency. “I’m not worried. I expected this day to come.”
Woods, meanwhile, agrees with his the argument that an anchored putter does not produce a true golf stroke as it lessens the effects of shaky hands.
“I just believe that the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves,” said Woods. “And having it as a fixed point, as I was saying all year, is something that’s not in the traditions of the game.”