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Anchored putting stroke outlawed

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GOLF'S governing bodies approved a rule Tuesday that outlaws the putting stroke used by four of the last six major champions, a move opposed by the PGA Tour, which contends long putters are not hurting the game.

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club and U.S. Golf Association said Rule 14-1b will take effect in 2016.

"We recognize this has been a divisive issue, but after thorough consideration, we remain convinced that this is the right decision for golf," R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said.

The new rule does not ban the long putters, only the way they commonly are used. Golfers no longer will be able to anchor the club against their bodies to create the effect of a hinge. Masters champion Adam Scott used a long putter he pressed against his chest. British Open champion Ernie Els and U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson used a belly putter, as did Keegan Bradley in the 2011 PGA Championship.

"We strongly believe that this rule is for the betterment of the game," USGA president Glen Nager said. "Rule 14-1b protects one of the important challenges in the game -- the free swing of the entire club."

The announcement followed six months of contentious debate, and it might not be over.

The next step is for the PGA Tour to follow the new rule or decide to establish its own condition of competition that would allow players to anchor the long putters. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in February the USGA and R&A would be "making a mistake" to adopt the rule, though he also has stressed the importance of golf playing under one set of rules.

"I think it's really important that the PGA Tour -- and all the professional tours -- continue to follow one set of rules," USGA executive director Mike Davis said. "We have gotten very positive feedback from the tours around the world saying that they like one set of rules, they like the R&A and USGA governing those. So if there was some type of schism, we don't think that would be good for golf.

"And we are doing what we think is right for the long-term benefit of the game for all golfers, and we just can't write them for one group of elite players."

The tour said in a statement it would consult with its Player Advisory Council and policy board to determine "whether various provisions of Rule 14-1b will be implemented in our competitions, and if so, examine the process for implementation."

PGA of America president Ted Bishop, who had some of the sharpest comments over the last few months, also said his group would discuss the new rule -- and confer with the PGA Tour -- before deciding how to proceed.

"We are disappointed with this outcome," Bishop said. "As we have said publicly and repeatedly during the comment period, we do not believe 14-1b is in the best interest of recreational golfers and we are concerned about the negative impact it may have on both the enjoyment and growth of the game."

Some forms of anchoring have been around at least 40 years, and old photographs suggest it has been used even longer. It wasn't until after Bradley became the first major champion to use a belly putter that the USGA and R&A said it would take a new look at the putting style.

"It can never be too late to do the right thing," Nager said.

"Intentionally securing one end of the club against the body, and creating a point of physical attachment around which the club is swung, is a substantial departure from that traditional free swing," Nager said.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 22, 2013 C4

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