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USGA rule change: Is this the end for belly putters in golf?

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the U.S. Golf Association said the proposed rule would make it illegal for pro golfers to "anchor" the club to their bodies while making a stroke. The new rule would not take effect until 2016.

By Doug FergusonAssociated Press / November 28, 2012

Adam Scott from Australia hits the ball with his long putter anchored to his chest during the HSBC Champions golf tournament in Dongguan,China earlier this month. If the new golf rule is adopted, Scott will have to adjust his stroke or change his putter.

(AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

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Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Golf's governing bodies, worried that players will turn to long putters as an advantage instead of a last resort, proposed a new rule banning the putting stroke used by three of the last five major champions.

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The Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the U.S. Golf Association said on Wednesday the rule would not outlaw belly putter or broom-handle putters, only the way they are currently used. The proposed rule would make it illegal for golfers to anchor the club while making a stroke and not take effect until 2016.

"More players are using it, and instructors are saying this is a more efficient way to putt because you don't have to control the whole stroke," USGA executive director Mike Davis said. "The game has been around for 600 years. Fundamentally, we don't think this is the right way to go."

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Orville Moody won the 1989 U.S. Senior Open using a long putter that he held against his chest, allowing for a pendulum motion. Paul Azinger won the 2000 Sony Open with a putter that he pressed into his belly. Long putters began receiving serious attention last year when Keegan Bradley became the first player to win a major with a belly putter at the U.S. PGA Championship. This year, Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open and Ernie Els the British Open using belly putters.

"Our objective is to preserve the skill and challenge," R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. "This rule is not performance related. This is about defining what is a stroke."

The long putters are not being banned. The rule relates to the actual stroke, not the equipment. Players can use a broom putter as long as it is not anchored to the chest.

Davis and Dawson said the catalyst for the new rule was not who was winning tournaments, but the number of players switching to long putters.

Their research showed no more than 4 percent of golfers used the clubs for several years. It went to 6 percent in 2006, and then to 11 percent in 2011, with some U.S. PGA Tour events having as much as 20 percent of the players using the long clubs. There was no empirical data to suggest a long putter made golf easier. Carl Pettersson (No. 21) and Bradley (No. 27) were the only players among the top 30 in putting this year on the U.S. PGA Tour who used long putters.

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