Continued Use of Long Putter Raises Concerns on the Senior Tour

The Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee was watching the second round of the United States Senior Open in June when television cameras zoomed in on Bernhard Langer as he attempted a 7-foot eagle putt on the 14th hole.

To Chamblee, it looked as if the butt end of Langer’s long putter was embedded in his shirt during the stroke and as if his left forearm touched his chest, a potential violation of Rule 14-1b. The rule forbids intentionally bracing the club against the body or creating so-called anchor points by pressing the grip hand or forearm against the body as a means of stabilizing the stroke.

“It’s just wrong,” Chamblee, a former player on the PGA Tour, said in a recent interview. “Whether he believed he was or not, the camera clearly showed he was.”

Several times this summer, Chamblee has written and spoken critically about that putt and what he sees as shortcomings of the anchoring rule. And he is not alone. The instructor Hank Haney, who coached Tiger Woods, has questioned on Twitter whether the rule is being properly enforced.

Two rules officials — Jeff Hall of the United States Golf Association and Brian Claar of the PGA Tour Champions — spoke about the issue with Langer, 59, who was cleared of any wrongdoing before his third round at the Senior Open. He ended up finishing in a tie for 18th place. But the controversy has hardly been confined to that putt or to Langer.

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Rule 14-1b, the ban on anchoring a putter, went into effect on Jan. 1, 2016, more than two years after players were told to prepare for the change. Since then, the broomstick putters have virtually disappeared from the regular PGA Tour, but they remain in use among a handful of players on the senior circuit, the PGA Tour Champions.

One of them is Scott McCarron, who ranks second behind Langer on this year’s money list and in the standings for the Charles Schwab Cup, the senior tour’s yearlong points race. His success and his putting technique, like Langer’s, have been called into question.

“It’s hurting our product and the credibility of the PGA Tour Champions,” said Tom Pernice Jr., a five-time winner on the tour.

Langer, who has earned more than $2 million in 15 starts and won four times, including three majors, attributes the doubts to envy.

“I believe in honesty and integrity,” Langer said in a statement July 7, “and I could not live with myself if I broke a rule and did not incur the penalty.”

The ban on anchoring has been costly for some prominent players who switched to shorter putters as a result. Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Carl Pettersson and Tim Clark had all won on the PGA Tour with some form of an anchored putter, and their putting statistics took nose dives when the ban went into effect.

In that group, only Scott has hoisted a trophy since, and each player fell in the world rankings as he tried to adjust his stroke.

Langer and McCarron, on the other hand, have maintained their putting prowess. As of last week, Langer ranked second in putting average on the senior circuit this year (1.702 putts per green, an improvement from 1.716 in 2015, before the anchoring ban), while McCarron ranked fifth (1.726 putts per green this season, down from 1.762 in 2015).

“It was curious to me,” Chamblee said. He added that at least 10 PGA Tour Champions players had contacted him by phone or text message to express concern.

“There is no shortage of players who are aghast,” Chamblee said. “I realized there was a great deal of animosity and suspicion, and it needed to be talked about.”

Chamblee is quick to point out that he is troubled primarily by the way the rule is enforced and that he does not believe Langer or McCarron is violating the rule as written. The inclusion of the word “intentionally” in the rule, Chamblee said, provides an unacceptable loophole.

“Intent is the get-out-of-jail-free card for both the player and those who are meant to police the player,” Chamblee wrote in a column for the Golf Channel’s website.

Langer and McCarron have ardent defenders, as well. Rocco Mediate, 54, who used a long putter for about 15 years until 2009, said they deserved credit for figuring out how to use the broomstick putters without anchoring them — a challenge that Mediate found confounding.