After three rounds at the Masters, Bernhard Langer is in third place, two strokes behind Jordan Spieth, and trying to become the oldest player to ever win a major. But he is also doing it while skirting the recent ban on a controversial technique: the belly putters.
Starting this year, players are no longer permitted to “anchor” any club to their body while hitting the golf ball. This had become a popular technique in putting in recent years — used most notably by Adam Scott — in which players would press either the end of the club into their stomach or chest or secure their hand or forearm to their body. The idea is to help give the putt a smoother and more consistent stroke.
As Langer became more of a focus during Saturday’s third round, more and more fans were wondering why Langer was still permitted to use an anchored putter.
Here are three of his putts during the third round.
So, how does Langer get away with this? Well, it turns out he found a way around the rule.
One point of confusion has been on the use of “belly putters,” the type that were used previous to the anchoring ban. The rule does not ban these clubs.
From the USGA:
“A player may still use any conforming belly (mid-length) or long putter. Rule 14-1b addresses only the method of stroke, prohibiting a player from anchoring the club directly or by use of an anchor point while making a stroke.”
So there is nothing wrong with the putter Langer is using. But what about his stroke? It sure looks like he is anchoring.
According to the USGA, there are three types of putting strokes which are now banned by the anchoring rule:
- The club is not permitted to be intentionally anchored against the player’s body.
- The player’s gripping hand is not permitted to be intentionally held against the player’s body.
- The player is not allowed to intentionally hold his forearm against his body in order to establish it as an anchoring point.
Langer was recently asked about his putting technique on The Golf Channel, and he made it clear that he is actually not anchoring the putter. He is leaving a small gap between his hand and his chest and between his forearm and his chest during the actual stroke, even if it doesn’t look that way on television
“My left forearm was never touching my chest. It was only my left thumb because I put my thumb and forefinger around the grip and my left thumb touches my chest. As I move my thumb away from my chest, nothing is touching my upper-body. It is not my forearm. It is not my upper arm. Nothing. So my putter is not anchored. On TV, people can’t really tell because all I have to do is move it a half-inch away. It may still be touching the outside of my shirt every once in a while as I am bending forward, my shirt hangs away from my chest a little bit. As long as I know it is not touching any part of my body, I’m safe within the rule.”
In other words, according to Langer, he is anchoring his thumb to his chest to set the putt up, but then he pulls the thumb away as he begins his stroke. And even if it is touching his shirt, that is OK.
Langer also said he spent a lot of time reading the rule and discussing it with Tour officials to make sure what he was doing was within the rules. He also emphasised that the rule only bans “intentionally” anchoring the putter, suggesting that if the thumb occasionally touches the body on accident, that is not against the rule.
Here is a close-up of Langer in mid-putting stroke on the practice green prior to Round 4. The putter is not anchored, eliminating No. 1 above. But what about Nos. 2 and 3? Is the hand or the forearm anchored? They do appear to be touching the shirt, but it is nearly impossible to tell if there is contact with the actual chest.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter what it looks like at home. Officials have clearly reached the conclusion that what Langer is doing satisfies the criteria of the rules.
Langer says he had been using the anchored technique for 18 or 19 years now. So it is understandable that he would want to stick with it. Instead of abandoning it completely, he did the smart thing: he found a way for the rule to work for him.