Thoughts on Putter Anchoring

Dave Tutelman  -  March 3, 2013

The hottest topic in golf equipment right now is the proposed ban on anchoring the putter -- essentially a ban on long putters. I haven't done any detailed studies on this, but obviously have some opinions on whether it makes a difference. I feel it does give an advantage, and here are the reasons for that opinion.

The USGA and R&A have announced a proposed ban on anchoring a putter against the body. This effectively bans long putters and belly putters, at least if they are used as they have been until now. The comment period has another month to go, and there are certainly objections to the proposed change. (The PGA Tour announced its opposition a week ago.) So the ban may or may not happen.

The most cogent arguments I have heard so far are:
  • IN FAVOR OF THE BAN: Anchoring the putter against the body gives an advantage. The evidence is that three of the last five majors were won by players using anchored putters, even though the number of players using them was a considerable minority. (Shortly after I wrote this, Adam Scott won the Masters. Now four for the last six. And Scott did it by making two long putts, on the final hole and in the playoff. Definitely food for thought.)
  • OPPOSED TO THE BAN: This equipment has been in use and not opposed by the Rules for decades; I've heard forty years, but haven't verified that number. Why change now?
I believe that anchoring does provide an advantage. I'd like to say I've done the detailed physics or have conclusive empirical data, but I can't. The "analysis" is massively informal, not rigorous at all. The data is anecdotal and largely personal. But I'm still entitled to an opinion, and this one is pretty strongly held.

I think anchoring does indeed help a golfer maintain consistency. Not necessarily a better putting stroke, but a more consistent and repeatable stroke. A stroke that does not break down as easily under pressure.

Over the past few years, I have found that any breakdown of the wrists (even intended breakdown, a deliberate hit at the ball) compromises the line of the putt. As the wrists allow the clubhead to pass the hands, the putter face closes and you pull the putt. Conscious effort to retard the putter head sometimes results in a push. So whatever you can do to avoid wrist breakdown is likely to make more of your putts go where you aim them.

The opposite of a wristy putting stroke is a stroke controlled by the large muscles of the body. Something that is driven by just a shoulder rock, for instance, with no arm or wrist effort. There are quite a few ways to achieve this. Some are equipment related, and some are not. The new rule against anchoring deals with one of the equipment-related methods. Let's go down a short list of techniques.

Avoiding Wrist Breakdown

Body Anchoring

By anchoring the butt of the putter against the body (most commonly, belly or chest), you eliminate any possibility of wrist breakdown. Game, set, and match! But about to become illegal, unless the USGA and the R&A change their minds.

Forearm Anchoring

Matt Kuchar is the poster child for this one. The putter extends up the forearm, as shown on the left. As long as you putt keeping the extension against the forearm, the wrist does not break down. But you can swing this with wrist breakdown; you can inadvertently allow the extension to leave the forearm. It is not automatic.

I know about this approach from personal experience; I built myself one in 2002. Yeah, that long ago. It wasn't as extreme as Kuchar's; mine went only a few inches above the wrist. It works, but you have to have at least some swing discipline to make it work. It isn't automatic like body anchoring.

It is possible to make it automatic, and I bet we see some of it over the coming few years if the anchoring ban is sustained. One of Bernhard Langer's many attacks on the yips was a grip that extended partway up his forearm. He used his right hand to hold the extension against the forearm. The grip is demonstrated to the right by Martin Hall. With this grip, the left wrist cannot break down, because the extension cannot leave the forearm.

Heavy Putter

Yes, I know this is a branded term from Boccieri Golf. That's OK with me, because I use it here both generically and applied to Steve Boccieri's invention. In the early 2000s, Steve pioneered a design that involved a very heavy head (over 400g, some well over 400g), combined with a high balance point. Of course, a heavy head and high balance point requires very aggressive counterweighting -- often over 200g under the grip. I have one of Steve's Heavy Putters (one of the few unmodified OEM clubs I own), which weighs about two pounds.

This design promotes a big-muscle, wrist-free stroke. In particular, any attempt to use the hands to power the putt are doomed to failure; the head has too much mass. In that sense, it is a training aid as well as an in-play putter; you learn not to depend on the wrists, because they do so little for the stroke.

I had the opportunity to try one of Steve's early prototypes in about 2004. I liked it so much that most of the putters I have built for myself since then use his principle: head weight 400g and up, and add a counterweight at the butt for my favorite balance point.

Cross-Handed Grip (Left-Hand Low)

The usually-touted advantage of putting cross handed is that it keeps the shoulders level. But look at the picture at the left. It looks remarkable similar to the Bernhard Langer grip. The right hand does not actually hold the left forearm, but it does press the top of the putter grip against the left forearm.

Not everybody who putts cross-handed does it this way. But, if you do, you are effectively adding forearm anchoring to the shoulder leveling. And that will stabilize the left wrist against breakdown.

Just Do It

While Rory McIlroy was winning the US Open in 2011, TV announcer Johnny Miller kept raving about how well Rory was keeping a firm left wrist all the way through his putting stroke. As I said at the top of this discussion, the firm left wrist is the holy grail that all of these techniques aim for. The rest of the 2011 golf season, my putting thought was, "Firm left wrist like Rory," and my results were more consistent immediately.

In September of 2012, I acquired a serious case of the yips. It came on very suddenly; no problem at all, then total yipping later the same week. And I couldn't shake it for a month and a half. Here are some of the things I tried, some with success and others not:
  • I tried a friend's broomstick putter. That helped quite a bit. But by then, there were noises about a possible ban. I didn't want to become dependent on something that might become illegal (no drug jokes, please), so I didn't rush out and build myself one.
  • I tried a claw grip. The principle of the claw is that it takes the right hand out of directing the stroke; it just provides a push. Since some testing convinced me I had a "dominant hand yip", I felt that the claw should have been a promising way to go. It provided some help, but it felt uncomfortable.
  • I tried a modified claw, combined with bringing out my extreme Boccieri Heavy Putter. The claw grip modification that worked for me was allowing the shaft to split my right index and third fingers. (Picture below) My right palm pushed the left hand though the stroke, without actually gripping anything. This worked remarkably well.
  • Back to basics. After about a month of success with the Heavy Putter and modified claw, I went back to my normal grip, with a few caveats:
    1. The firm left wrist again became my putting key.
    2. The right hand didn't really grip the club, it just pushed the left hand through.
    3. I used a standard overlap grip (right over left) instead of the reverse overlap I had used for putting. That allowed the left hand to control the grip, and the right hand to just push the whole assembly through.
That has worked well for me. I have been yip-free for four months now. (I suspect the terminology is right for a recovering yipaholic.) I can use less extreme putters now; I am back to my 400-gram-head three-ball putter. I occasionally play a round with my 2002 forearm-anchored putter, but mostly as a training aid.

Bottom Line

The moral of the story is that left wrist breakdown or right hand domination ruins consistent putting. Anchoring the butt of the club to the body is an automatic way to avoid one of the two deadly putting sins: left wrist breakdown. It is indeed automatic; wrist breakdown cannot happen with body anchoring.

There are other ways to avoid wrist breakdown. If the body anchoring ban goes into effect, some golfers will have to resort to other methods to tame wrist breakdown. It will become more an issue of technique and less an issue of, "My equipment has completely removed one thing to worry about."

Does that mean I favor the ban?

Well, I do, but not as overwhelmingly as the analysis above implies. The advantage is indeed a strong argument, but so is the history of the lack of a ban. I see the logic to the counter-argument: the USGA had plenty of opportunity for a ban in decades past, so why do it now?

My response is: until now, golf at the highest level was not affected by body-anchored putting -- because players at the highest level had not been using it. Personally, I think it is a mistake for the USGA to make Rules motivated only by the touring pros, and let those Rules govern all of golf. But that seems to be the approach the USGA and R&A have taken for several decades. I don't view that as "protecting the game" -- which belongs to all of us. But it is apparently how the governing bodies do their work. (For further evidence, see other recent Rules on driver length and face grooves.)

In that context, now is the right time to impose the ban.


This article was suggested (actually requested) by Will Hsu on behalf of his blog at Mulligang Golf. He had a debate going on in his blog about whether anchoring is advantageous, and wanted my opinion. Here it is, Will.

Last modified -- Apr 15, 2013