Blame the USGA if you have a problem with Bernhard Langer’s putting stroke

In the years leading up to the USGA’s 2016 anchoring ban (Rule 14-1b) there was plenty of discussion about the matter of jamming the end of one’s putter into one’s gut. 

Since the ban, however, there hasn’t been enough talk of the golfers butting up against something else: the legal limit of the rule, and even crossing the line.

Bernhard Langer, of course, is the most obvious example of a player who takes the most liberal reading of rule 14-1b possible. The German makes his practice strokes with the putter anchored firmly against his chest. He then addresses the ball and moves his hand a fraction of an inch away from his body, keeping everything else the same, and putts.

If we’re to accept that anchoring one’s putter affords some advantage or violates the “spirit of the game,” how can what Langer is doing not?

It’s not often that professional takesmith/Firestarter, Brandel Chamblee gets it right, but he’s on the mark this time.

As Chamblee points out, the USGA has written an escape route into the rule with its mention of player “intent.” As long as, say, Bernhard Langer says he doesn’t “intend” to anchor his putter, he avoids penalty. Indeed, even if his putter “accidentally” becomes anchored to his body in the course of the stroke, as long as that wasn’t his “intent,” he’s fine.

“Intent is the get-out-of-jail-free card for both the player and those who are meant to police the player,” Chamblee writes.

This is an important point: The player can always maintain his/her “intent” wasn’t to anchor, and the governing body can’t dispute such a statement.

This doesn’t sit well with the Golf Channel’s most outspoken analyst, and it should be problematic for fans.

Rather than simply saying: “Players must use a conventional-length putter in a conventional fashion,” the USGA muddied the waters with its 2016 ruling and this ludicrous infographic.

When golf’s governing body has literally drawn players a picture of how to bend a rule and do something that violates the spirit of the game, it’s difficult not expect those players who don’t care about being beyond reproach to bend that rule to the point of breaking.

Chamblee is right to say that if true “anchoring” is what the USGA wants to legislate against, Rule 14-1b needs to be rewritten.

“The rule should be rewritten to state that there must be a clear separation between the club, the gripping hand and all parts of the forearm, from the body. That in the case of any part of the club, the gripping hand or the forearm brushing against one’s shirt in the course of the stroke, it will be reviewed by the committee, for the randomness of its nature and for the potential benefit of the contact.”

Otherwise, unscrupulous players will take the Bernhard Langer route and continue to rely on the escape route of “intention.” Close the loophole and make players putt “normally” or lift the ban altogether and return us to 2015, this in-between space isn’t working.