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Golf's governing bodies set to ban long putters

ESPN staff
November 28, 2012 « 'Phenomenal' Gerrard key for Liverpool | Chartbeat test »

Golf's two leading rules organisations, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the United States Golf Association, look set to announce the outlawing of long putters on Wednesday.

The two bodies have called a joint teleconference call for Wednesday afternoon, where it is expected they will confirm that controversial long putters will be effectively banned from the sport.

Long putters - which anchor to some part of the player's body, in theory making a 'pivot' that renders the putting stroke simpler and more consistent - have courted controversy in recent months, after a number of the biggest tournaments in the sport were won by players wielding the oversized club.

So-called 'broomhandle' putters were judged legal by the sport in 1989, with rulesmakers presuming that only older players would chose to use them. But three of the past five major championships have been won by players using the club, while 14-year-old Guan Tianlang recently qualified for The Masters using a belly putter he has utilised almost his entire life.

One of those recent champions, 2011 US PGA winner Keegan Bradley, has previously suggested he will take the USGA and R&A to court if they attempt to ban long putters - something that may hold up any intended rules change, although both bodies are likely to leave a grace period to enable professionals and amateurs alike to adjust.

"I think it's a pretty drastic thing for them to do to us," Bradley said. "They are basically saying, 'All those years and years of practice you've done are down the drain'.

"I'm going to do whatever I have to do to protect myself and the other players on tour. For them to say they will ban this after what we've done [in winning three majors] is unbelievable. If they were going to ban it, they should have done it a long time ago."

Other high-profile professionals, including Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell, have called for long putters to be banned - while Ernie Els, who won this year's Open Championship with a belly putter, said the club was akin to "cheating".

The game's governing bodies are likely to succeed in their aim of outlawing the club, however, with legal experts saying they are well within their rights to change the rules of a sport they dictate. That is because they are likely to ban the act of anchoring the club to a part of the player's body other than the hands - rather than the club itself.

"There is little doubt that Bradley can find a lawyer somewhere who will be willing to take a fee and file a lawsuit on [his] behalf," Lester Munster, a legal analyst for ESPN.com, wrote this month. "Litigation is part of the American way of life. But there is also little doubt that their lawsuit will end badly at some level in the court system, and the golfers will be using short putters as the 2016 season opens.

"They are missing one important thing - a legal basis for their claim. They can talk about due process. They can argue about the elimination of anchoring as a wrongful interference with their pursuit of a living. They can claim a violation of American antitrust laws. But none of these legal theories, or any other legal theory, are likely to work."

The long putter has been on the agenda for much of the year, with the R&A revealing in July that a amendment to the rules was in the works.

"This decision has not been taken, but I think we are going to say something in a few months rather than years," R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. "There are further discussions to be had, but if the rule is changed it would come into effect on January 1, 2016."

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