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November 28. 2012 10:24PM

Anchors away!

At mid-morning on Wednesday, Manchester golfer Wally Tafe received an e-mail from a fellow Derryfield Country Club player that could have spoiled his lunch.

The note detailed the proposal announced early Wednesday by golf's rulemaking authorities to ban the practice of anchoring a club against one's body during the putting stroke starting on Jan. 1, 2016.

A 71-year-old retiree, Tafe recently turned to a belly putter to aid his putting woes. Although he used the putter just a few times this fall, he found the method of anchoring its longer-than-standard shaft into his abdomen helpful on the greens.

"I find it very easy for five-footers and inside of that," he said. "It takes the hands out. You're using more of your shoulders, your elbows and your torso. ... My hands were all over the place at one time."

The U.S. Golf Association's and Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews' proposed Rule 14-1b would prohibit putting strokes made with the club - or a hand gripping the club - held directly against the player's body, according to a USGA news release. It would also prohibit strokes made with a forearm held against the body to establish an indirect anchor point for the club, the release said.

Still, Tafe took the news in stride.

"I knew it was coming," said the former Derryfield club champion, who suggested he might continue to use his new putter without anchoring it. "I've got three more years with this thing. And who's to say I won't bury it and try something else?"

Although anchoring with long putters has been part of golf for three decades, there has been ample speculation in recent months that the game's governing bodies would seek to ban the practice as more touring pros have achieved success with belly putters and longer broomstick models typically anchored against the upper chest with one hand. Three of the last five PGA Tour players to win major championships - Keegan Bradley (2011 PGA Championship), Webb Simpson (2012 U.S. Open) and Ernie Els (2012 British Open) - used belly putters en route to victory, while Adam Scott has posted two runner-up finishes in recent majors using a broomstick.

Despite widespread anticipation of a proposed ban, Wednesday's announcement came as unwelcome news to other New Hampshire golfers.

"It was a pretty sad day for me," said Cory Mansfield, the head professional at Enfield's Montcalm Golf Club and a longtime broomstick user. "I kind of knew it was coming, but I don't agree with it."

Although Mansfield acknowledged that anchoring can be a helpful remedy to golfers afflicted with the so-called "yips" or other putting problems, he doesn't believe the practice confers enough of an advantage to merit a ban.

"I think (the USGA and R&A) got a little nervous because they saw so many guys start to play well, like Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson," the 42-year-old said. "To me it's more of a gut move."

Grantham golfer Alexandra Schmidt, a fifth-year senior on the Eastern Kentucky University women's golf team who uses a broomstick, echoed Mansfield's sentiments.

"I don't think (anchoring) is a benefit to anybody," the 22-year-old said. "I don't think it will cause one person to win more."

Another broomstick devotee, Laconia Country Club head professional Todd Rollins, expressed concern that a proposed ban on anchoring will drive some players away from golf at a time when the game is struggling to attract and retain participants.

"I don't see how it can help the game," the 39-year-old said. "If people enjoy their round of golf more by using that putter, I think we ought to let them use it."

The USGA and R&A are accepting comments regarding the proposed rule change through next Feb. 28 and are expected to announce a final decision next spring, according to the USGA news release. Despite disagreeing with the proposed ban, Mansfield, Schmidt and Rollins plan to abide by the rule change if and when it goes into effect, they said.

Likewise, Manchester golfer Mike Sylvester is prepared to switch from the beloved belly putter he's used for 12 years to a standard-length club as soon as next season. But although he'll make the change begrudgingly, the 60-year-old Derryfield member doesn't necessarily disagree with the rationale behind the USGA and R&A's proposal.

"I do think (anchoring) is an advantage," he said. "I guess I understand why the purists in golf are going to win the debate."

mcullity@unionleader.com


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