This post also appears at http://www.kevinweeks.com
By Garrett Chaussard with Kevin Weeks
One of PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem’s main talking points when he announced the tour’s opposition to the USGA’s proposed anchoring ban in February was that there was no hard data to support the USGA’s position.
In other words, there was no evidence to prove that anchoring the putter really helps players roll the ball better. After all, Finchem said, a vast majority of PGA Tour players—the best players in the world—still use conventional putters. And if the best players in the word, playing for the most money in the world, could pick the best way to putt, wouldn’t they choose to anchor the putter if it was better?
It’s unquestionably true that some “random” factors that influence putting performance have nothing to do with how a player holds the club—like green reading ability, familiarity with the putting surface, proximity to the hole and green conditions. Even on “ideal” putting surfaces, the inconsistencies of a natural grass surface can cause even a “perfectly” struck putt to miss. We set up a putting test with a robot on the practice green here at Cog Hill a few years ago. The mechanical man—and his mechanical stroke—only made 9 out of 10 putts after the speed and break of his test putt was calibrated. So it’s obviously possible to make a perfect read and an ideal stroke and still stay out of the hole because nature has taken its course.
But to say there is no data to support the idea that anchoring improves putting performance is just false.
In our putting lab at Cog Hill, we have a variety of very sensitive measuring devices that can essentially create a map of a player’s putting stroke in data. We can compare that data map to other maps—either from those of other players, or from the same player using different equipment or technique—and get a very clear picture of a putting stroke’s “efficiency.” Simply put, players who make a repeating stroke, hit the ball in the optimum place on the putter face and send the ball on the intended target line more often make more putts. They have a “better” putting stroke than somebody who doesn’t do those things as often.
If Tim Finchem wants data, we have it.
Using a Science and Motion (SAM) Putting Lab, we’re able to catalogue every player who comes to the studio—and we have access to data recorded at dozens of other lab locations around the world. We can compare the strokes from more than 1,500 players—from the PGA Tour to 36-handicappers—instantly, on 28 different parameters.
Over the last few years, we’ve measured numerous players who have switched from traditional to anchored putting—many because of the yips. And in EVERY case, the player who switched improved in every respect in terms of measurable SAM data. One college player improved his rotational consistency—how reliably the face of the putter opens and closes through impact—more than 300 percent, and went from the worst putter on his team to the best.
Regardless of how you hold the putter, the way you manipulate the face through impact has the biggest impact on direction. The path of your stroke has a secondary effect, as well. How consistently you can hit the ball in the same place on the face with the same loft and shaft angle impacts distance control. Analyzing the data from the players who have made the change from conventional to anchored, it is strikingly obvious that anchoring provides very real benefits in all of those categories.
- It improves posture. A player with an anchored club is more likely to set up to the ball in a consistent posture every time, and make a more consistent stroke.
- It promotes more consistent impact on the same spot on the putter face.
- It helps the putter swing on the same plane or arc every time.
- It aids path direction right or left of the ball (assuming ball position and body alignment are consistent relative to the target).
- It returns the putter to the ball at impact with consistent loft on the face, and consistent shaft angle (assuming ball position and body alignment are consistent relative to the target).
- It limits the ability to manipulate the putter face open and closed at impact.
The data as a whole is certainly persuasive, as are some of the specific case studies of players we’ve seen in our lab. The SAM system assigns an “Overall Tendencies” percentage score to each stroke that aggregates a player’s aim, impact, loft and angle of attack at impact and face rotation. The closer to 100 percent you score, the closer your stroke is to “ideal.” Rotation Consistency is a score that measures how consistently your putter face arcs through impact. A low percentage score there indicates poor consistency, while a number closer to 100 percent indicates very consistent face rotation—and consistent directional control.
Player A (Competitive Junior)
- 155 percent improvement anchored vs. conventional
- 34.6 percent Conventional Overall Tendencies
- 88.3 percent Anchored Overall Tendencies
Player B (Scratch Player)
- 69 percent improvement anchored vs. conventional
- 55.3 percent Conventional Overall Conventional
- 93.6 percent Anchored Overall Anchored
Player C (Division 1 College Player)
- 304 percent improvement anchored vs. conventional
- 21 percent Rotation Consistency Conventional
- 85 percent Rotation Consistency Anchored
Player D (Mini Tour Player)
- 32 percent improvement anchored vs. conventional
- 58.2 percent Overall Conventional
- 77.2 percent Overall Anchored
Player E (Competitive Junior)
- 75 percent improvement anchored vs. conventional
- 49 percent Rotation Consistency Conventional
- 86 percent Rotation Consistency Anchored
Player F (15 Handicap)
- 126 percent improvement anchored vs. conventional
- 38 percent Rotation Consistency Conventional
- 86 percent Rotation Consistency Anchored
Player G (18 Handicap)
- 97 percent improvement anchored vs. conventional
- 40 percent Rotation Consistency Conventional
- 79 percent Rotation Consistency Anchored
One PGA Tour player we tested in the lab consistently started his putts 1.5 degrees left of target with a conventional putter — consistently pulled. With an anchored putter, he started the ball 0.0 degrees to the target—consistently square.
Whether or not anchored putting is “fair” or within the spirit of the rules is another issue entirely. As it stands now, any player can elect to use an anchored putter and get the benefits of it. That makes it fair. And the player still has to read each putt and hit it on the right line with good speed. But anchoring sure does make that pesky part about actually rolling the ball a lot easier. To me, the skill of stroking the ball without the assistance anchoring provides is something that should still be valued—certainly at the elite level. I think the USGA and R&A are making the right call.
Not everybody agrees, obviously. My Cog Hill colleague Kevin Weeks works with dozens of PGA Tour players on putting. He believes anchoring should continue to be allowed because banning it would be tantamount to changing the rules in mid-stream. Since the method has been legal for so long, now players like Keegan Bradley have reached the tour level having putted no other way. It would be the same as banning the two-handed backhand in tennis—plus it could deprive fans the chance to see players who anchor survive out on tour for the long term.