But the longer putters got serious attention when majors were won last year — by Bradley at the PGA, followed by Simpson at the U.S. Open. Then, Ernie Els won the British Open this year.
Adding to the attention was Guan Tianlang, the 14-year-old from China who used a belly putter this month when he won the Asia Pacific Amateur, which earned him a spot in the Masters. He will be the youngest player ever at Augusta National. Guan started using the belly putter about six months before his big win.
Even so, Dawson and Davis said the catalyst for a new rule was not who was winning tournaments, but the number of players switching to that style of putting.
Their research showed no more than 4 percent of players on the PGA Tour used the clubs for several years. It went to 6 percent in 2006, and then to 11 percent in 2011 and to 15 percent this year, with some events having as much as 25 percent of the players using the long clubs.
There was no empirical data to suggest a long putter made golf easier, and they made it clear that the proposed rule was not about performance.
"This is about defining the game and defining what is a stroke in golf," Dawson said.
Davis said it was one thing for a few players who use a long putter because they struggled on the greens or had health issues. What changed was the spike in number of players using the putters, as well as instructors believing it was a better way to putt.
"It was this recent increase, it was this recent advocacy of players, instructors, to move toward the anchored stroke that really got us to the point where we said, 'We need to act in the best interests of the game moving forward,'" Davis said. "This is all about the future of the game. It's about us defining the game, defining a stroke, clarifying a very controversial and divisive situation."
The penalty for anchoring the club would be loss of hole in match play and a two-stroke penalty in stroke play.
The PGA Tour, European Tour and LPGA Tour said it would evaluate the proposed rule with its players. The PGA Tour has a mandatory players' meeting in San Diego at the end of January, which former U.S. Amateur champion Colt Knost tweeted would be a lively session. Knost uses a belly putter.
The PGA of America said it was concerned that such a ban would drive people from the game.
"As our mission is to grow the game ... we are asking them to seriously consider the impact this proposed ban may have on people's enjoyment of the game and the overall growth of the game," PGA president Ted Bishop said.
Woods walked quickly by reporters after his pro-am round at the World Challenge, saying only, "I think it's a good one," when asked about the new rule. On Tuesday, he said using an anchored stroke takes away from nerves in the hands.
"I just believe that the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves," Woods said Tuesday. "And having it as a fixed point, as I was saying all year, is something that's not in the traditions of the game. We swing all other 13 clubs. I think the putter should be the same."
Jack Nicklaus recalls that croquet-style putting was banned decades ago and golf moved on. Even though far more golfers use long putters, he expects the same outcome.
"They'll all learn to adjust," Nicklaus told the Golf Channel. "Like anything else, they'll get used to it and get over it. ... We've had changes with balls, wood heads, grooves, all kinds of changes. Players have adjusted to those and they'll adjust to this."
Davis, meanwhile, did not accept the premise that golf would lose even greater participation by taking away the anchored putting stroke. He even cited a PGA of America program that showed fewer people were playing because of the expense and time.
"Difficulty is way down the list," he said. "And anchoring would only be a very, very small part of that."
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