Keegan Bradley says that if the USGA bans anchoring belly putters, he may take legal action.
I’m going to do whatever I have to do to protect myself and the other players on Tour. I look at it as a whole, as us all together. I don’t look at it as much about myself. I think that for them to ban this after we’ve done what we’ve done is unbelievable.
Ernie Els and Davis Love III also are predicting legal action, though not necessarily from themselves.
While the belly putter (and its anchoring technique) may in the past have been a crutch used by older players, there are number of younger guys on tour who have used the long stick throughout their amateur and professional careers. Golf’s lawgivers made a big mistake in not jumping on the anchoring technique decades ago. They were quick enough to ban Sam Snead’s experimental croquet putting style. In permitting anchoring as long as they have, the USGA and R&A set a precedent.
If the USGA and R&A see fit to ban the belly putter, I can see them losing the court battle. Anchoring proponents will argue that the technique was permitted—at least in the breach—so long as no one was winning tournaments. A good lawyer could argue that banning them is aimed specifically at a small group of players—recent Major winners. Depending upon how long the ban is in effect before resolution of the suit, damages could go to the millions.
More than the outcome of any single lawsuit, however, the USGA and R&A need to worry about the potential that the Courts will become golf’s ultimate ruling body. The PGA Tour lost an argument before the Supreme Court in the 2001 Casey Martin case. In 1990, the USGA caved in the face of a losing court battle over Ping grooves. They apparently made the calculation that they couldn’t afford the $100 million in damages sought by Ping.
An anchoring lawsuit would once again put golf’s rules in the hands of the court system. Long putter lawyers will not only name the USGA and R&A, but also individuals within the organizations as co-defendants. If the long putters win, damages against the organizations—and the individuals—could be devastating. A precedent also will be set. Every time a player thinks a rules change harms them, lawyers and courts will be the final rules arbiter.
It is far better for everyone that this issue get worked out to everyone’s satisfaction before the pronouncement is made. The ruling bodies’ best move may be to somehow grandfather in current players and to set a general ban deadline for ten or more years in the future. A long-delayed implementation will give current players a chance to have their long putter careers, and offer ample warning to those coming up through the ranks. That may be enough to stave off the lawyers.