Did Bobby Jones Use an Illegal Putting Stroke?

Bobby Jones Putting

Last week, the U. S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews adopted Rule 14-1b, which prohibits so-called “anchored” putting strokes. (The rule will go into effect in 2016.) Nate Burns, a reader in New York City, writes:

In their recent rules decision, the U.S.G.A. and R. & A. claim that “the essence of the traditional method of golf stroke involves the player swinging the club with both the club and the gripping hands being held away from the body,” but I question whether that is actually the case. If you look at video of golfers in the nineteen-twenties and nineteen-thirties, you see that many of them anchored a hand or forearm against their leg to create a hinge (a technique that will become illegal under the new rule). It makes me wonder how the stroke has evolved over time and whether there really is an “essence” of the traditional stroke. (It seems to me like the U.S.G.A. might be making stuff up.)  Is it possible that anchored putting is actually more “traditional” than non-anchored putting? 

To see what Burns means, compare the photo above with the photo below—which is from the U.S.G.A.’s website and depicts a putting technique that will be banned under the new rule. (To see a U.S.G.A. album of prohibited putting strokes, go here.)

USGA photo

As Burns observes, putting techniques like Bobby Jones’s, in which one or both hands were held against a leg during at least part of the stroke, were common in the old days. Here’s Jones demonstrating how to do it:

Burns has found additional evidence in old film clips on the U.S.G.A.’s own website. In an email to me, he called particular attention to the ones showing “Bobby Jones winning the 1930 U.S. Amateur, Tommy Armour winning the 1927 Open, and Lawson Little at the 1940 Open.”

What do you think?

Burns, incidentally, is a student at Columbia Business School. He has a handicap index of 3.4, and plays mainly at Knickerbocker Country Club, in Tenafly, New Jersey. “I played all my golf out at Bethpage State Park until I got a junior membership at K.C.C., about a year ago,” he told me. “I grew up in Northern Virginia playing junior golf with Steve Marino (he was awesome), and I was in the same class at Wake Forest as Bill Haas (although I wasn’t on the golf team and didn’t really know him). I don’t currently use an anchored stroke, but I have tried pretty much every type of putter and grip, in casual rounds and in club and Metropolitan Golf Association competitions. Unfortunately, none has worked particularly well.”

12 thoughts on “Did Bobby Jones Use an Illegal Putting Stroke?

  1. I think this is great food for thought and it seems to throw a wrinkle into the USGA and R&A logic in imposing the “anchor” ban. There are a lot more important things for them to be worrying about besides this issue.

  2. Maybe all those drunk glugs who call Keegan Bradley a “cheater” will turn their ignorance toward Bobby Jones.

  3. But also keep in mind that greens in Jones’ day were much slower and less manicured. The wristy “pop” stroke was more effective on those greens vs. a longer flowing arm/shoulder stroke that nearly everyone uses today on perfect fast greens. Jones also had a fair bit of hip rotation on his stroke, at least for longer putts – don’t really see that today, either – gotta keep that head & body still!

  4. maybe Tiger and those others that are in favor of the Anchoring ban, should BOYCOTT Augusta from now on to show they have principles. LOL they are Hypocrites.

  5. Arnold Palmer had had a putting stroke that was not so different. It appears that his forearms are resting on his upper legs as he flicks his wrists to putt hinging around his fixed forearms. As he opposes anchored putting, he must believe his stroke was not anchored.

  6. Obvious from video Jones did NOT anchor or use an illegal stroke.
    Try to keep in mind the stimp on the greens at the time. The sweep has evolved to a stroke or pop in tandem with turf care and ball changes.

  7. Pingback: Laatste 'nieuwtjes' - Joost Steenkamer | Joost Steenkamer

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