The U.S. Golf Association pulled the long-handled hammer from its bag on Tuesday and swung it freely, announcing that the Rules of Golf would be altered as of Jan. 1, 2016, to prohibit anchoring the butt end of a club against any part of the body.

"The concept of immobilizing one end of the golf club against the body . . . is a substantial departure from the traditional understanding of the golf swing," the USGA said, in a 40-page explanation it issued on the implementation of Rule 14-1b.

According to the USGA - the national governing body for the game and which, in conjunction with the British-based R&A, writes the Rules of Golf - it is obvious that anchoring a club, almost exclusively the putter, against one's belly, forearm or shoulder is obviously not the way the game is supposed to be played.

"Rule 14-1b is based on a judgment that anchoring the club, rather than freely swinging it, might assist the player by altering and reducing the challenge of making a stroke," the USGA's document said.

Well, if all of that is so obvious, it does lead to an obvious question: What took the USGA nearly 30 years to do something about it? If the use of anchored clubs is such an affront to the principles of golf on its very surface, why didn't the keepers of the sacred game get their feet off the ottoman and get out of the leather armchair and do something about it sooner?

The USGA addressed those questions, with predictable obfuscation, but the truth is probably that the use of anchored putters simply passed some ineluctable tipping point for the rule sniffers. They didn't like looking at it, and they were seeing more of it than they wanted and, well, let's have a whack at the old rulebook.

Four of the last six majors, including last month's Masters, have been won by players who used an anchored putter. The proponents of the style say it helps steady the stroke, particularly for amateurs, and makes it easier to repeat a good stroke more predictably. The USGA says that's fine, but it ain't golf.

The fascinating part of this thing - if there could possibly be anything fascinating about the bloody rules of golf - will come when the PGA of America and the PGA Tour decide if they will begin to pick and choose which USGA rules to accept.

Ted Bishop, the president of the PGA of America, which sanctions nearly 30,000 teaching professionals, doesn't like the ban. His organization feels it will hurt the game's stability and growth because many amateurs enjoy using an anchored putter and play better that way.

It should be noted here that these organizations operate in a world in which it is assumed that the Rules of Golf will be strictly followed by everyone who changes his shoes in the course parking lot and steps on the local muni for a quick nine before dark.

The real world is somewhat different. It might not be within the rules of the game to use an anchored putter in three years, but there's nothing in the rules that allows a FootJoy wedge from under a pine tree, either. The USGA and the PGA can harrumph at each other and get into a putter-measuring war if they like, but, for the average golfer, banning long putters won't stop them from using them any more than they will stop buying those slice-correcting balls and square-grooved irons.

It will be a big deal, however, if the PGA Tour decides to play through the new rule. It could be that the tournaments run by the USGA - like the U.S. Open - will operate under one set of rules and the PGA Tour events under another. If that sounds crazy, is it any crazier than going to an American League park and not having your pitcher come to bat?

A PGA Tour statement said the new rule would be examined "to ascertain whether the various provisions of Rule 14-1b will be implemented in our competitions." That might be brave talk for the benefit of the Tour pros and Senior Tour pros who would yip their way into retirement under the new rule. Or it could be the PGA is serious about fighting the USGA. We'll see on that one.

We can speculate that the Scottish shepherds who took their crooked sticks and knocked stones from one bit of the moor to another might have occasionally anchored the stick. Maybe the practice fell out of favor, or maybe they made fun of the shepherds who did that. They certainly made rules, because that is what men like to do, even regarding the regulation of knocking stones with sticks.

"It is only recently that a non-trivial and recurring use of anchoring methods emerged - an extremely short time in the history of this 600-year-old game and not reflective of any established tradition," the USGA said on Tuesday.

Tradition and putters must be upheld properly, after all. Couldn't have it any other way. And, in the case of putters, upheld with two hands only, please.

Contact Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com.

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