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By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Golf's governing bodies are expected to announce shortly whether they will go ahead with a proposed ban on players anchoring putters to their body, a rule change which makes no sense at all to Bernhard Langer.
The German former world number one, long renowned for his meticulous preparation and attention to detail, describes the proposal by the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) and Royal & Ancient (R&A) as "a cop-out" with no empirical evidence to back it up.
"I personally see no point in changing the rule, and I am not saying that because I use a long putter," Langer, 55, told Reuters in a recent interview.
"My career is going to be done in 10 years' time, or whatever, on the golfing side and I just can't see why there is all this fuss about it. I don't see a reason to change.
"This thing (the use of long putters) has been around way too long. If it was an advantage or illegal, then they (golf's rulemakers) should have made it illegal a long time ago. That's a cop-out."
Last November, the game's governing bodies controversially proposed a ban on the anchored putting stroke, saying they wanted to outlaw the practice by 2016 in order to preserve the "skill and challenge" of putting.
Players and the golfing community were then given 90 days in which to discuss that proposal. By the end of that period, the European Tour had expressed its support of the idea while both the U.S. PGA Tour and PGA of America voiced opposition.
Langer, a two-time Masters champion, felt the best argument against banning the anchored putting stroke stemmed from the fact there was no perceived advantage based on all the available evidence.
"Who is using the big-headed driver? One hundred percent of the players," the German smiled. "Why? Because it's an advantage. Who is using a hybrid? Everybody, because it's easier to hit that than a one-iron, a two-iron or a three-iron.
"Who is using a long putter, or a belly putter? Twelve percent of the players, maybe 15 percent. Why? Because it's not an advantage. If it was an advantage, everybody would do it. It's not easier. It's different.
"You still have to work with it. You can still yip (an involuntary movement of the muscles) it, you can still hit horrible putts. You can do everything with it, just like with a short putter. So why change? Because it doesn't look right?"
November's announcement by the rulemakers came after three of the previous five major champions had used 'belly' putters - Keegan Bradley (2011 PGA Championship), Webb Simpson (2012 U.S. Open) and Ernie Els (2012 British Open).
Australian Adam Scott then followed suit when he won last week's Masters while using a long putter but Langer rejects this 'trend' as any reason to ban the anchored putting stroke.
"A year ago, (USGA executive director) Mike Davis said, 'We see no problem with a long putter or the belly putter. There's no reason to change, to do anything now'," Langer, a global ambassador for Mercedes-Benz, added.
"Now all of a sudden, because four guys have won majors, specifically the British Open and the U.S. Open, it's a problem. Just because somebody won a major or two. It doesn't make sense. I'm sorry.
"If you give me a few good reasons and arguments why, then maybe you can convince me. But I can't see it and I've spent a lot of time thinking about it and talking to people about it."
The R&A and USGA have said that putters should swing freely and not be anchored to any part of the body, and that swinging a club freely has been the essence of the 600-year-old sport.
But Langer, a 42-times winner on the European Tour, does not view the anchored stroke as advantageous to the user.
"They (long putters) are still going to have to make a stroke, they are still going to be nervy, they are still going to have to read the green, hit the putt with the proper pace," he said.
"It doesn't do it by itself. It's not like, 'Ah, give me a long putter,' and it goes in the hole. No. There's a lot more to putting than whether you hold it this way, this way or that way," Langer added, gesticulating with his arms.
"You've got to read the green, you've got to see the grain, you've got to feel the putt, make a stroke. It doesn't do it by itself. It's not a magic button that I can push with a long putter and I make putts."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Julian Linden)