By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Golf's governing bodies are widely expected to announce whether they will go ahead with a controversial proposed ban on players anchoring putters to their body when they hold simultaneous news conferences next week.
The U.S. Golf Association (USGA) and the Royal & Ancient (R&A) said in statements on Friday they would "announce final action on proposed changes to the rules of golf" on Tuesday.
In all likelihood, next week's announcements will end almost six months of back-and-forth speculation about the best way forward on this topic for both professionals and amateurs.
Last November, the game's ruling bodies 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.
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 month's Masters while using a long putter anchored to his chest, becoming the first player from his country to triumph in the year's opening major.
Asked whether he thought his Masters breakthrough might reshape or even extend the protracted debate over anchored putters, Scott told reporters: "I don't know that this is going to impact any decisions at all.
"You know my feeling on it all; that it was inevitable that big tournaments would be won with this equipment because these are the best players in the world and they practise thousands of hours.
"They are going to get good with whatever they are using. It's inevitable. I don't know that is going to have any impact on any decisions upcoming."
Before last week's Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem was asked about the likely response by the U.S. Tour should the proposed ban on anchored putting come into effect.
"Well, as we've said all along, we haven't even discussed internally in our organization what our response will be to their completion of their process until they complete it," Finchem told a news conference at the Tour's headquarters.
"We were asked our views. We made those views known to the USGA and the R&A, and they have to now complete their process.
"When they complete it, then we'll turn around and have a conversation with our players and our board about the position we should take at that point. Until we get there, we're not going to speculate on 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.
Many of the game's leading players, including world number one Tiger Woods and second-ranked Rory McIlroy, have backed the proposed ban by golf's rulemakers.
"I just believe that the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves," 14-times major champion Woods said.
"Having it as a fixed point ... 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."
Northern Irishman McIlroy, a double major winner, agreed.
"Fully agree with the anchoring ban. Better image for the game of golf, skill and nerves are all part of the game. Level playing field in '16," McIlroy tweeted after the proposed ban was announced.
However twice Masters champion Bernhard Langer represents the views of several players who feel the proposed ban is 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," former world number one Langer, 55, told Reuters.
"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."
The German, who turned to the long putter after suffering from the yips, 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 a long putter, or a belly putter? Twelve percent of the players, maybe 15 percent," he said. "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?"
Broomhandle or belly putters, pioneered by 2002 European Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance among others in the late 1980s, are often tucked under the chin, against the chest or stomach.
They are swung in a pendulum fashion, helping to reduce the effects of nerves when lining up a putt.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)