PGA Tour may accelerate anchored putting ban

Hunter Martin

The PGA Tour could enact the prohibition against anchoring before 2016

This whole anchor ban brouhaha could get rather nasty -- especially if the PGA Tour moves to enact the prohibition earlier than 2016.

Golf’s governing bodies announced Wednesday a proposal that would outlaw the anchoring putting stroke. The USGA and R&A included a 90-day comment period during which critics and proponents may weigh in on the plan and the ban would not take effect until January 2016. The PGA Tour, however, may decide to expedite the date of compliance, which could be gut-wrenching for players like Keegan Bradley, Carl Pettersson, and other long-time belly putter practitioners.

“It would be unusual to make that change [sooner than the three years proposed on Wednesday],” USGA executive director Mike Davis said on Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive” on Thursday. “But if the R&A and USGA felt it was truly in the best interest to deviate from that we would certainly talk about it.”

Such an occurrence on the PGA Tour remains a possibility, according to GC’s Rex Hoggard, who reported Thursday from PGA West, site of this week’s final stage of q-school, that much of the concern among those hoping to earn their 2013 tour cards involved the three-year waiting period. Hoggard believes tour officials harbored similar apprehensions -- especially with next year’s switch to a wrap-around calendar, in which fall events will kick off the 2014 season.

“If they wait until January of 2016,” Hoggard explained, “that will be three or four months, five or six events, into the 2015-2016 season.”

With top players like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy cheering Wednesday’s ruling, two-time Masters champ Bernhard Langer hinting at some type of challenge, and tour policy board members Davis Love III and Jim Furyk questioning its timing, it’s clear that the debate over putting with long sticks is just beginning.

“I understand what the USGA’s trying to do, I understand what they deem to be a stroke and the club being free from your body. I guess my disappointment comes that it just took so long [to hand down a ruling],” Furyk told Golf Channel after carding a 3-under 69 in Thursday’s opening round of Woods’ World Challenge event. “We have guys that have played...the Senior Tour and PGA Tour now for 20 and 30 years doing it one way; now we’re going to tell someone like Carl Pettersson, who’s putted that way since college, that he can’t putt that way and I’m a little disappointed.

“The slogan that ‘it’s never too late’ might not apply here,” added Furyk, who has been known to tinker with every type of putter imaginable, including a belly model, “and I think this one might be a little late.”

No doubt, Pettersson -- whom major champions Bradley and Webb Simpson (who said he may employ a short putter by the start of next year) have pointed to as the only member of their belly brigade to break into the tour’s top 30 in putting -- would agree. The five-time PGA Tour winner (who’s so far declined to comment on Wednesday’s ruling), Langer, Tim Clark, and Ernie Els have suggested they may seek legal remedies to the decision. Meanwhile, the PGA of America opposes the mandate on grounds that it may hinder the game’s growth among everyday golfers.

The bickering is likely to increase before the tour’s annual player meeting on January 22 at Torrey Pines -- and could grow more contentious should Tim Finchem’s organization decide to execute the rule sooner rather than later. Indeed, Hoggard indicated another reason why Ty Votaw, executive VP of communications and international affairs, told him the tour would review the plan to determine if an earlier enactment made sense: waiting until 2016 could boost the brickbats and catcalls if anchoring practitioners continued to chalk up wins.

“Davis Love III...stressed, ‘if you’re going to do this you need to do it now,’ because the tour does not want that hanging over their heads every time a long putter user wins on the PGA Tour,” Hoggard said, referring to a meeting between the USGA's Davis and policy board members earlier this year. “Thats going to be the conversation and they don’t want that.”

Bradley, likely, can relate. An outspoken opponent to the ban who has said he will comply with the edict, the first player to win a major with a belly putter has been hearing it from jokers since Wednesday’s ruling.

"I've been catching such flak on Twitter, it would be good to kind of quiet them a little bit," Bradley said after posting his own 69 and sharing second place with Furyk and Graeme McDowell at the World Challenge. "I had a guy yesterday telling me to send my application to Burger King for 2016.”

The 2011 PGA champ has said he had yet to practice with a conventional putter. Bradley, however, may have discerned rumblings about a potential early enactment, since Golf Channel cameras captured him on the practice green resting his big bat flat against his left arm, a la Matt Kuchar.

Kuchar, 1-over to start the World Challenge, places his mid-length putter against his forearm, a stroke that passes muster with golf’s regulators.

The tour's director of communications, Joel Schuchmann, by the way, declined to confirm that the tour was considering an early implementation of the ban but said the proposed rule would garner a great deal of attention.

"The TOUR will be evaluating the issues around anchored putters in the coming months and will be discussing these items at length with the TOUR membership at its first Mandatory Players Meeting of 2013 at the Farmers Insurance Open in late January," Schuchmann told SBNation via e-mail on Friday.

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