PGA Tour set to clash with USGA on anchored putting

Sam Greenwood

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem urges the USGA to ditch its proposed anchored-putting ban.

Commissioner Tim Finchem challenged golf’s governing bodies to prove whether he or USGA executive director Mike Davis sported the longer, er, putter, when he announced Sunday that the PGA Tour was against the proposed ban on the anchored stroke.

Finchem completely overshadowed his own match play finale when he appeared on Golf Channel and NBC to state his opposition to the USGA and R&A’s plan to outlaw the way three of the last five major champions maneuvered their long putters. While declining to predict how the issue would eventually play out, Finchem made it pretty clear that he was willing to enact a separate rule for the tour if the USGA failed to come around to his way of thinking.

“You know, bifurcation is kind of a different issue as to whether you could have different rules in certain areas, and I think that's still open to discussion,” Finchem said. “I think in a perfect world, we'd all like to see the rules be exactly the same. They're not exactly the same functionally now anyway, and in certain cases I could see where bifurcation might be an appropriate way to go.”

In other words, Finchem wants the USGA and R&A just to say, “Never mind,” and we’ll all get on with our lives.

Should that not occur and Finchem decides to deploy his own regs, it would mark the first time that the tour has bucked the Rules of Golf. Which is truly an astounding development, considering that -- despite complaints from Keegan Bradley and Ernie Els, among other belly putter users -- the regulators’ scheme to prohibit golfers from jamming the ends of clubs into any parts of their bodies seemed like a slam-dunk back on November 28 when they proposed it. Finchem’s fighting words -- couched in double-speak and praise for the USGA -- have cloaked the outcome in uncertainty.

With the 90-day comment period on the proposal scheduled to end on Thursday, Finchem averred that a majority of his players had seen the light and now supported Bradley’s right to anchor his putter against his belly.

"Going back three or four months, there certainly has been a fairly significant shift in players who originally, when just put to the question, ‘Would you get rid of anchoring, sure,’" Finchem said. "But when they got more into looking at the impact it has on players, learning about why you would change it, understanding the impact on amateurs, it shifted things."

So what began as a minor rebellion among the belly brigade has blossomed into a full-blown coup against the rules-makers -- and the latter had the hefty backing of such heavyweights as Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer.

"I just believe that the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves, and having it as a fixed point -- as I was saying all year -- is something that's not in the traditions of the game," Woods said in November. "We swing all other 13 clubs. I think the putter should be the same. It should be a swinging motion throughout the entire bag."

But even Woods and Steve Stricker -- another early ban supporter who’s also considered one of the best putters on tour -- had softened their positions by the time Finchem took the podium on Sunday.

“Well, I understand if we go either way,” Woods said last week. “We put in local rules every week, and this may or may not be a local rule, but we'll see what happens.”

The USGA issued a statement Sunday night, but did not tip its hand:

“The 90-day comment period remains a very good process. We continue to listen to varying points of view, and have had many productive conversations across the golf community, which is a reminder of just how much people care about the game -- regardless of their position on this issue.

“As we consider the various perspectives on anchoring, it has always been our position that Rule 14-1b aims to clarify and preserve the traditional and essential nature of the golf stroke, which has helped to make golf a unique and enjoyable game of skill and challenge.

“It is our plan to take final action on the proposed rule in the spring.”

So now what? Will the PGA Tour employ different guidelines from those in the rule book, and if so, what happens when Bradley, et al, play in USGA/R&A tournaments like the U.S. and British Opens? Complete chaos, as some observers have warned?

The tour, as Woods noted, may employ its own local rules, like adopting lift, clean, and place on wet fairways, but the USGA allows for such contingencies. Stiffing the governors on anchoring would be entering unchartered territory, and while Finchem claimed he did not want the tour “to be in the rule-making business,” what happens if the USGA does not fall in line?

Contending he had given no consideration to such an eventuality, the commish said he might just take his Pro V1 and go home.

"Our regulations provide that we will follow the rules as promulgated by the USGA provided, however, we retain the right not to in certain instances if we see fit," he said.

As Stricker noted last week, such a situation “would be pretty weird.

“And for those players to try to make that change,” Stricker added, “[it’s] going to be pretty tough on them.”

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