Nine PGA Tour golfers prepare to sue USGA, R&A over anchoring

Hunter Martin

The attorney for anchorers Tim Clark and Carl Pettersson is prepared to take the USGA and the R&A to court, pending the PGA Tour's decision to back the ban or stick with its anti-ban stance.

Tim Clark, worried about his golf-playing future if the PGA Tour ends up backing the USGA and R&A’s impending ban on anchored putting, would rather fight the new law than switch to a short putter.

Clark, whose passionate defense of anchoring helped convince several tour players and commissioner Tim Finchem that prohibiting it made no sense, has banded together with Carl Pettersson and seven others who are prepared to take golf’s governing bodies to court over the issue.

Should it come to that -- after the regulators announced Tuesday that an anchoring ban would go into effect in 2016 -- and they were to lose, the nine players -- and potentially more -- could return to court to seek financial damages, according to their attorney, Harry Manion.

While optimistic that Finchem won’t back down from his staunch anti-ban stand, which he went public with earlier this year, Manion outlined a scenario that could keep the acronym-filled organizations in lawsuits for years to come.

“If [Finchem does a 180] and Tim [Clark] tries to continue as a professional and he can’t effectively compete without the stroke he’s used for 18 years, most of his professional career,” hypothesized Manion, who added Pettersson into the scenario, “and they can’t engage in their livelihoods, yeah, I think they have damages to claim.”

Manion, who has been working with Clark, Pettersson, and the others who prefer to remain anonymous, since January, observed that “there are a lot of ‘ifs’ along the way.”

The Boston-based litigator, a founding partner of the high-profile firm of Cooley Manion Jones, spoke with SBNation on Thursday about what could happen if Finchem decided to go along with the rule, which the USGA and R&A announced on Tuesday would take effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

Finchem said in February that his players “did not think that banning anchoring was in the best interests of golf or the PGA Tour.” The tour issued a wait-and-see notice after the rules-makers handed down their pronouncement on Tuesday.

“We will now begin our process to ascertain whether the various provisions of Rule 14-1b will be implemented in our competitions and, if so, examine the process for implementation,” read the tour’s statement.

With the tour’s player advisory council set to meet next week and a policy board confab slated for July, Manion said he expected a decision from Finchem within six weeks.

“We feel that we are going to continue to get a fair hearing at [both meetings],” Manion said. “We are optimistic that the tour will stand by its statement and afford the users of the stroke some form of protection against this rule.”

In the meantime, Clark, a four-time PGA and European Tour winner, has had trouble sleeping, concerned that he may have to revert to a manner of putting he has not employed since college because of physical discomfort maneuvering a short putter.

“A year ago, my future in the game, I could see it. I planned to play until I physically no longer could play,” the 37-year-old South African told the AP. “Now it's a case of I've been told 'no, hang on, that might change. You're going to change the way you putt here in a few years' time' and now my future is uncertain."

Manion’s task is to help ensure his clients can continue to work in their chosen field.

“We absolutely hope for the best,” said Manion, “but my job is to prepare for the worst.”

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