PGA Tour leans toward opposing ban

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem

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When the USGA and R&A jointly announced a proposed ban on anchoring, the game's governing bodies indicated they were open to comments for 90 days, ending Feb. 28.

Officials added that they didn't think there was any aspect of the proposal that they hadn't fully explored.

Put another way, they were going to ban the stroke most commonly associated with the long and anchored putters, and there was nothing that could sway them.

“We believe we have considered this issue from every angle," R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said, "but given the wide-ranging interest in this subject, we would like to give stakeholders in the game the opportunity to put forward any new matters for consideration.”

That 90-day clock is about to strike midnight.

The PGA Tour has not taken a public position, but that is expected to change Monday when the Player Advisory Council and the Tour's Policy Board convene over the phone.

In nearly 19 years as Tour commissioner, Tim Finchem has proved masterful at guiding the board in his direction. Many players think Finchem opposes the ban and will seek their support to tell the USGA to withdraw the proposal or enlist the Tour and the PGA of America as equal partners in the discussion.

In the limited circumstance of both anchoring and bifurcation, Finchem will likely not have to do much convincing with a board that agrees to a large extent that the USGA has gone in the wrong direction.

Among the four players on the Policy Board – Harrison Frazar, Jim Furyk, Paul Goydos and Steve Stricker – Frazar and Furyk have or currently anchor their putters.

“I've used long putters; I've used belly putters; I've used short and regular; I've used ultra short with fat grips; I've used all of it,” Frazar said from his home in Texas. “And with the exception of helping me just simply get the ball in the hole from a foot-and-a-half, I didn't notice a whole lot of difference. It never really made me a better putter. So I'm hesitant to agree with them that it changes the way the game is played.”

Frazar says he is open-minded about the proposed ban but would like to see research to support the USGA's position. The USGA, to Frazar's point, says it has no such research and will not try to supply it.

Furyk and Davis Love III were the forces behind the new qualifying system that supplanted Q-School, forcing Tour operations staff to modify the system until it was right in their minds.

Love left the board at the end of 2012, but Furyk, a strong voice, remains against the ban, but also see the ramifications of taking that position.

“I disagree with the rule,” Furyk said of the proposed rule banning anchoring. “I think it's just been too long. But I wouldn't want to do something differently from the USGA, as well, because that opens a whole new can of worms in the world of golf, and I think our board and our PAC and our players, we have a responsibility for the game of golf, not just for us.”

In his three years on the board, Furyk said they have never discussed two sets of rules for the game's elite and its recreational players, known as bifurcation, and that now it will be the elephant in the room.

“Every sport that I can think of has different sets of rules for different abilities and different styles, and I realize that's not what the USGA wants to do,” Furyk said. “I just really don't understand why.”

Stricker, who has not been on Tour since a runner-up finish at the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions, seems willing to listen to all points of view, but at the same time seems more in favor of the ban than others on the board.

“It's just about beliefs and how you believe the game should be played I think is what it's going to come down to,” Stricker said in Hawaii this January. “And I'm sure anchoring the putter – I don't know. I can't even talk about it because I've never done it. I don't know if it's beneficial or not. It's going to come down to what guys believe in is fair, and if the Rules of Golf and what they were meant to be.”

Goydos takes a pragmatic approach and wonders whether any player should be involved in the decision-making process at all and should instead recuse themselves.

“I would vote for the status quo,” Goydos said. “Not only is the cat out of the bag, it's had kittens.”

Goydos like many PAC members, believes that the process is flawed and the PGA Tour, PGA of America, the LPGA, manufacturers and even journalists should be part of the decision-making process.

“This is not the way to go about this,” Goydos said of the USGA rules making.

It seems that Finchem agrees with Goydos.

“I do think that the USGA and R&A have been talking to us for the last year or two about the possibility of working on simplification of the Rules of Golf, which is probably a healthy thing,” Finchem said. “A set of rules that would be more easily understood by the average player and consequently more adhered to. So there are some things under discussion. But with respect to the general enthusiasm for moving to writing our own rules, there is always some level of interest in that.”

The PGA Tour's looming statement isn't the first one that the USGA and R&A have had to deal with, as the PGA of America sent a written letter to the USGA almost immediately following the Nov. 28 news conference, stating that the ban would not be good for golf.

"The PGA has long supported the USGA in its role of establishing the Rules of Golf governing play and equipment," PGA of America president Ted Bishop said in a statement. “We have representation on the Rules of Golf Committee, and we have tremendous respect for the USGA in regard to their critical role in writing and interpreting the Rules of Golf. As our mission is to grow the game, on behalf of our 27,000 men and women PGA professionals, we are asking them to seriously consider the impact this proposed ban may have on people's enjoyment of the game and the overall growth of the game.”

At the time, the PGA Tour weighed in with nothing more than a placeholder statement of its own, suggesting it would take the proposed rules change under advisement.

“While the USGA and the R&A have kept us updated on this proposed rule change, we only recently have been able to review the final language and have not until now had the opportunity to share it with our Policy Board and membership. As with any rule change, we will go through our normal process of evaluating the potential impact this will have to all our constituents. It will be discussed at our next annual player meeting on January 22 in San Diego, and it is anticipated that it will be reviewed by our Policy Board during its March meeting. During this review process, we will provide periodic updates to our stakeholders.”

Weeks later, Finchem openly talked about bifurcation, suggesting it would not be bad for the game.

This came on the heels of a mandatory meeting of the PGA Tour players in San Diego and then a PAC meeting at which a majority of the players voiced their support for some form of bifurcation.

“I also believe that there are certain parts of the rules that could be bifurcated, and it wouldn't hurt anything,” Finchem said. “I've always felt that way about the golf ball, for example, going back to the discussions of the ball in '01 and '02. And I hear people say it's a bad thing. Well, the golf ball was, in fact, functionally bifurcated for a good period of time. Professionals used a balata ball. Pretty much everybody else used a two‑piece ball. It was a functional bifurcation.”

Later that week, TaylorMade chief executive Mark King, in an interview with Golfweek at the PGA Merchandise Show, didn’t mince words about the ban.

“I think it's ridiculous, and the more I find out about anchoring, the more it's ridiculous,” King said. “The fact that the USGA has allowed that to become a fabric of the game for 40 years, and now just arbitrarily they're going to say, well, we've kind of had enough of that. It's so ridiculous.”

King had gotten the historical background on anchoring from Finchem as they talked backstage before a roundtable event at the PGA Show in Orlando, Fla.

Expect the PGA Tour to provide a statement on its position early next week and then see whether the USGA and R&A might blink. If the governing bodies don’t fall back on their position, they may become as irrelevant as King suggested in his interview at the PGA Show.

“With this kind of behavior, they are obsolete in terms of our industry,” King said of the governing bodies' reason for wanting to ban the anchoring stroke. “We need to just push them aside, and we need to move forward without the R&A and without the USGA.”

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