Tim Finchem sat in San Diego hotel ballroom earlier this week, listening for the second time to a presentation by Mike Davis, the U.S. Golf Association’s executive director, about the proposed ban on the anchored stroke.
Finchem said the presentation was similar to the last one he viewed, at the PGA Tour’s board meeting last fall at Sea Island, Ga.
According to sources, neither Finchem nor many of the board members left impressed.
During the next three months, Finchem has had an opportunity to hone in on a position about the proposal by the USGA and R&A to ban anchoring, which has become popularized by the long and belly putters, when the Rules of Golf are updated in 2016. He talked about the possibility of golf allowing different rules for the professional and amateur games, or bifurcation.
“Most other sports have some differences in their rules at the amateur level than the professional level,” Finchem said. “Personally, I think in some situations bifurcation is OK. I’m not so sure bifurcation is important in this particular case, but we’re not at a point yet where I am opining on what we think we should do.”
Just two questions into his news conference, Finchem had opened the door to bifurcation.
Now that may not seem important, but later in the day Phil Mickelson outlined Finchem’s previous stand on bifurcation. Mickelson was cognizant of that stand because he has talked to the commissioner when the groove issue was on the front burner a few years ago and Mickelson was looking for a way to keep square grooves on the PGA Tour. Ultimately, beginning in 2010, the USGA banned the larger-volume, higher-spinning grooves that had neutralized high rough.
“I think that the athletes should not be making the rules,” Mickelson said. “The PGA Tour should not be making the rules. We need an independent entity. I remember a conversation I had years ago with the commissioner about this, and it made perfect sense to me, that we have such varying views on things that to try to make rules internally that would be favoring some and not others was the wrong way to go about it, and we need to have an independent organization, in this case, the USGA and/or R&A as our governing bodies making the rules.”
Is this a complete reversal? Possibly, but at the very least Finchem is being open-minded and understanding that it may be necessary for the Tour to make its own rules in the future.
Of course, it’s a big leap for the PGA Tour. In the world of professional golf, that could create a big problem.
For example: What does Augusta National do during the Masters? Or the PGA of America and the European Tour at the Ryder Cup? What about the Presidents Cup. What happens at World Golf Championship events outside the U.S.?
According to a member of the Players Advisory Council (it advises the four-man Policy Board and Finchem) who participated in Wednesday evening’s meeting, a majority of the players seemed to favor making their own rules.
That would make sense. During the past two decades, the players on the PGA Tour have created a significant gap between not only other professional golfers but also the cream of the amateur game.
It’s difficult to appreciate just how good the PGA Tour players really are. Watching rookie Russell Henley’s performance at the Sony Open two weeks ago offered further proof to the depth and quality of play on Tour.
And the ban on anchoring?
Going into the meeting, the same PAC member who thinks bifurcation is possible also believes an anchoring ban would be successful. After the meeting, that same member thinks it is less likely that the PAC would advise the Tour’s Policy Board – veteran pros Harrison Frazar, Jim Furyk, Paul Goydos and Steve Stricker – to recommend upholding a ban.
“If the governing bodies had said in 1965 – like they did after Sam Snead came out and putted croquet-style and a week later they changed the rule or whatever it was – if they had said, this isn’t consistent with historically the way you swing a club, so we’re not going to allow it, nobody would have blinked an eye,” Finchem said. “Nobody would have been affected, except for maybe two players. But 40 years later, and the amount of play there is with that method, amateur and professional, it does affect a lot of people. So it’s a very different kind of issue, and it stirs a lot of strong feelings. So consequently, it’s a difficult situation.”
The Tour’s board will meet in the next couple of months. Finchem will gauge the four player members on their position on anchoring, but also on the potential for bifurcation.
That meeting could significantly change the game. It also could force the USGA and R&A to rethink their position or become irrelevant as golf’s rulemaking bodies.
Finchem appears to be ready to do what is best for his players.
“With respect to the general enthusiasm for moving to writing our own rules,” he said, “there is always some level of interest in that.”