Finchem says club-anchoring ban on PGA Tour not a done deal

By RANDY YOUNGMAN

LA JOLLA – On the day before the Farmers Insurance Open began play, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said the proposed ban of anchored putting strokes is still under discussion and that the tour has not yet decided whether it will support the rules change announced by the USGA and R&A, golf’s governing bodies.

Finchem said USGA executive director Mike Davis explained the proposed ban and answered questions from tour players during a mandatory players’ meeting on Jan. 22 and that the discussion continued after Davis finished his presentation and left.

“It was the beginning of a process, whereby, the PGA Tour will provide the USGA a reaction to their proposal in the next few weeks,” Finchem said during a news briefing in the media interview room at Torrey Pines. “And that is a process, and it includes, obviously, a deliberation by our policy board, which will occur in the next few weeks also.”

Finchem said the process should be completed by the end of March and that the tour will issue its reaction to the proposed rules change by then. He conceded that the tour “always has the option under our regulations” not to support the proposed ban but emphasized that “our objective (normally) is to follow the rules and keep the rules together.”

Another possibility, Finchem said, is bifurcation of the rules – that is, having one set of rules for the USGA and R&A and another set for the PGA Tour.

“Personally, I think in some situations, bifurcation is OK,” Finchem said. “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. I think we’re in an information-gathering process right now.”

The issue of banning anchored putting strokes is controversial, because the use of broomstick-style long putters and belly-length putters on tour dates back to the 1960s, when Phil Rodgers won twice with a belly putter. Anchored putting strokes with unconventional putters have always been legal, and some players (such as Tim Clark and Carl Pettersson) have employed them their entire careers.

“This is a difficult,” Finchem said. “If the governing bodies had said in 1965 … that 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. Nobody would have been affected except for maybe two players.

“But 40 years later, and (with the increased) 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 (now) and it stirs a lot of strong feelings.”

Clark, who isn’t competing in the Farmers Insurance Open, flew in from North Carolina to attend the players’ meeting. He has a congenital condition that prevents him from pronating his wrists while putting and thus has used an anchored long putter his entire career. The Golf Channel reported that Clark asked Davis the first question after the USGA’s presentation.

Three of the past five major champions – Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els – also have used anchored putting strokes, so many believe that is a reason the governing bodies decided to act now.

“Personally, I view the professional game as being the strongest it’s ever been, so I don’t like to see distractions,” Finchem said. “This (controversy) is kind of a distraction.

“I do think it’s important to recognize that the people who want to see the anchoring go away firmly believe that they have the best interest of the game at heart. The people who don’t think (the ban) is necessary, I think, are equally robust in their enthusiasm for what’s best for the game.

“I hope as this process unfolds, we can keep that in perspective and have a discussion … and  a debate about it that is positive. And thus far I think that’s what has happened and hopefully that will continue.”

Tour veteran Paul Goydos of Coto de Caza, a member of the PGA Tour Policy Board that will help shape the tour’s stance on the issue, told California Golf earlier in January that he understands the governing bodies’ stance but doesn’t agree with the way they are handling it, the way they are explaining it or the timing of the proposed rules change.

“Where were they (40 years ago)?” Goydos said.

The USGA has cited statistics showing the use of unconventional putters on tour has increased in recent years to 15 percent.

“If it’s 4 percent, it’s OK. But if it’s 15 percent, it’s not OK?” Goydos said incredulously. “When did (the difference between) right and wrong become a mathematical function? If 4 percent were robbing banks, does that mean they wouldn’t be prosecuted?”

Phil Mickelson also weighed in on the proposed anchoring ban during his media Q&A on the eve of the Farmers, essentially echoing Goydos’ comments.

“I have mixed feelings on this,” Mickelson said. “Because, although I feel that anchoring should not be part of a golf stroke, it was allowed 30-some-odd years ago and should not be taken away.

“I feel that from studies I’ve heard of, specifically from (short-game guru) Dave Pelz and his schools, that it’s potentially half-a-million to a million golfers who would be so embarrassed at this inability to make a 3-foot foot with a regular putter that they may quit the game. And I care about the game. I want the game to succeed, and I don’t want that to happen.

“I (also) feel it’s unfair for the players that have been putting that way for quite some time with the understanding that it was legal.  So I have very mixed feelings about that. It should not have been allowed 30 years ago, but once it was allowed, I don’t know how you change it.”

Though golf’s governing bodies want to implement the rules change beginning in 2016, Finchem said it could happen sooner if the tour decides to support it.

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