On the final day of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, the semifinal and finals matches won’t necessarily dominate the headlines and the discussion. Instead, the announcement PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem is expected to make on Sunday will likely overshadow the actual golf.
In two meetings this week 15-member Players Advisory Council and the nine-member Tour Policy Board to thrash out the Tour’s stance on the USGA’s and R&A’s proposed ban on anchored putters, the majority of the players want the Tour brass to ask golf’s governing bodies to back off the rule change. And Finchem, who knows the “game” as well as anyone, will appear on Sunday’s broadcast to inform the world of the Tour’s objection, according to Sports Illustrated’s Michael Bamberger.
Finchem, of course, could do that in a letter to the USGA, and surely will. He’s going on TV, during the final day of the Accenture Match Play Championship, because he knows how this game is really played. It’s being waged, as all fights are in this unprincipled age, in the court of public opinion. He wants the golfing public to be behind the Tour’s position. War is on, and he’s playing to win.
The USGA is not. The USGA is run by a true gent, Mike Davis, and he thinks that the simple act of doing what’s in the best interests of the game will carry the day. In other words, he and the Far Hillers sincerely believe that anchored putting — holding the butt end of the club in your belly or against your chest or (most weirdly) under your chin — does not constitute a traditional, free-swinging stroke.
When the USGA and R&A made its joint announcement on the proposed ban of anchored putters that would go in effect starting in 2016, the governing bodies also welcomed a 90-day window for parties to voice their opinions before they made a final decision. At that time, it seemed like it was a foregone conclusion that belly and broomstick putters were as good as gone. That 90-day period ends next Thursday, February 28th.
Since then, the arguments for- and-against the anchoring ban have triggered a contentious debate in the golf world. Even though the USGA and R&A’s role is to protect the integrity of the game for the millions around the globe, it is clear now that the opinion of a relatively small percentage of 200 — give or take — PGA Tour players, outweigh the governing bodies.
This is a rough estimate, but in all likeliness 95% of Tour pros don’t care either way because it doesn’t affect them personally. That’s the nature of the “Tour beast,” as a player, who asked to remain anonymous (and would prefer to be referred to as ‘The Dude”). However, there are two prominent players who have expressed their strong support for the anchoring ban: World’s Nos. 1 and 2 Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.
After the meetings earlier in the week, Alex Miceli reported that well-respected veterans on the Player Board, which consists of Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Paul Goydos and Harrison Frazar, have voiced their opinions against the ban. Well, Stricker started the week for the ban, but he has since changed his tune.
Last month at the Farmers Insurance Open, USGA chief Mike Davis was invited by the Tour to attend and speak at the annual Players Meeting to explain the proposed rule to ban anchoring and to answer questions. According to players in the room, the atmosphere became a little contentious — and awkward, overall — especially when the topic of current players’ livelihoods was broached.
Tim Clark, who wasn’t in the field that week, flew in from Scottsdale to attend the meeting and make his case. Clark was born with a condition that prevents him from turning his wrists inward, and thus, can’t physically make a traditional putting stroke. He spoke passionately for the ban and won over many players who were on the fence or simply don’t care because the ban doesn’t impact them.
Clark admitted he was looking out for Number One (himself), but that seemed to have struck a chord with the majority of his peers. After all, golf is an individual and selfish sport at the end of the day (nothing wrong with that, but it’s just different). And we all sympathize with Clark’s plight, along with others’ right to make a living.
One of the players, who I referred to as “Bart” because he asked to remain anonymous, took a stance that is largely in the minority. From my post on last month’s meeting:
“It’s so arrogant…it’s not YOUR game. It’s a product, but the rules were here before you played the PGA Tour and the game of golf will be here after you’re done playing the PGA Tour.”
He added: “A couple of people said they were so upset that it caused sleepless nights because they didn’t know what was going to happen. If you don’t know how you’re going to make a living three years down the road when they change it, and I totally agree with the sentiment, but then again, it’s not YOUR game. There are two organizations that make the rules, the USGA and the R&A. That’s just the way it is. You can counter it by saying the PGA Tour doesn’t have to follow it, but most would probably agree that its’ in their best interest to do so.”
Point is, Finchem, who reportedly is against the anchoring ban, will likely open another can of worms and trigger the start of the end to the proposed anchoring ban. In other words, this will undermine the USGA’s authority as the guardians of the game. And then, there’s the whole bifurcation issue (different set of rules for pros and amateurs).
Thing is, how many amateurs do you know that strictly abide by the Rules of Golf in every round they play? Zero. When was the last time you made one of your buddies return to the tee after hitting a wayward tee shot out-of-bounds? (Assume he didn’t hit a provisional and didn’t discover his ball was OB until leaving the tee and 200-something yards later.)
“The Dude” believes the USGA will stick to its guns or else it will lose credibility as a governing body. However, if the PGA Tour allows anchoring, then there’s no way the the ban will hold any water.
How will this play out?
“No kid who aspires to play PGA Tour is going to stop using their belly putter for the next 5 years so they can play USGA/NCAA, “said The Dude via text on Friday night. “Joe club member doesn’t give a crap about the ‘rules’ doesn’t care if his handicap is not ‘legit’– if Ernie can use it then why can’t he?
“The PGA Tour comes out strongly opposing the ban. USGA holds strong in language before deciding to ‘revisit’ the issue in the next four-year rule period…it quietly fades into the background and eventually out of thoughts/minds completely.”
And that’s probably exactly what will happen.
Added The Dude, who uses an anchored putter but supports the proposed rule to ban it: “Although I hope I’m wrong.”
Thing is, he rarely is. The Dude abides.
Ready to talk bifurcation? I sense a headache coming on…
[Ed. note: Sorry, it’s late and Friday night. Gotta have a sense of humor and spice things up. –Steph]
(AP Photo/Ross Franklin)