Jan
23
2013
Inside the Players Meeting: Anchors away…?!
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour
Image via watoday.com.au

Image via watoday.com.au

Yep, it’s the week of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, which means it’s that time again! — the “mandatory” players’ meeting historically takes place on-site on Tuesday evening. Longtime WUP readers know that I have fervidly covered the annual event, though it’s always been from NYC or Florida. See here, here, and here.

Well, I’m actually on-site this time, where the vibe at the golf course has been energetic and spirited.

Although it’s the fourth event on the PGA Tour calendar — and no offense to the first three, which I’ve covered with love for the past three years and enjoy thoroughly — but this feels more like the start of the season. Maybe because most of the “big names are in the field, like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. (I know others will argue it doesn’t start until the Masters.) But I digress.

This year, in light of the proposed rule to ban anchoring, the PGA Tour invited a special guest: USGA executive director Mike Davis, who gave a presentation and then fielded questions from the audience. He reportedly left the room unscathed, or at least without any visible bruises.

The meeting lasted two hours, of which approximately an hour- and-ten minutes were dedicated to the USGA part of the program, where they discussed anchoring and bifurcation. A number of players questioned the validity of golf’s governing bodies. The other 50 minutes were spent with the usual introductory “State of the Tour” presentation, along with an open forum, which was led by Commissioner Tim Finchem after the rules czar left, according to a source inside the room.

I was able to reach three players, independent of each other, Tuesday evening, who all spoke on condition of anonymity due to, well, obvious reasons, and fear of sustaining costly fines. I would have liked to include a few more voices, but it was tough since the meeting ended so late. The following will have to do for now, and I’ll update it as needed.

*Oh, for sake of clarity, let’s call the players as “Player Albert,” “Player Bart” and “Player Cal” — each guy roughly represents one-third of the Tour, with Albert being against the ban, Bart being for the ban, and Cal being indifferent.

“I really just don’t care… because I’m a good putter,” cracked Cal.

Meanwhile, Tim Clark, who was born with a condition that prevents him from turning his wrists/hands inward, flew in from his home in Scottsdale, AZ, to attend the players’ meeting. He spoke ardently against the anchoring ban and dominated the Q&A portion (in other words: he talked the most).

*The PGA Tour is in great shape. (Duh.) Players and suits alike are thrilled with the state of the Tour. It came through the recession unscathed, sponsorship is up, and the TV deal is fantastic. Tour suit said, according to Player Albert, “it starts with the image of the players and the players do a good job of doing all the right things.”

Player Bart added: “They were complimentary of the players. Everyone grumbles (and snickers) when they talk about the Commissioner’s compensation, but it’s pretty amazing how much the Tour has grown…if you go from 1994 – 2012, when you talk about player compensation, it’s grown at a cliff of just over 10% each year, which rivals the best corporations in the world.”

No doubt, Finchem has earned every penny of his millions in salary and bonus(es).

*Now for the entertainment portion of the evening’s festivities: rules boss Mike Davis explained to 150-something guys the rule and provided the reasons (with four main points) why they’ve proposed the rule to ban the anchoring of the club, most applicably the putter, to the body in making a stroke.

“The USGA feels the integrity of the game is being questioned, and the recent trend of the increasing amount of people using the anchored putter is not something they’re terribly comfortable with,” recounted Player Albert.

Davis, then, opened it up to a Q&A. What was the atmosphere like? “I would describe it as rather standoffish and very awkward.” Another called it relatively “civil,” all things considered. Another player chimed in: “It was kind of a weird meeting, a lot of hypotheticals (sic).”

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I had long conversations with Player Albert and Player Bart (separately). It just so happened that one was for banning anchoring and the other, who uses a belly putter, was passionately against the proposed rule (the USGA made it clear that it was still proposed, but sentiment from both players that the governing bodies have already decided it’s a done deal).

So, the easiest way to keep things straight and provide you the most thorough account of the meeting is to detail each player’s opinions and comments separately. Let’s start with Player Albert, who was certainly fired up and spoke passionately against the ban and questioned the legitimacy of golf’s rules-decision makers. He stressed it wasn’t just players who use unconventional putters that stood up in defense of the anti-anchoring faction.

“The issue is not necessarily about anchoring the putter,” he said. “It’s about the actual governing of us as players. I’m not so sure that if PGA Tour members voted, anchoring would NOT be illegal. The real issue is, why do people the USGA Board of Directors, people who don’t play golf professionally, get to make rules for guys that do? That’s the main sentiment.”

“What makes these guys the governing board? Who is elected? Why do they get to make rules for the PGA Tour? How are you elected to be the governing body of golf and not let us have a say?” wondered Albert.

Well, what Davis say to that?

“Very dodgy response,” said Albert.

“They were there to explain rule to us and the reasoning of the rule. Players brought up why they have the right to implement the rule.”

And?

“It’s hard for me to say what they said because they didn’t really say anything because they just said, ‘Next question, please,” Albert said, dryly.

“It had to be hard for them to come and explain to the best players in the world when we (Tour pros) don’t have a say. The USGA guys can go home, and they sleep like babies, whereas guys who have been putting with anchored putters for years aren’t sure if they can play…the issue is guys dictating rules who don’t play professionally.

“I play guitar every now and again for fun, but I would never try to make a rule saying how many strings a guitar had to have because I don’t play the guitar very well. Someone who doesn’t play golf very well probably shouldn’t be dictating the rules for us. It doesn’t add up to me.

“I don’t necessarily think anything needs to be done. I think the USGA should take a progressive look at this. Instead of dictating rules, try to go along with what’s happening. I don’t understand the problem with anchoring is. If they said, ‘You guys are making too many birdies, we want to make it a little tougher, then okay. It’s just frustrating because I haven’t seen where anyone has voted on this.

“There are 15 guys that are on the USGA Board of Directors who vote. They don’t have a stake out here on the PGA Tour and they don’t make money based on these rules, so why do they get to decide on how we putt on the PGA Tour?”

“Why not 30 years ago and what are we accomplishing? They wouldn’t say why now. Why not four years ago? Well, they don’t have an answer for that.”

Player Albert believes without a doubt that it’s a reaction to Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, and Ernie Els winning three of the last five major championships. Keegan, who was in attendance but didn’t speak out on Tuesday’s meeting, became the first player to ever win a major wielding a belly putter at the 2011 PGA Championship. Albert also thinks the USGA is going forward with implementing the anchoring rule in 2016, but he implied it’s not a done deal with the PGA Tour, which follows the Rules of Golf with several exceptions (i.e. PGA Tour has one-ball rule and the embedded ball rule through the green).

The general vibe of the meeting?

“Awkward,” said Albert. “Unelected voices telling guys who just want to play professional golf how to putt, and a lot of guys could care less about how someone else putts. They just don’t give a crap. There was a lot of murmuring and a lot of not very nice things being said.”

After Mike Davis was finished with being abused bombarded with some angry Tour pros, Commissioner Finchem took over and held an open forum for players to voice their concerns and queries.

“We talked and asked questions to Finchem about where we are going to proceed from here,” said Albert. “A lot of guys were upset, a lot of guys who don’t use anchored putters were upset with how (the announcement of the proposed rule) came about, and the way other players are being treated; a lot of guys who don’t use anchored putters stepped up and were heated about the issue.”

This portion of the meeting was much less standoffish because “Finchem wants what’s best for the Tour.” He really does. Of course.

“He cares about the players and he wants to hear from everybody,” said Albert. “The USGA has put Tim Finchem in a very interesting situation. He’s basically going to decide — well, it’s up to the PAC and board of directors to decide whether we accept this or say no. It’s a proposed rule and the PGA Tour hasn’t accepted every rule the USGA has put fort and this is no exception.”

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Alright, next up is Player Bart, who offered a different perspective from Albert. It was a great counter after I’d heard Player Albert’s fiery reaction.

Player Bart acknowledged that one player who used an unconventional stroke spoke most of the time (Tim Clark), but most of the players who don’t have a vested interested wanted to know why the USGA had dropped the ball on banning anchoring for as long as it has.

“Mike Davis kept saying, they were concerned about it before, but it was never a big issue to them because not enough people used the stroke. Due to the growing trend both on the PGA Tour and recreational level, they saw a need to address it.”

He said the atmosphere was civil, but it did get a little contentious when players’ livelihoods came up.

The bottom line is each player is looking out for No. 1, himself, but that’s where the whole point got lost that the Rules of Golf are written for the game of golf, not the PGA Tour.

“Guys have lost the fact that the rules aren’t written for just pros or two-hundred guys, but for millions of people,” said Bart.

As to Albert’s question on why the USGA gets to write the rules, Player Bart said that golf’s governing bodies have always written the rules and the PGA Tour has always followed them. He was bothered by the “arrogance” of his colleagues who have forgetten that the world doesn’t revolve around them.

“In my opinion, the height of arrogance is thinking the Rules of Golf should be tailored to us (Tour pros),” said Bart. “The beauty of golf as an individual game is that everyone plays by the rules. Guys are asking, why do we play by THEIR rules? That’s arrogant to me. One of the guys who talked a lot admitted,’Yeah i am looking out for no. 1, I’m looking out for me.’

Player Bart said Mike Davis unabashedly admitted the USGA had dropped the ball for so long, but Davis also pointed out that it’s not an excuse to NOT right a wrong.

Good point. That’s part of life sometimes, isn’t it?

There were some difficult questions about the timing of it and the reasons how the proposed rule change came about.

“Most players think they started looking at anchored putters when Webb and Keegan and Ernie won majors…the guy from the USGA said that was not the reason — one of the reasons was the growing trend of players using it — not just pros but amateurs and juniors. Mike Davis readily admitted the USGA made a mistake by not addressing it earlier, but it doesn’t mean we can’t fix it to what we believe is the right way of doing things.

“Another reason was the definition of a stroke: the club swinging freely with the hand. Obviously when it’s anchored, it’s not swinging freely. (Davis) compared strokes that have been banned in the past, like the croquet style, billiard style (like playing pool), and scooping it — you used to be able to push it without hitting the shot.

“He used a lot of historical precedence.”

Bobby Jones won the 1933 U.S. Amateur with 22 clubs in his bag because there wasn’t a limit on number of clubs. Does anyone ever talk about that? No. Because it wasn’t a rule back then.
Ben Crenshaw won his first Masters with the Paddle Grip — a type grip you physically put on the club — with the implication being his grip is no longer legal.

Meanwhile, Bart said another point someone brought up was the ability for them (Tour pros) to make a living, and “the Tour is in a good spot right now, probably the best it’s ever been and we’re in the entertainment business.”

Davis’ response? Well that’s more of a comment, not a question.

Bart said he wishes Davis would have said: “We’re not in the business of making rules so you can make a living off of them.

“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.”

Oh, snaps!

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.”

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Now what is the PGA Tour going to do?

Sounds like Commissioner Finchem sides on following the USGA’s and R&A’s decision, because otherwise, it’d cause a lot more problems that aren’t worth the battle.

As Player Bart pointed out, do we really want, say, Keegan Bradley making a putt to win the Masters, and then for Jim Nantz to comment that it’s illegal for anyone else in the world who plays the game to use a belly putter? Do you want that image shown to millions of fans and recreational golfers? Eh, not so much.

Finchem basically said they had two options, according to Bart: “You either accept the rules change and implement it to the detriment of some of your members, or you don’t and that’s to the detriment of years and years of following the rules set forth by the USGA and R&A.”

Someone asked Finchem a question like, “Are you in more in favor of different set of rules or same set of rules? Finchem gave a long, meandering answer, and the player said, ‘Well, is it yes or no?’ Then, Finchem said, ‘Yes it’s in our favor to have the same set.’

Added Bart: “The Commissioner said, honestly we don’t have to do what they say but the vast majority of instances it’s in our best interest to do so. Some of the examples he gave were reasonable of how we differ a little bit, like the one ball rule we have on Tour.”

Of course, the Commish mentioned that the issue has to be and will be addressed — and voted — by the Player Advisory Council and the Board Members.

“In the end it’s a game of golf versus 200 or so members, so I don’t see how, in my opinion, we would have anchoring in a couple of years,” said Bart. “I’d venture guess that it would be put into effect in 2014.”

The USGA won’t enforce it until 2016 because of the “technicality” that the next edition of the Rules of Golf won’t be published until then (it’s every four years). Players voiced their concern with the timing and a prolonged three-year transition period, particularly with players who use anchored putters getting heckled or called cheaters. Which has already happened — Keegan Bradley reported he was called a cheater by a fan behind the 18th green at Tiger’s World Challenge event in December.

“In that sense, if you said the rule was going to be adopted by the PGA Tour — I’m speculating — but it’d be unanimous to put it into effect in 2014 since we want to eliminate the instances of players being called cheaters when they’re playing within the rules,” explained Player Bart.

“In reality we can do whatever we want to do. We’re not bound by a contract or obligation. We follow the rules of golf that are set forth by the R&A and USGA because we think that’s the right thing to do.”

Is bifurcation even a faint possibility? Doesn’t sound like Finchem thinks it’s the ideal option. Imagine the paperwork, legal fees and tedious bureaucracy and B.S. you’d have to go through to have two sets of rules. It would mean players drawing up the rules and voting on the language and dealing with all the stuff that goes along with the process.

“It’s a contentious issue with anchoring,” said Bart. “People are trying to look out for themselves. It’s amazing to me that people would — not even players who anchor — say, why don’t we have our own rules? The USGA guy said, do you really wanna go down that road? — it’s not going to be an easy process. Who’s going to write those rules? Who’s going to vote on them? 156 guys? The PAC?”

I don’t think the vast majority of players in favor of bifurcation are a bit naive to how irksome it actually is. (I mean, I don’t know, either, but I have experience in working in the legal field, so I have a decent idea of what it entails…) I can’t see a group of players sitting down for hours with lawyers to decide whether the proper wording is correct for every single darn rule. It’s not as easy as snapping your fingers and just saying, OK, these are the rules we like and want to follow.

The conclusion: Upset players, lots of questions and gray areas, and not enough answers. Standard, I’d say.

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Whew, that’s it for now. I made that a lot more difficult than I needed to, but what else is new? Carry on.

 

 

(Photo via Watoday.com.au)