May
27
2013
PGA Tour anchorers join forces in potential lawsuit
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour
Tim Clark

Tim Clark is thought to have led the anchorers against the ban on anchoring

Tim Clark, Carl Pettersson and seven other PGA Tour players have teamed up to take on golf’s governing bodies if the PGA Tour adopts the impending ban on anchored putters, which the USGA and R&A announced last week would be banned starting January 1, 2016. While several other major tours have come out to voice their support for golf’s governing bodies, the PGA Tour is waiting it out and if it decides to adopt — which it likely will — the rule, then nine Tour pros are ready to fight over the issue in court, according to SB Nation’s Emily Kay:

While optimistic that Finchem won’t back down from his staunch anti-ban stand, which he went public with earlier this year, Manion outlined a scenario that could keep the acronym-filled organizations in lawsuits for years to come.

“If [Finchem does a 180] and Tim [Clark] tries to continue as a professional and he can’t effectively compete without the stroke he’s used for 18 years, most of his professional career,” hypothesized Manion, who added Pettersson into the scenario, “and they can’t engage in their livelihoods, yeah, I think they have damages to claim.”

Manion, who has been working with Clark, Pettersson, and the others who prefer to remain anonymous, since January, observed that “there are a lot of ‘ifs’ along the way.”

On the range at the Colonial Invitational last Tuesday, the majority of players guessed that there was no question the Tour would follow the USGA and R&A’s decision, but “they’ll probably wait it out,” surmised Henrik Stenson.

“If they don’t follow, guys will have to change putters at different tournaments, like at the majors. That wouldn’t work.”

No, golf is already confusing enough.

”Obviously, now I guess, our tactics have to change,” Clark  told The Associated Press. ”We had that 90-day so-called comment period, which really at the end of the day we figured was kind of bogus any way. … We obviously during that period tried to reason with the USGA and the R&A and come to some sort of a favorable decision for ourselves. We’re just trying to come to a fair and just decision that obviously has a great affect a lot on our careers and futures in the game.”

Clark also said he’s had a lot of sleepless nights over the issue because it could threaten his career. The 37-year-old South African switched to the long putter at NCAA Regionals during his freshman year in college. Clark has a congenital birth defect that prevents him from rotating his hands, so it’s not as comfortable for him to use the conventional putter. (However, one of his college teammates recently told me that Clark won a few tourneys in college using the short putter and he is a good player without the long putter, but he’s just probably better with the stroke he employs now.)

Look, I’m not a lawyer and I sympathize with the guys, like Clark, Pettersson and Webb Simpson, but I don’t see how this would hold up in court, especially when precedent sees to give quite a bit of leeway to leagues in determining their rules. Sure, most sports have different rules for amateurs than pros, but how many of those are lifetime sports? Golf isn’t like football or basketball, where the shelf life for pros is set for a certain window.

Basically, I don’t think the long putter is “easier” to putt with, otherwise everyone would use it, but I do think it helps poor putters (relatively speaking) become less bad putters (if that makes any sense).

An argument that the USGA and R&A could present in court would be that there isn’t another club where you can use as a crutch for your game, like, say, the driver.

“If you struggle with your driving, there’s not a way…it doesn’t necessarily make you a better putter,” said Stenson. “If it did, then 90% or 100% of the players would use a belly putter or broomstick out here, but it’s obviously helped people who struggled with their putting. If you struggle with the yips off the tee, then there’s not like you can put the driver in your belly. You have to overcome the challenges of the game no matter what part of the game it is, and that’s obviously one part that you can get out of it easier because you can change the method.”

Stenson struggled with the driver yips (yes, really) for several years in recent history, but has straightened things out this year.

Another Swede, Jonas Blixt, independently made the same point.

“If there was a way to anchor your driver to hit it straighter, I would do that,” said Blixt, who won the 2012 Frys.com Open. “That’s where my weakness is. If there was another way to drive the ball, I’d do it, but there isn’t and there is with putting and that’s one of my strengths. It’s just harder to make a bad stroke anchored. And you’re always going to try and find a way to get better or an edge.”

I think everyone will agree that the anchoring method should have been banned long ago, but just because you messed up doesn’t mean you cant right a wrong. And, in reality, golf is bigger than the pros. This really only affects a dozen or so players, and while it sucks for them, they’ll find a way to adapt and it’s tough to feel that bad for a bunch of millionaires that would probably survive even if this new rule ended their career. Besides, they have two and a half years to make as much money as possible.

On the PGA Tour, it seems that there are guys who sympathize with the anchorers, but if you take a poll, you’ll find supporters for and against the ban, and since a minority use belly and long putters, most pros don’t care because it doesn’t impact them.

“I just think the longest club in your bag should be the driver,” said Boo Weekley, the latest champ on the PGA Tour, who has experimented with the belly putter in the past. “I’ve played with the belly, but I don’t see it being any more of a help, well, except for short putts — like three- to five-footers it helps, but longer putts, you have to make such a long stroke that it still weaves around back there.”

Now, the question is if the PGA Tour adopts the rule, when will they put it in effect? A popular guess is at the start of the 2015-2016 season, which would be the fall of 2015. That seems to make the most sense.

“I think the Tour should be proactive and doing it sooner than 2016 because of the backlash and spectators making comments,” said Brian Gay, who is a firm believer that you should make a stroke freely with your arms. “The guys who (anchor) might unfairly receive some grief and be called cheaters and stuff like that, so I think the sooner we implement it, the better — not necessarily for the guys who have to switch. I don’t think anybody needs two- and-a -half years to switch putters.”

Why ban it now after so long? Well, I think golf’s governing bodies saw that junior golfers were starting to adopt the stroke and they feared that it would become so commonplace that it would become the way kids were taught and eventually there would be more anchorers than conventional putters.

For instance, 14-year-old Guan Tianlang, who became the youngest to ever make the cut at a major at last month’s Masters, uses a belly putter. He switched at some point last year after spending some time playing in the U.S. You don’t wait that trend to keep going, especially if golf is game where you need to swing all 14 clubs freely with the arms.

“You have kids coming up and starting to play golf and in college never having to putt with anywhere else,” said Stenson. “So at some point, you have to ban it and transfer everyone to use the regular putter.”

So, when will the PGA Tour make a decision? Well, the player advisory council is set to meet this week at the Memorial Tournament. Clark and Pettersson’s lawyer believes it will be in the upcoming five-six weeks.

“We feel that we are going to continue to get a fair hearing at [both meetings],” Manion said. “We are optimistic that the tour will stand by its statement and afford the users of the stroke some form of protection against this rule.”

Eh, I think Finchem was just trying to support his players, but at the end of the day, if the rest of the world adopts the new rule, then it would not be wise to counter it.

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