In a move that could forever change professional and amateur golf, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem defied the the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) and Royal & Ancient Golf Club’s (R&A) proposed ban of the anchored putter on Sunday when he said the PGA Tour intends to oppose the ban because doing so “was in the best interest in the game” and belly putters did not give players a “competitive advantage.”
On November 28, the USGA and the R&A, golf’s governing bodies, made the announcement of the proposed ban that would be implemented in 2016 and gave parties a 90-day window, which ends on Thursday, February 28th, to submit opinions.
If the USGA and R&A implement the ban in 2016, Finchem, at a press conference that upstaged the finals of his own Match Play Championship, signaled the PGA Tour would defy golf’s governing bodies for the first time ever, which could be the first step toward professional and amateur golfers playing by different rules.
Finchem said the PGA Tour came to its decision last week after a “thorough process.”
“But I think the essential thread that went through the thinking of the players and our board of directors and others was that, in the absence of data or any basis to conclude that there is a competitive advantage to be gained by using anchoring, and given the amount of time that anchoring has been in the game, that there was no overriding reason to go down that road,” Finchem said. “Essentially, where the PGA Tour came down was that they did not think that banning anchoring was in the best interest of golf or the PGA Tour.”
The USGA and R&A believed players using anchored putters were not making “traditional, free-swinging” strokes.
The USGA said, in a statement after Finchem’s statement, that the organization plans to take “final action” in the spring and continues to “listen to varying points of view, and have had many productive conversations across the golf community, which is a reminder of just how much people care about the game – regardless of their position on this issue.”
“As we consider the various perspectives on this issue, it has always been our position that Rule 14-1b aims to clarify and preserve the traditional and essential nature of the golf stroke, which has helped to make golf a unique and enjoyable game of skill and challenge,” the USGA said.
As golf writer Stephanie Wei, at Wei Under Par, reported, golfers like Tim Clark, who uses an anchored putter, flew into Scottsdale at the beginning of the month to make the case for anchored putters to PGA Tour players on the PGA Tour policy board. Clark said he was born with a “condition that prevents him from turning his wrists inward, and thus, can’t physically make a traditional putting stroke,” and that is why he has to use the anchored putter.
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Tom Watson, and Arnold Palmer are among the prominent names that are in favor of banning the belly putter.
Three of the last five majors have been won by players (Ernie Els, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson) who have used belly putters.
How the issue gets resolved could potentially change the way golf is played, as it could lead to bifurcation, which Finchem acknowledged.
“You know, bifurcation is kind of a different issue as to whether you could have different rules in certain areas, and I think that’s still open to discussion,” Finchem said at a press conference on Sunday. “I think in a perfect world, we’d all like to see the rules be exactly the same.”
Finchem did add, though, the rules are “not exactly the same functionally now anyway, and in certain cases I could see where bifurcation might be an appropriate way to go.”
“But maybe, and I think we continue to believe that if possible we should keep the rules, the structure of the rules the same, and if possible, without bifurcation,” Finchem then said. “And I think that’s doable.”