Challenging anchored ban in court could prove difficult

By Rex HoggardOctober 31, 2012, 8:02 pm

Boo.

Like that, the U.S. Golf Association’s Halloween was suddenly filled with more tricks and less treats, thanks to an unmistakable salvo from Keegan Bradley, who told Golf Channel contributor Alex Miceli this week in China, “I’m going to do whatever I have to do to protect myself and the other players on Tour.”

Bradley’s challenge, interpreted in some circles as a precursor to legal action, was directed at an impending announcement from the USGA and Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews that, according to various sources, will ban the act of anchoring during a stroke and, effectively, the long putter.

Both ruling bodies have been publicly silent on the ruling, which would likely outlaw anchoring beginning with the next rules cycle in 2016, but last month at Sea Island (Ga.) Resort, USGA executive director Mike Davis met with the PGA Tour Policy Board to discuss the issue.

“It seems like they’ve made up their mind (to ban anchoring) and they are just trying to get people on their side,” said one policy board player director.

Davis & Co. made the same pitch this week to players at the WGC-HSBC Champions which likely prompted Bradley’s bold stand, but the cloud of legal action has been hanging low over the issue for months.

It has been widely assumed that some players might challenge the move in court, but until Bradley no one had been so definitive. In theory, the case to save anchoring is straightforward enough.

Carl Pettersson, for example, hasn’t used a conventional-length putter since 1997 and it stretches the boundaries of fair play to change the rules mid-round, so to speak.

“It’s unfortunate I’ve had 15 years of practice with the long putter,” he said earlier this year at TPC Boston. “I would definitely feel like I’m 15 years behind in practice.”

But in practical terms there doesn’t seem to be a lot of case law when it comes to these types of issues. Specifically, under what legal premise would Bradley challenge a potential ban?

“They can always sue, whether they will be successful is the question,” said Ron Quillin, a Wisconsin-based personal injury attorney with the firm Lawyers at Work.

We may live in a litigious society but that doesn’t mean the courts would rush to intervene on Bradley & Co.’s behalf.

According to Quillin, the legal concept of “laches” may apply given how long the ruling bodies have allowed the act of anchoring.

“The USGA has let this happen for some 25 years,” he said. “You can make that legal argument that they’ve allowed it to happen for so long they should be barred from changing the rule. You do have these concepts in the law, but I’m not sure it applies to this situation.”

Tim Clark, who uses a belly putter, may be the exception to the legal dilemma. Clark was born with a condition that doesn’t allow the South African to pronate his wrists outward, making putting with a traditional-length putter difficult, if not impossible.

Under that limited scope Clark could have a case under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the same law used by Casey Martin to successfully challenge the PGA Tour’s ban on the use of golf carts during tournaments.

“The definition is pretty loose and they are liberal about defining it,” Quillin said. “You have to have a recognizable problem. It would make for a court action, but I don’t know if you’d be able to win under those grounds.”

Even if the courts were to rule in Clark’s favor in such a situation it would be limited to only those who could prove a physical inability to putt without anchoring, and there seems little chance the U.S. Supreme Court would fancy the notion that the yips are a physical ailment.

Nor does there seem to be much of a chance the USGA and R&A would create a grandfather clause that would allow longtime users of long putters, like Pettersson, to finish their careers the way they started them.

“It’s like in baseball you can outlaw the (spit ball) and then say this guy has been throwing a spitter his whole life we should let him use it, but everyone knows it’s just out and out cheating,” Quillin said.

A potential legal challenge from an equipment manufacturer of a new rule on anchoring would seem to have a better chance, but even that may be mitigated by how the ruling bodies seem to be crafting the ban.

Manufacturers have in the past successfully challenged new rules, most notably the 1990 lawsuit involving Ping’s square grooves, but by making it a rules of the game issue (anchoring) and not an equipment issue the ruling bodies seem to have limited their exposure.

Davis seemed to suggest as much in July when asked if the new rule could be as simple as making the putter the shortest club in a player’s bag. “I can give you 50 reasons why that wouldn’t work,” he said.

Which brings us back to Bradley, Pettersson and Clark who will certainly be aggrieved by a potential ban, but proving it in court may end up being more difficult than a downhill 6-footer.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.