FORT WORTH, Texas – This is not over. Not by a long shot. That wasn’t the fat lady’s dulcet tones echoing through golf early Tuesday, it was the kick-off – everything up to this point has been pre-game.
The USGA and R&A’s decision to move ahead with the ban on anchoring was almost inevitable. They didn’t dissect the issue for years only to do a U-turn at the first sign of uneven terrain. The question now is, what’s next?
“We will now begin our process to ascertain whether the various provisions of Rule 14-1b will be implemented in our competitions and, if so, examine the process for implementation,” read the official company line from Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
When translated from PR speak, the PGA Tour’s response to Tuesday’s news was a solid, “Oh, yeah?”
The next few weeks and months will not just decide the ultimate fate of the anchored stroke, and a handful of Tour types who ply their trade with it, but could cut right to the relevance of golf’s rule makers.
The Tour’s statement said player input will be collected before a decision is made whether the circuit will follow the new rule. The next Policy Board meeting will be in early July at The Greenbrier and the Player Advisory Council doesn’t currently have a meeting scheduled, although one Tour official admitted, “that might change.”
If the circuit decides to split with the rule makers and not adopt the change, many of the current legal and logistical concerns go away, although the esoteric impact to the game would be substantial.
“I’m not worried about putting with the short putter or the long putter. I’m just bothered that I didn’t get a vote and that we didn’t get any representation on this,” said Brian Harman, who has used a belly putter throughout much of his professional career. “I don’t think this is the end of it at all. The next thing is the golf ball and then it’s the drivers. We’ll be playing with gutta-percha (golf ball) pretty soon.”
Harman was hardly alone in his assessment that it may be time for the professionals to take control of the rule-making process, but Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has been reluctant, if not vague, in the past when asked about the possibility of the bifurcation of the Rules of Golf.
“I can see some situations where you might bifurcate the rules, but that wouldn’t be the first choice,” Finchem said in February.
Unlike PGA of America president Ted Bishop, who built his consensus from within, Finchem will have difficulty crafting a similarly populace response and would likely avoid such a move anyway. There will be no exit polling of the rank-and-file on whether to ban or not to ban because, honestly, everyone has a belly in this fight.
“That’s too individual for the players,” said Steve Flesch, who won three of his four Tour titles using a long putter but supports the ban. “The players shouldn’t make the rules out here.”
Which brings the decision back to Finchem and the Policy Board, which includes four player directors. After further review, it seems likely the circuit will abide by the new rule and maintain the status quo with the USGA and R&A.
For weeks the word on Tour was that a group of seven to eight players had already formed a coalition to challenge the rule legally if it was passed; early Tuesday Brendan Steele seemed to allude to the impending legal wrangling, saying, “I expect you to see something soon. Someone today will probably give you something on that.”
It remains unclear whether the players would sue the Tour or the rule makers or on what ground they would base there challenge, but as Vijay Singh’s episode from two weeks ago proved, we live in a litigious society (as an aside, it appears lawyers will be this year’s leading money winners on Tour). It was a reality that also didn’t sit well with some players at Colonial.
“If we can sue for that then why can’t we just argue every rule then?” Greg Owen said. “We are governed by the USGA and R&A for years and all of a sudden we are going to go against them. I feel for them (players who use long putters), but at the end of the day it shouldn’t have been allowed in the first place.”
If the Tour adheres to the rule it will also have to decide when to start enforcing it. Jan. 1, 2016, the date when the USGA and R&A plan to enact the ban, is awkward at best for the Tour.
The circuit will already be some two months into the 2015-16 season, which means the Tour would have to put the rule on the books early (Fall of 2015) or late (Fall of 2016).
The impending changes also promise to be a bona fide distraction over the next 2 ½ years, and Finchem is on record loathing distractions. Thirty months of continuous debate just won’t do.
“If (the Tour) is going to ban it why do we have to wait 2 ½ years,” Steve Flesch asked. “This issue isn’t going to go away. You don’t want guys getting heckled. This is inevitable, but 2016 is so far away. Why wait?”
Anchoring is now the Tour’s, and to a lesser extent the PGA of America’s problem, and those expecting a swift and seamless resolution should get used to disappointment.
No, Tuesday’s news wasn’t the end for anchoring, but it was the beginning of a lot of angst in Ponte Vedra Beach.