That sound you heard just past the lunch hour in the east wasn’t shock or surprise. The golf world has seen this one coming for months.
The PGA Tour went with the ban on anchoring not because the circuit thought it a handsome addition to the Rules of Golf. It went with it because the alternative was not an option.
“I thought that was a layup. We didn’t have a choice,” said Joe Ogilvie, a member of the 16-member Player Advisory Council
Had the Tour drawn a line in the rulemaking sand, chaos would have ensued. Three majors (it seems likely the Masters would have followed the rule) and professional golf everywhere else in the world played under one set of rules, everything else in the U.S. under another.
The Tour didn’t like the USGA and R&A’s move to ban anchoring, but it fancied the idea of an eternal distraction even less, so the circuit informed players via email on Monday that they would continue to follow the Rules of Golf.
“The (policy board) was of the opinion that having a single set of rules on acceptable strokes applicable to all professional competitions worldwide was desirable and would avoid confusion,” commissioner Tim Finchem said in the email.
No, the sound you heard was the collective bracing for what comes next.
Of immediate concern, at least to Tour accountants, is a potential legal bout between Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and those who currently anchor. Nine Tour players formed a coalition led by Boston-area attorney Harry Manion in January – a group that includes Adam Scott, Carl Pettersson and Tim Clark.
“The decision today was not unexpected,” Manion said. “We were expecting this, but we are pleased there was no acceleration (of the ban).”
Manion said he plans to meet with each player “individually” and see how they want to proceed, and according to Ogilvie, the specter of legal action was not mentioned during Monday’s 20-minute meeting with Finchem.
If there is a lawsuit it would be directed at the Tour which means the circuit would be on the hook for whatever settlements, if any, were imposed.
The possibility of legal action will also likely dictate when the Tour implements the anchoring ban. The USGA and R&A plan to enact the new rule on Jan. 1, 2016, but that is some three months into the 2015-16 season.
According to one source, if the Tour were to implement the rule early it may open the circuit up to more liability, which means, in theory, the 2015-16 season could be played under two sets of rules.
But if the Tour is faced with a litany of details to now sort out, the PGA of America has a bona fide political time bomb on its hands as a result of the new rule.
PGA of America president Ted Bishop has been one of the ban’s most outspoken critics and for good reason. It is his members that must now deal with the daily fallout.
“For those amateurs who say they are going to continue to anchor they won’t be allowed to play in any club event. They can’t keep a handicap. That is a political issue that we as club pros are going to have to deal with. It is going to be a problem,” Bishop told GolfChannel.com. “At the end of the day we are the ones who are going to have to deal with this.”
It’s that reality that led Bishop and the PGA to suggest that it might be time for bifurcation, or two sets of rules, and while his membership eventually voted to adopt the ban it came only after a “spirited debated.”
Inevitably it seems the Tour’s decision to go with the ban swayed the PGA to adopt, however begrudgingly.
“When we talked about a second set of rules (bifurcation) in March, none of us at the PGA thought we were going to be a part of that second set of rules,” Bishop said. “Our conversation centered on what we would do if the PGA Tour went with a second set of rules. When it became clear the Tour wasn’t going to go with a second set we didn’t have a choice.”
Which brings golf to perhaps the most profound consequence of the anchoring ban. If a lesson was learned from this episode it was that there is a growing disconnect between the game’s rule makers and the ruled.
It wasn’t the USGA and R&A’s move against anchoring, or a desire to save the long putter, that riled many players and administrators so much as it was a feeling the rule makers are increasingly making rules from a vacuum.
“I don’t think they will ever make a ruling by themselves again,” Ogilvie said. “I’ve been on Tour a long time and I have never heard this kind of animosity toward the R&A and USGA. Professional golf didn’t have a voice at the table.”
That, many Tour types contend, simply won’t do.
The Tour will weather whatever, if any, legal storm that arises from its decision to adhere to the ban and players who anchor will find another way. What may become the legacy of the anchoring ban, however, is how future rules are enacted, and no one saw that coming.