WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – If Monday was D-Day for those PGA Tour players who anchor their putters, then Tuesday was The Morning After. Or perhaps more appropriately, The Mourning After.
One day after the PGA Tour’s policy board decided to adopt the USGA’s Rule 14-1b and eliminate all anchored strokes beginning in 2016, any contact with these players was prefaced in much the same way someone would approach a person who’d just had a death in the family.
“I’m so sorry about what happened …”
“… I hope you’re doing alright …”
“… let me know if there’s anything you need…”
“… can I make a donation in your name?”
OK, so that last one may have been in jest, but for the small minority of anchormen competing in this week’s Greenbrier Classic, the aftereffects of this decision were no laughing matter.
Ask 100 different players about the impending anchoring ban and you’re likely to receive 100 different takes on the issue. They may be as subtle as the breaks in a PGA Tour green, but they’ll be different.
All except the surprise factor. Scour the driving range and practice green Tuesday and you couldn’t find a player who wasn’t expecting this announcement.
“No surprise, really,” said Brian Harman, who anchored in college, then earned his PGA Tour card with a standard-length putter before switching back over a year ago. “I don’t think that there was any way that we were going to play a different set of rules for major golf tournaments. So I think our hands were kind of tied.”
Just five months ago, after the USGA proposed the ban and sought input during a lengthy comment period, the PGA Tour publicly opposed any change to the rules. Now, though, commissioner Tim Finchem has completed a full U-turn, accepting the policy rather than trying to fight it.
You’d think such a maneuver might cause feelings of betrayal amongst those who thought they had support in PGA Tour headquarters, but an informal poll of anchorers showed that reversal was viewed less as deception than sensible business practice.
“He took a stance early on, but we had our doubts,” said Carl Pettersson, who has been anchoring for the past 16 years. “We knew in the back of our minds he wasn’t going to go against the USGA.
“I think the USGA asked for the various organization’s input and the Tour met and we gave them what we felt at the time,” David Hearn agreed. “They went through with deciding that there was a rule change and under our current regulations, we follow the USGA rules. So we were in a spot where we had to decide whether we were going to bifurcate or follow. I don’t think he flip-flopped. I think they asked for everyone’s opinion and we gave it. They decided to go ahead with the rule change and that’s what we’ve got.”
One reason many players believed the rule change was going to go into effect despite the initial opposition is that failing to cooperate with the USGA would in effect cause bifurcation – two different sets of rules for professionals and amateurs.
“Once the USGA made their decision, whether there was pressure to abide or do the same thing, I think as a Tour it’s best for everybody to have one set of rules,” said J.J. Henry, who has gone back and forth with the belly putter for a few years. “So once the USGA said that, it was best for us to follow suit, unless we wanted to open up a whole other can of worms.”
There is actually a case to be made, in fact, that the opposite should have been true.
Rather than make anchoring against the rules for amateurs and legal for professionals, some have contended that it be the other way around – one reason the PGA Tour pushed for a stay of execution for anchored strokes in the amateur game for an extra eight years.
“I wish that, if they were going to ban it, they would just ban it for us,” Harman concluded. “Don’t ban it for guys that play as 10-handicaps or just want to play well in their club championship. Any rule that makes one guy put down a set of clubs is a bad rule. I just don’t see who it benefits. I think they could have had it both ways, I really do. It would have been way more OK if they would have just banned it for us, for the pros. I think that’s what they should have done.
“There are guys who are going to quit over this. Say a guy has a back problem and doesn’t want to bend down. Or somebody just can’t putt and that enables them to get around the golf course and have fun with their friends. Putting is frustrating. It’s the most frustrating thing in golf. And they just made it harder.”
In the end, on the day after D-Day, The Morning After, it may have been Pettersson who best summed up the feelings of the anchorers.
“I don’t think it’s fair, but sometimes life isn’t fair,” he said. “I’ll just have to get on and deal with it.”