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Grandfather clause on recreational anchoring likely doomed

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UNIVERSITY PLACE, WA - JUNE 21: Jordan Spieth of the United States poses with the trophy after winning the 115th U.S. Open Championship at Chambers Bay on June 21, 2015 in University Place, Washington. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)  - 

There is no way of telling if Ted Bishop spends much time at the Texas Hold ’Em table, but the president of the PGA of America knows a poker face when he sees one.

On Saturday at the U.S. Golf Association’s annual meeting, Bishop and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem made their pitch for one final timeout in the countdown to the ban on anchoring that is poised to begin in January 2016.

More than any other voice in golf, Bishop’s was the loudest during last year’s surprisingly public debate over the adoption of the new anchoring rule.

Emboldened by a majority of his constituents (PGA club professionals) who opposed the ban, Bishop’s was one of the most persuasive voices in the rule-making room during the anchoring debate. So it seemed apropos that he, along with Finchem, would be the ones charged with convincing the USGA of the need for a grandfather period for recreational amateurs.

“At the end of the day we feel like we gave it our best shot, but we really couldn’t read into anything,” Bishop said.

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The presentation lasted about 30 minutes on Saturday at the association’s annual meeting in Pinehurst, N.C., and focused on the central theme that any rule that detracts from the game at the grassroots level should be weighed carefully, if not avoided altogether.

The 2016 deadline for professionals and top amateurs to transition away from the anchored putting stroke may be enough of a head start for the game’s elite, but for Bishop and Finchem the use of anchored putters at the recreational level is less of a competitive question than it is an issue of accessibility.

“We were trying to humanize the request for the grandfather period. This was a continuation of what we asked back in July,” Bishop said as he packed for a trip to Russia to attend the Olympics. “My understanding is they will take a look at it and get back to us with a response.”

The USGA didn’t give Bishop and Finchem a timeline on when it might respond to the request, and for those who dissect subtext and read between lines it doesn’t seem the odds are in their favor.

“We want to be good partners with the PGA of America and the PGA Tour so we agreed to let them come back. We have to be diligent to be open-minded,” newly elected USGA president Tom O’Toole told your scribe in a recent interview.

“That said, there was a lot of time and thought that went into this decision. We realize it is a polarizing subject but we thought we considered all the possible options and issues that would confront us as a governing body and to be good governing bodies we had to go ahead and have that process. We want to be mindful of their request and we will listen intuitively.”

In the wake of last year’s decision to alter Rule 14-1b and ban anchoring the USGA, and Royal & Ancient which governs golf outside the United States and Mexico, seemed to indicate they would be more inclusive in future rule changes, and O’Toole’s comments seem to dovetail with that.

To a point.

But the telling line from O’Toole, “a lot of time and thought that went into this decision,” has been a frequent theme from the rule-makers throughout this process.

USGA and R&A officials conducted an exhaustive study of the possible rule change, and neither organization has indicated a need to add a grandfather period to its implementation.

Before boarding his plane for Sochi, Bishop seemed at ease with whatever decision the USGA handed down. After a year of debate it seems to be time to turn his energy to the litany of other issues facing the game.

“Personally I feel better,” Bishop said. “We tried to convey a compelling reason why this doesn’t do any harm to the game going forward, and Tim (Finchem) made some great statements.”

Bishop may not be a gambling man and the USGA may still come around to his and Finchem’s way of thinking regarding a grandfather period, but we wouldn’t bet on it.