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Champions Tour PAC tackles anchored putters, bifurcation

Fred Couples
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BOCA RATON, Fla. – Michael Allen leaned against his 47-inch mallet-headed putter, choked back a smirk and went on the offensive as a reporter approached him on a warm morning in south Florida.

“You’re going right to the long putter,” he sighed.

“We could go straight to deer-antler spray,” the reporter shot back.

“That’s easy, don’t know what it is but I think some guys are getting more hair on top of their head,” Allen laughed before launching into a brief review of the Champions Tour Player Advisory Council meeting early Thursday at the Allianz Championship.

Allen had already come to grips with the fact that, however reluctantly, he had arrived at the epicenter of the ongoing anchoring debate.

“They said that’s why I’m there,” Allen smiled when asked about his unique position on the 13-player PAC. Of the 12 PAC members who attended Thursday’s meeting he was the only one who regularly uses a long putter, although statistically those demographics don’t dovetail with the number of Champions Tour members who anchor.

According to officials at the meeting, which lasted about an hour, 18 percent of Champions Tour players use a belly or long putter. Anecdotally that two of the three players (Bernhard Langer and Fred Couples) on the cover of this year’s Champions Tour media guide use long putters is a more relevant snapshot of anchoring’s status among the seniors.

As the U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient march toward a final decision on the proposed anchoring ban – the deadline for the current 90-day comment period ends on Feb. 26 – attention has turned to the PGA Tour and how the play-for-pay world will deal with the possible ban.

Two weeks ago at the Farmers Insurance Open, USGA executive director Mike Davis spoke at a player meeting that featured an impassioned presentation from Tim Clark, a long-time user of the long putter, and the next day commissioner Tim Finchem left the door open to the possibility that the circuit could deviate from a potential anchoring ban, although many contend that is not likely.

Yet where the PGA Tour and commissioner seemed poised to stay out of the rule making business, and avoid a bifurcation of the Rules of Golf, the Champions Tour, an entity unto itself, may well become the metaphorical line in the anchoring sand pit.

The idea that the Champions Tour could ignore the proposed ban seemed to gain momentum, at least in theory, following Thursday’s meeting.

“I would hate to break away from what the PGA Tour does, but yeah. I probably would (be in favor of bifurcation on the senior circuit),” said Peter Jacobsen, a member of the Champions Tour PAC. “To keep people like Langer, a Hall of Fame superstar and one of the best people I’ve ever met, to keep him playing. Michael Allen, Fred Couples, go down the list. I want these guys playing. We probably could (bifurcate).”

In many ways the Champions Tour already exercises a level of bifurcation with the PGA Tour. Senior players are allowed to use golf carts during rounds, at least currently, and as we’ve learned over the last week the senior circuit does not test players for performance-enhancing drugs.

Taking the fork in the road away from the USGA, and probably the PGA Tour, would seem an easy choice if faced with the alternative, which would be running some of the circuit’s top stars out of the game.

“I would certainly try (to putt) another way,” Langer said. “It depends on what happens and we’re still in the question phase, but if I don’t enjoy the game anymore then I would stop playing.”

Not every Champions Tour PAC member was in favor of the circuit creating its own rules. Brad Faxon, one of the game’s best putters and a first-year PAC member, didn’t seem as open to the idea of two sets of rules as Jacobsen and Allen.

“I don’t think we would (bifurcate). That would be a mistake for us to do something different,” Faxon said. “It’s a hot topic especially out here. But the hardest thing to do is to get a rational, non-biased opinion on what is best for the game and what is best for the tour. . . . Who really has the best interest of the game? That’s where we have to leave governing away from us.”

Champions Tour officials plan to survey the members and draft a report in an attempt to gain a consensus on anchoring in advance of the measure’s final vote later this spring.

“We want to get an idea where everybody is. Just like in politics you are going to have way right and way left. We need to listen to the guys in between and figure out what is best for this Tour and what’s best for golf,” Jacobsen said.

With one in five players on the senior circuit using a longer-than-standard-length putter the electorate, more so than on the PGA Tour, may well be less concerned with unification than they are self-preservation.

“I don’t understand why the PGA Tour doesn’t make its own rules in the first place. Just because we have a certain set of rules out here doesn’t mean that you playing in your club championship can’t use them,” said Allen, a three-time winner on the over-50 circuit, including the 2009 Senior PGA Championship with a belly putter. “It’s just going to drive people from the game.”

Allen was echoing a concern held by many of his PAC frat brothers that a ban on anchoring may drive amateurs away from the game, but the same sentiment applies for a collection of Champions Tour stars like Langer and Couples. And that may be the best case for bifurcation to date.