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Hawk's Nest: PGA Tour digs in on anchoring

Ernie Els with a short and a long putter
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Oh, the perils of being a middle-aged male. You wake up some mornings feeling like you carried it 26 times against the Ravens, then attempt bodily functions you took for granted in 1984. The telephone has become an enemy. The mailbox is an outdated cynic, much like the man walking down the driveway to empty it.

Communication is best viewed as a necessary evil, which takes us to the golf course, where my buddies and I talk for four hours and say absolutely nothing.

“What does Tom’s wife do?” my own spouse asked last summer.

“No idea,” I shrugged.

“You guys spend all that time out there, and you don’t know what his wife does for a living? What do you talk about?”

So I asked. Tom said Jodi sells bow ties, which didn’t make any sense, although I didn’t bother with a follow-up question. I’ve since come to learn that Jodi actually sells Botox, which I’m guessing is a lot more lucrative. Still I wouldn’t think any differently of her whether she sold 19th century neckwear or 21st century cosmetics.

It’s not that I don’t care – anything but. Meaningful conversation is rarely a priority when I’m playing with the guys whose company I enjoy most. Amid the salty references, fun-poking and occasional strategically related dialogue, there isn’t much time or energy left to talk about important stuff.

Why is the dog referred to as man’s best friend? Because the pooch doesn’t say much. Same goes for the guys in my weekend foursome. Why is that? I’m not sure. I’ve never asked them.

WHEN IT COMES to talking a lot and saying little, few have been more adept over the years than PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, but that wasn’t the case during his visit to the NBC booth during Sunday’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship final. Finchem enunciated the Tour’s opposition to the anchored-putter ban and acknowledged that 13 of 15 pros on the player advisory committee don’t like the proposed change.

Upon further review, it’s easy to see how some Tour types have softened their position on anchoring. If everyone’s getting rich out there, why institute a punitive measure on a select group when evidence of a competitive advantage remains inconclusive? In other words, you leave well enough alone.

[Anchoring] has been around for a generation, and the game has done quite well,” Finchem said. “Unless you have a compelling reason to change it, you shouldn’t.”

While others were writing that the Tour might adopt an anchoring ban at the end of this season – more than two years before the U.S. Golf Association proposal would go into effect – I was saying this thing could get complicated, even messy, and it is. Finchem exercised an adroit touch of passive aggression by saying, “We all agree the rules should be the same for everybody. We’d like to see a positive, open discussion [with golf’s governing bodies]. We’re all friends.”

I don’t doubt that for a second, but I disagree with my buddies all the time. At the end of the day, you do what’s best for you. The Tour is opposed to bifurcation but doesn’t support the anchoring ban. Translation: It just tossed the matter back to the USGA/R&A in the form of a grenade.

Now what? If you’re the USGA, you have to think long and hard about imposing the ban at the recreational level only, which couldn’t have been what was intended. That would suffice as an admission that the USGA doesn’t hold any official jurisdiction over pro golf and compromise the original ideal, but it could also force Finchem into the rule-making business he doesn’t want to enter.

Or it could just renege on the entire premise and wipe the egg off its face. There won’t be any easy answers here.

DON’T TELL ME now about the huge mistake Davis Love III made, leaving Hunter Mahan off last year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team. It’s nothing but cheap hindsight, dated by the five-plus months between Love’s picks and Mahan’s runner-up finish to Matt Kuchar Sunday at the Match Play.

Mahan was angered by Love’s snub, but his case for inclusion on Team America was flimsy at best. Yes, he won last year’s Match Play, then again in Houston the week before the Masters, but he managed just one top 10 in his next 13 starts – a five-month stretch leading right up to Love’s four captain’s picks.

He would miss the cut at the PGA Championship and The Barclays, two crucial weeks in the eyes of any skipper. Having risen to fourth in the Official World Golf Ranking after the win in Houston, Mahan had fallen to 20th when Love made his selections. Simply put, he was trending sharply in the wrong direction and passed by more deserved players.

In terms of subjective data, Mahan received zero percent of the vote when I asked readers who should have made the team during a live chat on last September. Not to wear out a theme, but sometimes, people can say an awful lot when they say nothing at all.

BOY, THAT SNOWFALL at Dove Mountain last Wednesday sure was funny. I’d gone out earlier that afternoon to pick up some lunch and get my car washed, then returned home to see I’d missed a call from my editor, Jay Coffin.

“There’s three inches of snow on the ground in Tucson,” Coffin told me with a straight face – at least straight enough to let me know he wasn’t kidding. “We need you. How soon can you go up?”

I figured a couple hundred people would be waiting when I logged in. Turns out there were more than 7,000 – far more than I can remember for any non-major, especially without live golf going on. Regardless of what you think about my knowledge of the game or the Tour, I definitely know snow.

No way they’re playing today, I told the assemblage. In fact, I guesstimated that a late-morning start the following day would come about only after a superb job by the field staff at Dove Mountain, which was indeed the case. I reiterate all this not so much to slap myself on the back but to address the repeated cries of those who believe this tournament needs to be relocated.

First and foremost, the Tour’s contract with title sponsor Accenture runs through next year – it’s not going anywhere before then. Secondly, Accenture is quite fond of Dove Mountain. Seeing how the company has sponsored the Match Play since its 1999 inception, you don’t need a degree from the Wharton Business School to understand how moving the event might jeopardize one of the Tour’s most valuable partnerships.

So that’s the reality for now, be it in three inches of snow or 70 degrees of sunshine. That doesn’t mean we can’t build the perfect beast, however, and with that in mind, the Tour really should consider transferring the Match Play to Las Vegas. More than one player has surmised that a legal-wagering element would illuminate the tournament’s profile, stimulating mainstream interest in ways a simple conversion to the match-play format can’t accomplish.

I’m not a gambler, but I think the betting factor would be pretty cool. I’m also sure my friends in Camp Ponte Vedra see it very differently. If it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it. And if it is broke, you don’t talk too much about it.