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PGA Tour means business with anchor opposition

Tim Finchem
Getty Images

This feels like a showdown now.

We know what cards the PGA Tour is holding. We know what cards the U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient Golf Club are holding. Now, it’s all a matter of who’s going to fold.

It’s that simple, no matter how diplomatically the governing bodies couch their attempts to resolve what has blown up into a clear and fundamental disagreement.

We moved into showdown mode Sunday at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship when PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem revealed that the Tour is strongly opposed to the proposed ban on anchored strokes put forth by the USGA and R&A.

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“Essentially where the PGA Tour came down was that they did not think that banning anchoring was in the best interest of golf, or the PGA Tour,” Finchem said.

Finchem said the opposition to the proposed new rule among players is overwhelming. He said 13 of 15 members of the Players Advisory Council came down against the rule.

“I think the essential thread that went through the thinking of the players, and our board of directors, and others that looked at this was that in the absence of data, or any basis to conclude that there is a competitive advantage to be gained by using anchoring, and given the amount of time that anchoring has been in the game, that there was no overriding reason to go down that road,” Finchem said. 

With the designated comment period on the proposal ending this week, it’s now up to the USGA and R&A to decide if they are going to go all in on their proposal.

Are they actually going to follow through and implement a new definition of a stroke that will serve as a ban against anchoring putters and other strokes beginning in 2016?

Yes, the USGA and R&A sought a comment period, but they have resolutely laid out their belief that the game needs this new rule against anchoring. They did so with such earnestness that you would have to question how in touch the leadership is with its base to have gone this far and then back down.

“I would stress this is not a popularity contest, not an election,” R&A Chief Peter Dawson said when the new rule was proposed. “As the governing body, we are doing what we think is best for the game of golf, and this is our responsibility.”

USGA executive director Mike Davis was just as forceful back then.

“There is absolute alignment between the R&A and the USGA on this one,” Davis said. “The leadership feels strongly that it is in the best interests of the game.”

Given the impassioned nature of the USGA and R&A’s argument for the change, how can they back down now?

And how does the PGA Tour go against the will of its players and acquiesce to the rule change after making its own impassioned stance?

Asked point blank what the PGA Tour would do if push comes to shove, Finchem was non-commital.

“We hold the USGA in the highest regard as a key part of the game of golf,” Finchem said. “We don't attempt to denigrate that position in any way whatsoever. It's just on this issue, we think if they were to move forward, they would be making a mistake.”

For those of you who think the PGA Tour’s posturing, maybe so, but Finchem went out of his way to make the PGA Tour’s opposition about as public as you could make it. He revealed the Tour’s opinion Sunday in a news conference during the finals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. And then he went on the NBC telecast and explained the Tour’s position.

Would Finchem go that far in stating the Tour’s opposition if it intends to acquiesce? Why make such a strong public stance then?

It’s possible there is some compromise here we aren’t seeing coming. Maybe the Tour’s leveraging a compromise. Maybe, as some equipment sages have suggested, players using the long putters will be grandfathered into the PGA Tour’s adoption of the rule? That way, the PGA Tour’s long putters are protected, but the game’s future is left more securely in the USGA and R&A’s hands.

“There's no reason to assume that everybody is going to go down different paths,” Finchem said. “I just want to try to calm that sense down. I think that we ought to be able to have a discussion about this and come to conclusions without negativity. We also have reasons why we feel like the reasons put forward to do this are not compelling, and that's all we can do. We can give them our thoughts.”

So much of this give and take between the USGA, R&A and PGA Tour should have been done before we ever got here. It should have been done behind closed doors before the proposed rule ever went public.

There’s too much at stake to have this all hanging so publicly in the balance. Really, in a worst-case scenario, we could have long putters anchored at future Masters and PGA Championships while anchoring is against the rules at the U.S. Open and British Open. If that ever happens, the game’s damaged.

We could also easily see this all end without fuss, with uniform rules protected, but it feels like that is only going to happen if somebody backs down in this showdown.