• Clubbing Down

PGA Tour v The Rest of Golf?

Will Tidey February 25, 2013
The long and the short of it is that the putter is a hot topic of debate © Getty Images

Oscars Sunday called for a memorable speech at the WGC Match Play in Arizona. A warm acceptance would be delivered by winner Matt Kuchar, but the affable American's march to victory was overshadowed by the afternoon war cries of PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.

Finchem boldly announced the PGA Tour are standing against a ban on anchored putting strokes. Their position is that banning belly and broomhandle putters would be "against the interests of golf and the interests of the PGA Tour". The Tour's primary justification is the same cited by Ernie Els last week--that there is no conclusive proof using an anchored stroke gives a competitor an advantage.

To put it lightly, there may be trouble in the fairway ahead.

The R&A and USGA, bastions of tradition and golf's law-makers elect, are proposing to outlaw anchored strokes from the 2016 season forward. The way they see it, whether belly putters should be allowed or not has nothing to do with how many majors they've won (three - Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Els) and everything to do with how the game was first imagined.

"This decision gets back to the USGA and R&A feeling that fundamentally golf for 600 years has been about picking up the club, gripping it with two hands and making a free swing away from the body," said USGA Executive Director Mike Davis.

The USGA reacted to Finchem's press conference with a release of their own on Sunday night, stating that the 90-day comment period inviting opinion on the proposed anchoring ban "remains a very good process" and confirming a final decision on rule 14-1b would be made in April. Judging by the penultimate paragraph, however, the USGA are not about to change their minds on this one.

"As we consider the various perspectives on anchoring, it has always been our position that Rule 14-1b aims to clarify and preserve the traditional and essential nature of the golf stroke, which has helped to make golf a unique and enjoyable game of skill and challenge."

So what happens if the rule is passed? Will the PGA Tour play nice and heed to R&A and USGA legislation? Or will things, as Ian Poulter fears, get "very, very messy"?

Based on Finchem's press conference, should an anchoring ban come in we're headed for the latter. "Our regulations provide that we will follow the rules as promulgated by the USGA provided, however, we retain the right not to in certain instances if we see fit," he said - presumably before heading to the nearest bunker at Dove Mountain and digging his small heels as far into the sand as possible.

Hunter Mahan's improved short game makes him an attractive option for the Masters © Getty Images

The R&A and USGA are institutions unlikely to be bullied, so we could be headed toward a professional game where events on the global circuit are split between those sanctioned for anchored putting and those not. What of the majors? What of the Ryder Cup? What kind of chaos would that be?

If the result of the PGA Tour going against the law makers is a divided, diluted professional game, then they stand to lose far more than they could possibly gain. This is about as ill-advised power play as one could imagine from Finchem and co. and we can only hope they come to their senses before it's too late.

Grip it and rip it

Match play is great to watch, but one of the most fascinating aspects of Ryder Cup golf is watching the top players take on a fresh course every two years to see how different strengths play out. The WGC Match Play would be well served to leave Dove Mountain next year and land somewhere different.

Early Masters pick

My post-WGC Match Play pick for the Masters is runner-up Hunter Mahan, who has started 2013 as strongly as he did 2012 and demonstrated an improved short game in his impressive semi-final victory against Poulter. Mahan finished 12th at Augusta last year and is a good bet to go better this April.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Will Tidey Close
Will has covered Tour events. majors and Ryder Cups and interviewed the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Rory McIlroy. He once inhaled the cigar smoke of the coolest man in golf, Miguel Angel Jimenez, while watching sports cars tear around Brands Hatch. As a left-handed hacker he's been humiliated at esteemed venues including Carnoustie, Wentworth, Kiawah Island and Pinehurst No. 2.