by Jeff Skinner
The old saying goes “The best defense is a good offense.” Tim Finchem knows a thing or two about going on the offensive. Finchem’s calculated dressing down of the USGA and the R&A on national television has resulted in a face-off between the ruling bodies and the PGA Tour.
When the USGA and the R&A instituted the “comment period” I doubt they envisioned the PGA Tour balking and certainly never imagined that Finchem would make it so public. But Finchem is doing his job; he is protecting players on his tour.
Theoretically, Finchem works for the players (don’t tell him that) and when the players voted to oppose the anchoring ban Finchem went on the offensive. But not only were his tactics questionable so were his facts.
The Commissioner stated that there is no evidence of an anchored stroke resulting in a “competitive advantage.” And he asked the USGA to provide data to support that argument knowing that if any data exists it is at best inconclusive. But here’s the competitive advantage in my view. Lee Trevino likes to say something like “You don’t know what pressure is until you’ve played for $5 a hole with only $2 in your pocket.” Now try sinking a four footer with a regular putter, your hands may be shaking. But stick that long putter in your belly and the takeaway is as steady as can be. There’s little room for “yipping” and no chance of nerves forcing that putter offline.
Also, the data the tour really doesn’t want to see is when those losing the long putters switch to a conventional one. And contrary to Finchem’s belief, no one grows up with a belly putter. True, Keegan and Webb have used long putters for awhile but both changed after learning the game with regular putters. If forced to abandon the broomsticks they will adjust and after they, and all the other professionals switch, then there may be data to look at. I’d love to see the numbers on the five footers.
Finchem pumped up his numbers to support his case when he said 20% of amateurs are using long putters. Absolutely not, the most recent data shows only five per cent use long putters. And they all must play in the dark because I rarely come across them.
He uses the argument that anchoring has been around so long that there should be no change. Well, that’s no argument at all. The USGA/R&A are in the business of maintaining the rules of golf. Two years ago when Webb Simpson penalized himself when his ball was moved by the wind the USGA moved quickly to change the rule. Finchem wasn’t using his “it’s been around for so long” argument then. The USGA, while at times can move at a glacial rate, has addressed issues over the years and adjusted the rules accordingly. Has anyone been “stymied” lately? I think not. The NBA now has a three-point line. Hockey players wear helmets. Has anyone seen Tom Brady get hit without a penalty flag being thrown in the last two years? Rules change and the rules makers change them.
Could the PGA Tour elect to ignore the anchor ban and make their own rules? Certainly, but that’s would be Armageddon for golf. Having the PGA pros using a banned stroke would be a disgrace and a public relations disaster. But if there is going to be bifurcation it may be by their hands.
The European Tour and the Ladies European Tour along with numerous other smaller tours around the world have stated they will follow the USGA/R&A ruling so the only dissenters are the Americans. Could it be that the PGA Tour is made up of self-centered, spoiled players that want to make their own rules?
The story out of the players meeting in San Diego was that many players on the council that were ambivalent about the ban had their minds changed by a passionate Tim Clark. Clark is well liked and an inspirational player. He’s half the size of most players and still wins out there. He also has a condition that prevents his wrists and forearms from rotating in. His plea was taken to heart by many but the fact remains that his putter will not be outlawed, only the anchoring. Clark and all the other “anchorers” can still make the same stroke; it just can’t be anchored to their body.
I understand what Finchem was doing, he was protecting his own. But he also was making a power play towards the USGA and the R&A. And that is what this has degenerated into.
Make no mistake, no group likes to wield its weight more than the USGA and the R&A. Generally they operate unopposed but here the loggerhead between them and the Tour is a battle of power-playing heavyweights.
Maybe the USGA should not have offered the comment period? Maybe the long putter should have been outlawed decades ago? Maybe Finchem could have been a bit less confrontational? There are a lot of maybes here but this is certain: the whole situation is a mess.
I am for the ban and the sooner the better. If they announce that the ban will be instituted and then wait until the next rules cycle in 2016 the PGA Tour will have to follow or make their own rules. By doing so they’ll make any player that uses an anchored stroke a target and that would be an untenable situation.
Finchem has made his first move and now Mike Davis and Peter Dawson are on the clock. It’s a game of chicken, rules making chicken if you will, and it definitely won’t be pretty.