Finchem's stance on putters could see it all go belly up
Ernie Els, Some of the broomhandle and belly-putters' greatest exponents.
With time running out on the consultation process, golf’s governing bodies – the RA and the USGA – were probably wondering what was taking so long. After all, last November when the two organisations together pledged to consider rule changes to the use of anchoring of putters, effectively banning the long – and belly-putters, it was akin to asking golfers to throw stones in a greenhouse. A 90-day window of opportunity to oppose the proposed rule change was provided.
Finally, somewhat belatedly or perhaps rather timely, depending on the different perspectives, the missiles were flung by the US Tour’s commissioner Tim Finchem, who used a press conference at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay on Sunday to make the case that they “did not think that banning anchoring was in the best interest of golf or the PGA Tour”.
The stance, endorsed by an overwhelming majority backing of players who comprise the PGA Tour’s players’ advisory council, who number among their membership US Open champion Webb Simpson, who used a long-putter in annexing the title at the Olympic Club last June, could set golf’s governing bodies on a collision course with the US Tour.
Finchem further argued there is no evidence of the technique giving a “competitive advantage” over more traditional putting methods.
A final decision on the matter has yet to be made by the Royal Ancient and the United States Golf Association, who started the consultation process last November with an end-date set for this coming Thursday. Indeed, anyone wishing to have their say can continue to do so (by email to email@example.com) with final action on the proposed ruling due inside the next few months. The proposed ban, were it to go ahead, isn’t due to kick into place until January 2016.
“Anchored strokes have become the preferred option for a growing number of players and this has caused us to review these strokes and their impact on the game,” said the RA’s chief executive Peter Dawson in instigating the consultation process, adding: “Our concern is that anchored strokes threaten to supplant traditional putting strokes which are integral to the long-standing character of the sport.”
The use of long and belly -putters, and how they are anchored to parts of the body, became an issue last year when Simpson won the US Open and Ernie Els claimed the British Open using such putters. Following on from Keegan Bradley’s win in the 2011 US PGA, it meant proponents of the long-putters had won three of four Majors.
As far as the governing bodies were concerned, despite the fact long-putters had been around for decades, the landscape had changed. This was given further credence by the number of young players using such putters, emphasised by teenager Guan Tianlang’s win in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, which has earned him an invitation to the Masters in April.
With just a matter of days left of the consultation process, Finchem’s stance was strong and gave credence to Ian Poulter’s observation that it could all get “messy”.
Finchem said: “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.”
He insisted the PGA Tour is yet to consider the course of action it would take if the ban was implemented and whether it would rally against the USGA. “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 . . . but we have not even begun that discussion.