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.
“All we’ve done is done what we were asked to do, which is to give them our best input and advice on that particular initiative. That’s a different question, and it would be speculative for me to guess where that might come out.”
It is believed a turning point in the US Tour’s forceful stance came at a recent players meeting in San Diego, where South African Tim Clark spoke on the matter and of how any rule change would threaten his livelihood. “(Clark) can’t even grip the club the right way,” said Robert Garrigus, referring to a genetic condition that hinders Clark from rotating his forearms and wrists inwards.
A follow-up consultation with members of the US Tour’s policy advisory committee resulted in 13 of the 15 players coming out against the proposed rule change.
The RA and the USGA have said they will appraise all of the information before making a definitive judgment, probably in March. There is no doubt, however, that the PGA Tour’s stance – as verbalised by Finchem – came with an underlying suggestion that, on this matter, the US Tour could yet ignore any rule change pertaining to anchoring.
Such a stance would lead to one law for amateurs, and one law for professionals (at least on the US Tour). It could also lead to a bizarre situation whereby players participating in the Masters, the US Open and the British Open could be required to leave long-putters out of the bag but be able to use them in other weeks on the US Tour. As far as the European Tour is concerned, a wait-and-see approach has been adopted but chief executive George O’Grady has spoken of the need for the “rules-making bodies have to do what they think is right for the game”.
In favour of the proposed ban
Tiger Woods, Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Brandt Snedeker, Graeme McDowell, Pádraig Harrington, Steve Stricker, Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Nick Faldo
Against the proposed ban
Ernie Els, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Tim Clark, Adam Scott, Carl Pettersson, Bill Haas, Tom Lehman, Bernhard Langer
The long and the short of it....
The traditional, conventional putter measures from 32 to 26 inches and remains the club of choice for the majority of players, professional and amateurs alike. However, there is an accepted consensus that players using the conventional putter are at a disadvantage over short putts – inside 10 feet – because such putters require a minimum of wrist action and mental fortitude.
In contrast, the belly-putter – which generally measures from 41 to 44 inches – provides stability in that it allows a third point of contact (the abdomen) along with each hand. This anchoring provides stability and balance to the stroke and means the wrist action is easier to control. Against that, distance control is more difficult because of the longer shaft and also because these clubs generally have thicker grips. The broomhandle putter – measuring from 48 to 52 inches in length – is longer than the belly-putter and has the advantage of taking wrist action on the stroke out of play.