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Finchem’s Stance Could Start Firestorm

Tim Finchem has never been known to be meddlesome, at least not so you’d notice. That is, until now. The PGA Tour commissioner has stuck (check all that apply) – (a) his nose, (b) the Policy Board’s nose, (c) the Tour’s collective nose squarely and defiantly into what had previously been solely the USGA’s business. Finchem appeared Sunday on NBC during the WGC-Accenture Match Play telecast and announced that he had written a letter to the USGA on the Tour’s behalf, opposing the proposed ban on anchored putting strokes, which are not real strokes, according to the USGA, which is what all the commotion is over to start with. But what this deal really is about is who gets to make the rules under which the best players in the world must abide, which means it’s totally about power, and not the coefficient of restitution variety. The PGA Tour, with Finchem in the lead, is standing firm against the USGA, saying to the rules makers, “We know what’s better for our game than you do.” It’s funny how this all coalesced. When the USGA and R&A announced the proposed ban on anchoring in December, Finchem’s first public comments were that he didn’t want this to be a distraction (his word). And it led many in the game to believe that the Tour would implement the ban earlier than 2016, the date the new rule would come into effect, perhaps even at the beginning of next year. Then, seemingly all of a sudden, Finchem convened a conference call among the Tour’s Policy Board and Player Advisory Council at which he is reported to have shared with the representatives that he opposed the ban and urged the two bodies to do the same. And the phone caucus produced an overwhelming vote in support of the commissioner’s stand on the matter. The USGA and R&A allowed a 90-day “comment period” before officially carving the rule in stone, which demonstrates that you should be careful what you wish for. Virtually every other equipment rule that the USGA has adopted has been accepted by the PGA Tour and its players, grudgingly or not. It’s certain that the USGA expected blowback on this issue but it’s equally certain the rules-making organization didn’t expect this to blow up in its face. This slings the lid off Pandora’s Box and has the very real unintended consequence of throwing the elite professional game into virtual chaos. If the Tour refuses to accept the anchored putting ban, a different kind of bifurcation could exist – a wide gulf between the best players in the world and everyone else. Finchem and the Tour have considerable clout, make no mistake. The Tour is powerful enough that it could create a condition of competition that would allow competitors in its tournaments to use anchored strokes. But that power is limited. Much to the Tour’s consternation, it doesn’t conduct a single major championship, except for that fifth one for which Finchem has lobbied for so long. The U.S. Open and Open Championship would be run under the new rule and contestants would not be allowed to use anchored putting strokes. The Masters would likely go along with the USGA and R&A. The PGA of America has come out in opposition to the ban, so it could be that anchored strokes could be allowed in the PGA Championship. Does that mean that players such as Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley and Ernie Els wouldn’t enter the majors that ban anchored strokes? That seems unfathomable. Or would the anchored putters switch to a short putter just for the majors? That seems equally unlikely. There are simply no good or practical answers to these questions. If the rules are whacked back and forth among the majors, it opens the door to another very real possibility. For the last few years, it has been rumored that officials at The Masters have seriously considered mandating that the players use a ball in the tournament of its own specifications. It would surely be a dialed-back ball, which strikes a match to create a whole other firestorm. And The Masters is the only major championship – the only tournament – that could get away with compelling players to play a ball of its choosing. And if you want a real street brawl, line up the ball makers against the rules makers and watch the fists fly and the lawyers get wealthy. To think this kerfuffle was created because the rules makers are afraid of what might happen instead of what is happening now. They point to the fact that the percentage of Tour players using anchored strokes rose from six to 18 percent in a year. They see a number of juniors using belly putters and fear that one day anchoring is the stroke of choice for the vast majority rather than the stroke of last resort. The problem is that no one, not even the rules makers, as smart as they are, can make such a prediction. Nor could they have predicted that the commissioner of the PGA Tour would ever dream of lining up against them. Now it’s a matter of who blinks first. Practically no one can predict that.


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