Influential PGA Tour Commissioner, Tim Finchem, recently made a statement that could lead to a split in the way golf is governed, even played. On Sunday 24 February, during the playing of the World Golf Matchplay Final in Tucson, Arizona, he declared that the PGA Tour opposed the recently proposed ban on anchoring the putting stroke.
The U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club announced on 28 November last, a proposed rule that would prohibit players from anchoring the club to their body, the method used for belly putters and broom-handled putters that are pressed against the chest. Belly putters were used by three of the last five major winners.
The ban is scheduled to come into effect in 2016. It is currently undergoing a 90-day “discussion period” where interested parties have their say.
In the USA and Mexico, the Rules of Golf are governed by the USGA. The R&A governs the Rules for the rest of the world. Both these organisations work in tandem, especially when it comes to the review and setting of rules. The anchoring ban, for example, was a joint action undertaken simultaneously by both organisations, as is the case whenever a rules review is completed. Golf has one set of rules, wherever the game is played. Finchem’s statement may well test this age-old tenet.
Of the six major men’s tours and three women’s tours, the PGA is by far the biggest and most influential. It represents professional golfers who play in PGA Tour events. Apart from these events it also controls one of the four majors – the PGA, along with the Ryder and President’s Cup events – when hosting – and the conditions under which they are played.
Finchem, who has been commissioner since 1994, said the tour opposed the ban because there was not enough evidence that proved players received advantage when using a long putter. He went on to say, “We hold the USGA in highest regard as a key part of the game of golf. We don’t attempt to denigrate that position in any way whatsoever. It’s just on this issue, we think if they were to move forward they would be making a mistake.”
That Finchem chose to take the spotlight away from the playing of the WGC Matchplay Final, by interrupting the live telecasting of the event, suggests he wanted the PGA’s position on this issue to receive maximum exposure. It did.
Leaving aside the question of whether the proposed ban is right or wrong, Finchem’s public action puts the USGA in a position of going through with the ban, or backing down, because the PGA Tour oppose it.
The golfing world waited with baited breath for some response. It wasn’t long in coming. George O’Grady, Finchem’s equivalent on the European Tour (men) and his guest at the World Matchplay event, waited a week before responding; “The European Tour has confirmed its support for the R&A and the USGA and their proposal for rule 14-1b – the prohibition of anchoring any club when making a stroke under the Rules of Golf.”
That the European Tour did not support their American cousins did not surprise. However, the extent to which O’Grady showed support for the R&A/USGA stance was made very clear; “Our members support the unique role played by the governing bodies in formulating the rules. Additionally, virtually all of our tournament committee and player representatives support the proposed rule even though they are aware, and have taken into account, the fact that some members and especially our senior members use the anchored method.”
The European Tour’s stance may have left Finchem feeling rather lonely, a feeling enhanced, no doubt, by Jack Nicklaus. Golf’s greatest-ever winner, during his TV stint at the final round of the Honda Open on Sunday 3 March, stated unequivocally, “The thing that would disturb me was if the Tour took another position other than the USGA’s and R&A’s final position. The Tour has always played by one set of rules and I think we should stay that way.”
More recently, other tour organisations have come out in support of the USGA and R&A, suggesting the PGA Tour is looking more isolated by the day.
Imagine if the PGA Tour gets its wish; we could have the ludicrous situation of belly putters being banned in all but one of the majors. US-based professionals could use different clubs than their amateur colleagues. And what about the Ryder Cup?
My view is that golfers should be allowed to putt with any sized putter they like, as long as it’s the shortest club in their bag. There are two reasons for this. One, using conventional length putters ensures an actual stroke is required to hit the ball, and two, the one or two-club rule, when seeking relief, will no longer give the long putter exponent an extra foot or two.
Golf’s Big Earners:
Last week’s blog – Playing in the Wind – finished by asking Who were the top five earning golfers for 2012?
As explained in detail last week, Golf Digest combined both on and off-course earnings and came up with the following (previous year’s position in brackets). Figures, in USD, show on-course followed by off-course earnings and the aggregate of the two.
- Tiger Woods (1) $9,124,386 – $77,000,000 – $86,124,386
- Phil Mickelson (2) $5,335,267 – $40,000,000 – $45,335,267
- Arnold Palmer (3) $40,000 – $36,000,000 – $36,040,000
- Jack Nicklaus (4) $47,000 – $28,000,000 – $28,047,000
- Rory McIlroy (11) $15,582,782 – $7,000,000 – $22,582,782
The above suggests two veracities; the amount of money that can be earned by giving one’s name to course architecture – mak mak! And the number of years one can expect such royalties to continue well after commercial endorsements expire – mak mak!