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European Tour will support anchored-putting ban leaving PGA Tour as the odd-man out

Tim Finchem, Mike Davis
Fred Vuich/SI
Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA, and Tim Finchem, commissioner of the PGA Tour, at the 2011 U.S. Open.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- On Monday, the European Tour is expected to announce that it will support the R&A and the USGA in their proposed ban on anchored putting. The South African tour has already taken that position. (Update: the European Tour announced its support for the ban on Monday.)

Last week, a small group of LPGA players and officials talked to USGA executives and posed questions about the proposed ban. From what LPGA commissioner Mike Whan has said, there's no reason to believe the LPGA will do anything except support whatever position the USGA and the R&A take. All of which puts the PGA Tour in an odd-man-out position.

Which, it says here, is exactly where Tim Finchem wants it.

On Sunday of the Accenture Match Play Championship, the wily PGA Tour commissioner, both in a press conference and on the NBC broadcast, made an effective case for why his tour was asking the USGA to withdraw its support of the proposed ban. He didn't cite the numbers, but he talked about the polling he did with the 15-member Players Advisory Council and the nine-member Tour Policy Board. By a combined margin of 22-2, the two groups asked Finchem to ask the USGA to back off. Finchem, a skilled politician and a corporate survivor if ever there was one, did exactly what he was asked to do.

But he's in a tricky spot. Because he also has to respond to other mainstage constituents who are strongly opposed to anchored putting. They include, most notably, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods, and other power brokers in the game who are in his universe. For instance, Augusta National chairman Billy Payne, who does not anchor-putt and who represents a club that has long, historical ties to the USGA and would never question the organization's authority over the game.

There's a lot of guesswork in this sentence, but I think the USGA and the R&A are going to be able to institute the proposed rule change, beginning in 2016, just as they have been planning to do. Finchem, and this whole thing of course is not about Finchem, will have successfully covered himself with both groups and will be able to say to his players who are opposed to the ban, "We tried, but we can't institute our own rule and go against the rest of the world." The anchoring crowd might talk about hiring high-priced legal talent to take on the USGA. Shades of the old 1980s grooves suit against Ping.

But it's hard to imagine how any court is going to say that the USGA, along with the R&A, does not have the right to make the rules by which golf is played. After all, we're talking about a game! There are no right-to-work issues here. Casey Martin had right-to-work issues. He needed a cart to play professional golf. Guys who anchor-putt can find another way to get the ball in the hole. Casey Martin needed a way up a hill. By the way, did Tim Finchem have Martin's back as he had the backs of the limited number of Tour players who anchor-putt? Absolutely not.

Then there's Tim Clark, the likable South African who putts with a long wand. His testimony at a January players' meeting at Torrey Pines, at which he described a muscle abnormality that prevents him from putting the conventional way, did a great deal to engender sympathy among the lodge brothers to fight the ban. If the new rule becomes formally approved sometime in the next few months, he will learn to adapt. It won't be that hard. He will make the exact same stroke he makes now with the exact same putter except now his upper hand will be an inch or two away from his chest.

All this will happen because the PGA Tour will not be comfortable being the only professional tour to enact a rule of competition by which anchored putting is allowed. The PGA Tour cannot be a party to bedlam. Bedlam is not in its DNA. Neither is thumbing its nose at the ultimate authority figure of U.S. golf.

Had the European Tour questioned the wisdom of the proposed change, this whole conversation could be different. But it didn't, or it won't once it makes its announcement on Monday. The PGA Tour knows it cannot stand by itself.

And what does it mean for you at home, if the USGA and the R&A get their way? Casual golfers will continue to use the method, and why shouldn't they? The PGA of America will grudgingly accept the ban. The bosses there might encourage individual clubs to create local rules, if they are so inclined, to allow anchored putting, but I don't think there will be much of that. People will see that the rule is well-reasoned. Nobody is taking away long putters -- just the method by which they are used.

What the PGA will really watch closely is whether a successful USGA feels empowered to try to reduce the distance a ball flies. Nobody would stand for that, right? We'll see.

In the meantime, the LPGA players asked a series of insightful questions about the proposed ban. They saw Matt Kuchar win that Sunday at the Accenture, the same day on which Finchem made his comments on national TV. They were interested to know why Kuchar's method, in which he runs the shaft up his left forearm, is not considered anchored putting. Mike Davis, the USGA executive director, gave the answer: because his hands are swinging freely. They are unencumbered.

What the USGA is trying to protect here is the idea that a golf club should be moved by a free-swinging action. That is an essential element of the game. It has been for centuries. Yes, anchored putting has been around for decades. Yes, this move should have come a long time ago. But the Far Hillers' attitude is better now than never, and I think their argument, that a club should not be pressed against your body, is going to carry the day.

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