PGA Tour to announce its opposition to anchored-putting ban on Sunday

February 25, 2013

MARANA, Ariz. – The biggest decision Tim Finchem is going to make on Sunday is whether to go with the hard-collar golf shirt or a tie. You know he'll be wearing a blazer when he sits with Johnny Miller of NBC and tells golfers around the world what we've all been waiting for: the PGA Tour's position on anchored putting.

He'll say what his players want him to say and what he agrees with himself. In two meetings this week, with the 15-member Players Advisory Council and the nine-member Tour Policy Board, Finchem heard overwhelmingly that the players want the Tour to ask the USGA and the R&A to back off the proposed 2016 ban on anchored putting. And that's what he'll say.

Finchem, of course, could do that in a letter to the USGA, and surely will. He's going on TV, during the final day of the Accenture Match Play Championship, because he knows how this game is really played. It's being waged, as all fights are in this unprincipled age, in the court of public opinion. He wants the golfing public to be behind the Tour's position. War is on, and he's playing to win.

The USGA is not. The USGA is run by a true gent, Mike Davis, and he thinks that the simple act of doing what's in the best interests of the game will carry the day. In other words, he and the Far Hillers sincerely believe that anchored putting — holding the butt end of the club in your belly or against your chest or (most weirdly) under your chin — does not constitute a traditional, free-swinging stroke.

They are terribly sincere in their position. Every person I know who truly loves the Scottish roots of the game — Arnold Palmer, for one — feels the same way. The USGA imagines a day, a half-century from now, when 70 or 80 or 90 percent of golfers will putt the anchored way. And they don't think that development will constitute an improvement in the game.

It's hard to see how they win this battle. Finchem and the PGA Tour will make sure of it.

Finchem is not going to say, "If the USGA goes ahead with the ban, we will consider adopting a local rule permitting anchored putting." Why? He doesn't need to. He knows the USGA knows the Tour will consider such a move. And if that happens, the USGA's authority could evaporate like spilled milk in the Arizona desert. And then who will control the moment of inertia? The moment-of-interia guidelines are the only thing keeping Dustin Johnson from driving the ball 400 yards at sea level in the dead calm.

The USGA has to realize that doing the right thing is not enough these days. You have to figure out how to win the war on Twitter, and the USGA failed there. A guess is that the USGA will see the handwriting on the wall and announce it will take the matter of anchored putting under advisement. And the next time it wants to make a significant rule change, it will gather the troops and circle the wagons and lawyer-up the cause and all that nonsense before issuing a single press release.

For the proposed ban on anchored putting to work, the USGA needed the PGA of America on its side, which was never going to be easy and is downright impossible right now, not with an activist president, Ted Bishop, who opposes the ban, in power. It needed Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam. It was never going to get Keegan Bradley or Webb Simpson, to name the first two golfers to win a major with an anchored putter, but it might have been able to recruit Ernie Els, the third such winner.

Instead, Tour players who were in favor of the ban, or indifferent to the issue, were swayed, but here's the argument that will win them over every time: In some immeasurable way, a ban on anchored putting is bad for business, and the PGA Tour will always do what's good for business. Along the way, the personal travails of the likable Tim Clark, who has a wrist condition that prevents him from making a traditional putting stroke, also swayed many players. Wallet and heart. Wallet, especially. The USGA had no chance.

That's why Tim Finchem is going on TV on Sunday. He wants your business. He depends on it.