How the USGA's Proposed Putting Ban Could Dramatically Alter the Game of Golf

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistFebruary 25, 2013

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 16: PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem is introduced during the Opening Ceremony prior to the start of the 2011 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne Golf Course on November 16, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Late in 2012, the United States Golf Association and Royal & Ancient proposed a change to the Rules of Golf that would essentially outlaw anchored putting strokes from the game.

As part of the process for implementing this rather substantial rules change, the USGA and R&A gave golf’s governing bodies 90 days to review the proposed changes and provide formal feedback.

The PGA of America immediately came out and stated that it is against banning anchored putting strokes from the game of golf.

The PGA of America issued its response through a letter in late November 2012 stating the following:

We believe that golf is the greatest of all games. We also believe that we need to continue to do what is necessary to preserve all that makes it unique and, consistent with our mission, take actions to grow the game. Therefore, as you near decisions regarding a potential ban on anchoring, we wanted to be sure that you were aware of the polling results as our PGA members are truly the tangible connection between the game and its participants.

As Mike [Davis] mentioned in his presentation to us at our PGA Annual Meeting in Baltimore earlier this month, there does not appear to be any data that suggests that anchoring a golf club results in an unfair competitive advantage. In the absence of such data and based on the polling of our PGA members and all of the exciting progress the industry has made through Golf 2.0 and other related initiatives to make the game more fun and, quite frankly, more enjoyable and welcoming to a broader and more diverse audience, we respectfully ask you to consider our concerns."

Yesterday afternoon the PGA Tour officially announced that it too are against the USGA and R&A’s proposed anchoring ban, which is set to take effect in 2016.

Time Finchem stated the following during a press conference yesterday afternoon at the WGC-Accenture Match-Play Championship in Marana, Arizona.

“The USGA and the R&A notified us several months ago about their intention to put forward a proposal to change‑‑ essentially change the rule as it relates to what a stroke is by further defining it as something where you can't ground your club and anchor your club.  In addition to the historical limitations on what a stroke is of scraping the ball or scooping the ball or pushing the ball.

We then undertook to go through a process to determine our position on that because they had a commentary that ends next week.  We brought that to a conclusion last week.  You're all aware of that because of the comments that have been made by folks who were involved in that process.  Our Player Advisory Council looked at it twice.  We had the USGA come in and make a presentation to a player meeting in San Diego, USGA made a presentation to our Board.

We researched and looked at it and articulated our position at the end of last week to the USGA and shared that thinking also with the R&A.

Essentially where the PGA Tour came down was that it did not think that banning anchoring was in the best interest of golf or the PGA Tour.  I would note that the PGA of America came to the same conclusion after consultation with its membership. The Golf Course Owners Association came to the same conclusion, as well.”

This is all well and good. The PGA of America and PGA Tour were both given the opportunity to issue a response to the proposed rule changes and that is precisely what they have done.

But, this does not mean that the USGA and R&A will change their stance on the matter and do away with the proposed anchoring ban. If anything, it is likely that the USGA & R&A will simply continue with the 2016 deadline for banning anchored putting strokes from the game.

For more than 100 years now, the USGA and R&A have considered themselves to be the guardians of the game of golf. So, if they feel strongly that anchored putting strokes are taking the game of golf in a direction different to how the game was originally meant to be played, some backlash from organizations such as the PGA Tour or PGA of America will not stop them from moving forward with a rules change that they feel is in the best interest of the game.

This is not the first time that golf’s governing bodies or key stakeholders have been adamantly against proposed rules changes brought forward by the USGA and R&A, and it certainly won’t be the last.

So let’s assume that the USGA and R&A go ahead with their 2016 ban on anchored putting strokes. The key question then becomes: how will the PGA Tour and PGA of America then decide to proceed?

Both governing bodies have historically adhered to the Rules of Golf put forth by the USGA, although they are not required to do so.  

So, if the PGA of America and PGA Tour are adamantly against the 2016 anchored putting stroke ban, they do have the option to continue holding their events under a set of rules different to those put forth by the USGA and R&A.  

“I wouldn't want to speculate right now except to say that ideally we agree that all the rules should be under one roof, all the rules should be the same for everybody” Finchem said yesterday afternoon during NBC’s telecast.

 “I can see some situations where you might bifurcate the rules, but that wouldn't be the first choice.
Right now, we're hopeful and the PGA is hopeful that the USGA will maybe change their mind and end it.”

So, let’s for a moment imagine that the USGA & R&A implement their proposed anchoring ban in 2016, but the PGA Tour and PGA of America decide not go along with this rules change.  

In this instance we could very well see a scenario where players are allowed to use belly putters and anchored putting strokes in all PGA Tour events and the PGA Championship, but cannot use anchored putting strokes in the U.S. Open (Run by the USGA), the British Open (Run by the R&A) and possibly the Masters (the Masters has also historically followed the Rules of Golf put Forth by the USGA).

In addition, it’s also quite possible that the European Tour will adhere to the Rules of Golf put forth by the R&A and implement the anchored putting ban in 2016.

This would mean that players such as Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley (who have been using anchored putting strokes for their entire professional careers) could only use this method of putting during standard PGA Tour events and the PGA Championship. They would be forced to either skip or alter their putting strokes for the other three majors and most international events.

As we are still in the very early stages of what will likely be an intense three year battle over anchored putting strokes, this is a scenario that really hasn’t been discussed.  

However, as we have seen time and time again, large bureaucratic organizations typically don’t like to be told what to do by other large bureaucratic organizations. So it is quite possible that the USGA and R&A could really butt heads with the PGA Tour and PGA of America on this matter to the point where neither side is willing to back down.

And if that does wind up being the path that these organizations decide to travel over the next three years, the game of golf and particularly the major championships could become quite interesting from 2016 and beyond.

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