While the PGA Tour has indicated it will go along with the ban on anchored putting, don’t assume the anchored putting issue is irrevocably dead. In later paragraphs of the PGA Tour announcement, there was a small shot fired over the bow of the USGA.
It is a simple policy and is one that the PGA Tour utilized back in the days of the square grooves battle, as outlined on its website:
PGA Tour competitions are conducted in accordance with the USGA Rules of Golf. However, the Policy Board reserves the right to make modifications for PGA Tour competitions if it deems it appropriate.
That means if the PGA Tour players decide in the future they want to allow anchoring of long putters, or putting with hockey sticks, they reserve the right to do it. It is the only hope the long putting players not named Matt Kuchar have at this point.
Amateurs have no recourse if they wish to play under the Rules of Golf. The option for them is to play by other rules that they determine at their course, at their clubs or on the first tee. There is no all-seeing, all-encompassing rule that you have to play by the Rules of Golf to play the game. However, most competitions today are played under the Rules of Golf. Recreational players use all kinds of crazy rules.
However, the PGA Tour’s statement added a plea for amateurs and backed the PGA of America in its request to stop the anchoring ban by asking that the USGA reconsider banning anchored strokes for amateurs.
But the USGA is having none of that. They issued a follow-up to their original announcement on their official website, which read:
The United States Golf Association is pleased with the decision by the PGA Tour and The PGA of America to follow Rule 14-1b, when it goes into effect in January 2016, for their respective competitions. As set forth in our report, ‘Explanation of Decision to Adopt Rule 14-1b,’ the game benefits from having a single set of rules worldwide, applicable to all levels of play, and the acceptance of Rule 14-1b by the PGA Tour and The PGA of America supports the game in this regard.
It’s the "all levels of play” that includes amateurs. In other words, amateurs, forget it. You are stuck with non-anchoring if you want to play under the Rules of Golf.
In May, PGA Tour player Tim Clark said he had retained Harry Manion, managing partner of Cooley Manion Jones, LLP, in Boston as counsel.
In a USA Today article, Clark said:
We would like to get this resolved without taking it that far. We want what is best for the game, too. But when this came out months ago, it was in my best interest to take care of myself and that might include litigation. I am in jeopardy as a professional golfer. This is how I make a living.
Manion represents Tim Clark, Carl Pettersson and as many as seven other PGA Tour players.
A few days after Clark’s announcement, Emily Kay of SB Nation reported that Manion said, “If [Finchem does a 180] and Tim [Clark] tries to continue as a professional and he can’t effectively compete without the stroke he’s used for 18 years, most of his professional career,” hypothesized Manion, who added Pettersson into the scenario, “and they can’t engage in their livelihoods, yeah, I think they have damages to claim.”
Contacted July 2 for reaction to the PGA Tour decision, Manion commented, “I really don't have anything to say other than my clients are not contemplating legal action at this time."
First, it’s only been a few days since the PGA Tour made their announcement. The real question for PGA Tour players may be who to sue, the USGA and R&A, or the PGA Tour, or both?
If they do nothing, then they will all have to find another way to putt, which in the grand scheme of things, for all players except potentially Tim Clark, is probably something they can do, one way or another. Clark has a problem with his arms and elbows that do not allow him to stand and use a regular length putter.
Where this decision may have significant impact is on the Champions Tour where one of their most successful players, Bernhard Langer, has used a long putter with an anchored stroke for several years. Will he go back to the “blood pressure” grip he used to win The Masters in 1985? It is similar to Matt Kuchar’s grip.
What about golfers like Fred Couples, one of the most popular players on the senior circuit, who likes the belly putter because it doesn’t stress his back? Will he just walk away from professional golf in 2016? He’ll be 57 years old, and it may be the end of his playing career.
The PGA of America remains unconvinced that the USGA decision is best for golf and amateur golfers, according to an article on their website:
“We had a very spirited debate and discussion among our Board members at the June meeting,” said PGA President Ted Bishop. “The PGA of America respects the USGA as the Rules-governing body in the United States. We firmly and consistently stated our position throughout the open comment period, and while we agree to implement Rule 14-1b, we continue to feel strongly that the amateur player needs a longer period of adjustment to this Rule.”
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials or statements from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.