By Jim McCabe, Golfweek
MARANA, Ariz. – The PGA Tour has gone public with its opposition to the U.S. Golf Association and R&A's call for a ban on the anchored stroke.
Commissioner Tim Finchem, who met with the Player Advisory Council and the Tour's Policy Board last week, conveyed the membership's sentiment in a news conference Sunday.
"We don't think that banning anchoring is in the best interest of golf and the PGA Tour," Finchem said.
The anchored stroke, most commonly associated with the long and belly putters that have come into prominence in recent years – notably with major champions Keegan Bradley (2011 PGA), Webb Simpson (2012 U.S. Open) and Ernie Els (2012 Open Championship) – has come under fire from the game's purists, who argue that anchoring a club against the body violates the spirit of the game. In short, they say, it's akin to taking advantage of a loophole in the rules. The USGA and R&A called for a ban on the stroke when the Rules of Golf are updated in 2016, and they held a 90-day comment period which ends Feb. 28.
Finchem said there's no proof that the stroke, which has been around for decades, is any better than a conventional putting stroke.
"In the absence of data or any basis that it offers a competitive advantage and the amount of time that anchoring has been in the game, there's no overriding reason to go down that road."
He cited players who worked hard to perfect the putting stroke that for years "the USGA had approved of." Taking that away from those players "would be unfair," he said
He then emphasized that the PGA Tour "holds the USGA in the highest regard," and stories and articles indicating that this is grounds for a donnybrook are not accurate. The PGA Tour will continue to support the USGA and the R&A, Finchem said.
The Tour will sit back in the next month or so and "we'll see what develops," Finchem said. If the governing bodies do ban anchoring? "I don't know," Finchem said. He sounded as if he doesn't want to do battle, but he did underscore the possibility of bifurcation – i.e., two sets of rules: one for the professionals and elite amateurs, another for recreational players.
"We retain the right (not to follow USGA rules) in certain instances where we see fit," Finchem said.
But all of this, he said, "is what they asked us to do: give them our best input and advice."
The USGA issued a statement Sunday night regarding its proposed Rule 14-1b:
“The 90-day comment period remains a very good process. We continue to listen to varying points of view, and have had many productive conversations across the golf community, which is a reminder of just how much people care about the game – regardless of their position on this issue.
“As we consider the various perspectives on anchoring, it has always been our position that Rule 14-1b aims to clarify and preserve the traditional and essential nature of the golf stroke, which has helped to make golf a unique and enjoyable game of skill and challenge.
“It is our plan to take final action on the proposed Rule in the spring.”
Finchem also said he expects a decision soon regarding Vijay Singh, who admitted in late January that he had used deer-antler spray, which contains Insulin-like Growth Factor-1, known as IGF-1, a substance banned by the PGA Tour.
Because Singh's incident involves "performance-enhancing drugs," Finchem said any discipline would be made public. When a player transgression involves "conduct," he said the Tour will continue to keep such matters private.
Singh, who turned 50 on Feb. 22, has not been prohibited from playing on the PGA Tour during the process. Since his admission, which came in the wake of a Feb. 4 Sports Illustrated article reporting his use of the product, Singh has played in two Tour events. He tied for 50th in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and tied for 51st in the next week's Northern Trust Open.
Sanctions for a first-time offense could include a ban of up to one year on the PGA Tour and a fine of up to $500,000.
The PGA Tour acknowledges only one violation of its policy that covers performance-enhancing drugs. In 2009, Doug Barron was suspended for one year. Barron was taking Lyrica as a substitute for propranolol, a banned substance, and exogenous testosterone, which he received by an injection from a doctor. He had been prescribed propranolol since age 17. Barron had applied for two therapeutic exemptions for the medications, but the Tour denied the requests. Barron continued to take the drugs. He recently announced his retirement as a full-time touring professional.