Anchored stroke debate threatens to divide world tours
European Tour, LPGA and several top players all lining up against PGA Tour's stance of opposing the ban
Published on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 09:13AM EST Last updated on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 01:09PM EST
It’s looking more and more like the PGA Tour will be on its own island when it comes to opposing the USGA and R&A’s proposed ban on the anchored stroke.
Commissioner Tim Finchem outlined his Tour’s stance last weekend, saying the PGA had informed the two governing bodies of their opinion after conducting a thorough review of the proposal.
The European Tour is reportedly leaning in the opposite direction with chief executive George O'Grady saying no one is beating down his door asking for a repeal of the proposed ban. According to GolfWeek, if the R&A and USGA decide to ban the anchored stroke, the European Tour would abide by the new rule, regardless of the PGA Tour's stance.
LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan was asked about his Tour’s stance on the issue during a press conference in Singapore and his comments seem to suggest they would conform to whatever rule the governing bodies approve.
“I've said this many times, there's nobody better placed to establish the right rules of the game than the R&A and the USGA. They don't have a stake in it in any other way; in equipment or players, etc., and we have been playing by their rules for a long time. I certainly expect the LPGA will be playing by their rules for a long time from now on.”
Whan said that, unlike the PGA Tour, the ban would not have a major impact on his Tour as they don’t have a large number of players using the anchored or belly putter. He suggested that some-sort of grandfather clause might be a possible alternative.
“ I think there's a lot of discussion right now. I, for one, would be amazed if in the long term we are not all playing by the USGA and R&A rules on every tour. I could be wrong, but it would floor me if it turned out the other way around. “
World number one Rory McIlroy and former Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie both urged the PGA Tour to back whatever decision the game’s governing bodies reach.
“We’ve trusted this game of golf; we’ve put it in the hands of the R&A and the USGA for I don’t know how many years, and we’ve always abided by the rules that they have set,” McIlroy said.
“I don’t think this should be any different. I think golf is pretty good at the minute and it’s in good hands.”
While McIlroy said he believed the decision to ban the anchored stroke was “a bit of a knee-jerk reaction” to the recent success some players were having with it, he would be fine if the governing bodies decide to soften their stance.
“I’m all for people enjoying the game and trying to make the game as easy as possible and bringing people to the game, and if that means that they should allow belly putters or anchor putters to make it easier for the general public, then you know, that’s a good thing.”
McIlroy's new best friend, Tiger Woods, said while he sympathizes with those players on currently use the long putter, his stance would not be swayed by the PGA Tour's decision.
“I understand that. I get it. [Keegan Bradley, Ernie Els and Webb Simpson] play our tour full-time, have won major championships with an anchored putter. I understand [Finchem's] position but I still feel that all 14 clubs should be swung. That hasn’t changed nor will it ever."
Montgomerie added that the PGA Tour’s stance opens up a whole new can of worms.
"Whether the long putter should have been banned 20 years ago or not, it should be banned now. We should abide by that," the Scot told Sky Sports. "To now go against that and say 'my players aren't going to do that', then what happens when you come to USGA events or the British Open? Does that mean you have to use a different club? We want to play as one under the same rules."
MAKING THE CUT: Russell Henley said he couldn’t feel his arms or legs on the back nine of the Sony Open. He was trying to win his first PGA Tour event, and Georgia was on his mind.
“I was trying not to think about Augusta out there,” Henley said after his win, which earned him a spot in the Masters.
Scott Piercy won the RBC Canadian Open last summer and talked about a promise he made to himself to not go to Augusta National unless he was in the Masters field. Ted Potter Jr. said it was a career goal to play in Masters after he qualified by winning The Greenbrier Classic.
These stories likely are to weigh heavily on Augusta National chairman Billy Payne when he decides whether PGA Tour winners in the fall will be invited to the Masters. Payne could announce changes to the criteria during his Wednesday news conference at the Masters.
Augusta National returned to its practice of inviting PGA Tour winners the year after the FedEx Cup began in 2007. But there was a caveat. The club invited winners only of tour events that offered full FedEx Cup points. The opposite-field events, and the Fall Series held after the FedEx Cup ended, didn’t count.
The PGA Tour, however, is going to a wraparound season after this year. That means the six tournaments in the fall will be included in the 2013-14 FedEx Cup season.
The question for Augusta National is whether the winners of those six events will earn a trip down Magnolia Lane.
The club and tour have been talking about it the last several months, and one person involved described the discussions as positive.
The Masters has the smallest field of the majors and wants to keep it that way to enhance the experience of those playing. It has not had more than 100 competitors since 1966, though it has come close it recent years, with 99 in the 2011 tournament.
The most likely scenario is for the Masters to take the winners of the six fall events and eliminate the category of top 30 on the PGA Tour money list.
To follow that model a year ago, there would have been two fewer players at the Masters and three fewer players in 2011 and 2010. And with the U.S. Amateur Public Links soon to go away that would free up another spot.
The Masters got away from inviting PGA Tour winners in 1999. That was the same year the World Golf Championships began, and with the WGCs came opposite-field events the same week. That’s a polite way of saying “watered-down fields,” and the Masters did not deem those winners worthy of an invitation.
Gabriel Hjertstedt won in Tucson the week of the inaugural Match Play Championship. He remains the only opposite-field winner to get invited to the Masters.
When it stopped inviting winners after 1999, the club said it was interested in the most consistent player throughout the year. That’s why the Masters is likely to continue taking the 30 players who qualify for the Tour Championship.
And perhaps it’s no coincidence that the tour is looking to tweak its FedEx Cup points system so that one high finish in the playoff events doesn’t get a player to East Lake (see Chez Reavie in 2011) and qualify him for three majors, including the Masters.
MAJOR TEEN: Chinese teenager Guan Tianlang, who will become the youngest player to compete at the Masters in April, is attempting to get into another golf major. The 14-year-old is hoping to grab one of four spots available for this year’s British Open at the Asian International qualifying tournament in Thailand.
Guan not only created a stir by qualifying for the Masters at such a young age but also because of the fact he uses a long putter.
THE TIGER EFFECT: Butch Harmon first worked with Steve Elkington in the 1980s, and his roster of clients has grown enormously over the years. He coached Greg Norman and Tiger Woods during their rise to No. 1, along with four players in the World Golf Hall of Fame — Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Jose Maria Olazabal, Fred Couples.
But when he worked with President Barack Obama at The Floridian, he was referred to only as Woods’ former swing coach.
“I haven’t been with him for 10 years. It’s irritating to be honest,” Harmon said. “I guess they were looking for a connection because the president was playing with Tiger. But people think Tiger made me successful. No one remembers I took Greg to No. 1 in the world, or all the work with Elkington, or Davis Love III. It’s the press. Anything to sensationalize. And you’re dealing with a White House press that doesn’t know any of these names.”
Hank Haney, on the other hand, expects to be linked with Woods the rest of his life. Then again, Haney didn’t have such a long list of top golfers (except for Mark O’Meara) before coaching Woods, and he has said he won’t coach another.
“It’s a big honour to have coached Tiger,” Haney said. “You couldn’t have a better feather in your cap, especially with the success that Butch Harmon had with Tiger. In terms of my coaching career, obviously nothing can come close to the opportunity I had to work with Tiger Woods.
“I never hit any shots and Butch didn’t, either, he said. ”My friend Bill Parcells always says it best. ‘You are what your record says you are.’ And so how Tiger played while you coached him certainly has a lot to say about you as a coach.“
MOVING THE NEEDLE: Speaking of the Tiger effect, weekend television ratings for the Match Play Championship were the third lowest for Sunday coverage of the event over the past ten years. Sports Media Watch reports that viewership was down 24-percent from last year and only marginally better than 2011.
In fact the last six PGA golf telecasts on broadcast TV have had double-digit declines in overnight ratings. Ratings for round of the Farmers Insurance Open were up 85-percent while the Phoenix Open saw an increase of 65-percent in it’s Sunday coverage. No surprise that the latter two events were won by Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, respectively. Woods skipped both Pebble Beach and Northern Trust before being eliminated in the first round of the Match Play event while Mickelson was a non-factor at Pebble Beach and Northern Trust and decided to go on a family holiday rather than play golf last weekend. Rory McIlroy’s early round exit at Match Play - after advancing all the way to the final a year ago - also didn’t do the networks any favours.
Not helping golf on Sunday was the Daytona 500, which saw its ratings increase 42-percent in the top ten television markets in the U.S. While there likely isn’t a lot of cross-over when it comes to golf fans and NASCAR fans, Danica Patrick’s history-making performance at Daytona likely lured more casual eyeballs to NASCAR than golf.
RYDER CUP TWEAK: European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley has a few ideas about the 2014 qualifying process that he’d like to pass by a few of the players. With more and more players making the PGA their primary tour, McGinley is thinking of tweaking just how many positions off the two points list the European’s use to determine who qualifies for the team.
With 10 of the 12 players who competed for Europe at the last Ryder Cup in Chicago now playing on the PGA Tour full-time, McGinley could opt to increase the number of automatic selections from the World Points list. Currently, the same number of automatic entries come from the World Points list and the European Tour points list. McGinley could also opt to increase the number of wild card picks available to him.
“I’m about 60 percent down the path with that research,” said McGinley. “I want to go to the Players Championship and bounce some of my ideas off the leading European players and to see how open they are to the idea of either a, b or c but without asking them to make a decision.” “However I can assure everyone it will just be a tweak rather than a change because I feel if it’s not broke, why fix it.”
CHARITABLE DISTRUST: A former Marine who lied about having war injuries so he could get free golfing lessons, cash and endorsements faces 20 years in jail after pleading guilty to mail fraud.
Court documents in Dallas, Texas claim Michael Duye Campbell defrauded charities out of at least $40,000 by claiming he was wounded in 2003 while on foot patrol in Iraq. He claimed that he suffered broken bones, a traumatic brain injury, partially lost his memory and was left with a stutter as a result of a bomb blast that killed other members of his unit.
While military records show Campbell served in the Marine Corps from 2000 to 2004, they do not support his claim that he was a combat veteran who suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Prosecutors say Campbell set up a website to promote his cause and that he approached celebrities in the golf world to ask for support. He would persuade them to write stories about him, give him access to expensive golf schools and exclusive courses.
He eventually learned about the Troops First Foundation, a charity led by golf commentator David Feherty, who wrote an article for golf.com about meeting Campbell at a golf tournament in 2010. ''When he told me he was a Marine, I was instantly fine with it. He didn't look injured, but I didn't care. Any member of the military can walk with me, anytime, anywhere,'' Feherty wrote.
According to the court documents, in December 2010, the Troops First Foundation flew Campbell to Dubai, where he took a military transport to Iraq, as part of a program in which wounded veterans are taken to the site where they were injured.
Documents show he also lied to other charities, obtaining money for a car and car insurance, living expenses and golf tournament entry fees. He also received golf gear from sporting goods companies.
While the plea agreement Campbell agreed to does not recommend a sentence, he does face up to 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and restitution to those he deceived. (AP)
“The word cheater, I mean, it’s amazing that people can say that. It’s probably the worst thing you could ever say to an athlete.” -- Keegan Bradley on the reaction of fans and some in the media over his use of the long putter in light of the proposed ban.
Files from the Associated Press and Reuters were used in this report