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Commentary: Why the PGA Tour Will Ultimately Go Along with Anchoring Ban

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(Update: On July 1, 2013, the PGA Tour announced it will implement the anchoring ban beginning in 2016. The PGA of America made a similar announcement one week earlier.)

Feb. 26, 2013 - The PGA Tour has privately communicated to the USGA, and publicly stated, its opposition to the proposed anchoring ban.

So where does that leave us? Does this mean that the PGA Tour will still allow anchoring even if the USGA/R&A rule change banning the practice goes into effect?

In my opinion, no, the PGA Tour will not defy the governing bodies. Ultimately, the PGA Tour will, I believe, go along with the ban.

First, let's stipulate the proposed Rule 14-1b is finalized and adopted by the R&A and USGA (there's no reason to think otherwise at this point) soon. Assuming that, the anchoring ban will take effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

The PGA Tour says it doesn't want the ban, doesn't like the idea, prefers the rule not take effect. So why won't the tour simply refuse to implement Rule 14-1b on Jan. 1, 2016?

Let's look at the landscape that might exist at that time. What are the other tours and major tournaments going to be doing about the anchoring ban?

The Majors and Anchoring

• All USGA and R&A championships will ban anchoring. That means the U.S. Open and British Open, the Amateurs, Senior Opens and Ams, Women's Opens and Ams. No more anchoring in any of them, nor in any other USGA and R&A tournaments. Is a PGA Tour player going to want to putt with an anchored long putter all season, only to have to switch to a traditional stroke in order to play the U.S. Open or British Open?

• If I were a gambling man, I'd be willing to bet large amounts of money that Augusta National will follow the governing bodies, rather than the PGA Tour's position. That means no anchoring at The Masters. Again, does a PGA Tour player want to switch from anchoring to not anchoring in the majors?

• What about the PGA of America? That's a harder situation to read. The PGA has stated its opposition to the ban, but that opposition is based on what the PGA perceives as the needs and desires of its club pros and the recreational golfers those club pros teach. The PGA of America hasn't stated any position on anchoring among professional tour players.

The PGA of America runs the PGA Championship and runs the Ryder Cup along with the European Tour. And PGA Tour players have threatened to boycott the PGA Championship in the past over disputes with the PGA. The PGA might not want to risk alienating Tour players by enforcing Rule 14-1b. The PGA of America's position for its pro tournaments is harder to call, but I think it's likely in its marquee pro events that the PGA goes along with the ban.

That leaves three of the four majors certainly banning anchoring, and likely all four.

Other Tours/Events and Anchoring

• The European Tour is going to support the R&A and accede to the anchoring ban. Any USPGA Tour player who anchors would have to revert to a traditional stroke in order to play a Euro Tour tournament (and collect those sweet appearance fees).

And the European Tour jointly running the Ryder Cup makes it more likely that event operates with the anchoring ban in effect. So Keegan Bradley makes the US Ryder Cup team but can't use his regular putter?

• Other men's tours. Keep in mind that the USGA only governs golf in the USA and Mexico (and a handful of smaller places). The R&A governs everywhere else. And in the R&A's territories, there doesn't seem to be much of an outcry at all over the proposed anchoring ban. So expect nearly all the men's tours outside the USA to go along with Rule 14-1b (the Canadian Tour, now owned by the USPGA Tour, would be an exception).

So within the world of men's golf (we don't yet know what the LPGA's position is), the PGA Tour would be nearly alone in refusing to abide by Rule 14-1b.

That would create real problems for PGA Tour players, within the length of a season, who anchor: Majors that ban anchoring, other tours that ban anchoring. It would also create problems of perception orders of magnitude larger than anything Bradley and other anchorers have encountered thus far. (Bradley and others who anchor say they are being called cheaters by some fans at tournaments. Very unfortunate, because anchoring is legal right now - no cheating involved - and will remail legal at least until Jan. 1, 2016.)

• WGC Tournaments. What happens to them if the PGA Tour allows anchoring but the other WGC-sanctioning tours don't? Could the World Golf Championships series come to an end? Would the PGA Tour impose its will, at least on those WGC tournaments played in the USA? Would the other tours "outvote" the USPGA and demand an anchoring-free WGC? These kinds of questions will weigh more on the USPGA because it will be nearly alone (in major men's golf) in allowing anchoring.

Anchoring and Putters/Putting Styles

Proposed Rule 14-1b will not be in effect as part of the Rules of Golf until Jan. 1, 2016. That's nearly three years from the time this article was written. That's a long time for golf club manufacturers to tweak the designs of their long-shafted putters, and that's a long time for PGA Tour players who currently anchor to experiment with other methods of using longer-shafted putters. For example, bracing a belly putter or long putter against one's lead arm, which will be legal under Rule 14-1b.

Innovations, in both equipment and putting style, will happen between now and Jan. 1, 2016. We can't know what form they will take, and not all of them will be helpful to those currently anchoring - but there will be options. And in three years, the anchorers might have hit upon a fantastic replacement for anchoring that they believe works just as well.

Another Option for PGA Tour: Grandfathering

There's also a compromise position for the PGA Tour: It could go along with the anchoring ban, but "grandfather in" those tour players who currently anchor, allowing them - and only them - to continue anchoring.

Approximately 18-percent of PGA Tour players anchor, as of February 2013. What if the PGA Tour made a list of every tour player who used an anchored putter in competition between Nov. 28, 2012 (when the proposed Rule 14-1b was unveiled) through Feb. 28, 2013 (when the 90-day comment period ended)? Those players, the tour could announce, would be allowed to continue anchoring past Jan. 1, 2016, in PGA Tour events, but the anchoring ban would be in effect for all others.

It's been done in other sports. When Major League Baseball banned the spitball, it grandfathered in 17 pitchers, allowing them to continue using the banned pitch. As those players left the scene, the spitball disappeared from the game.

Anchorers who were grandfathered beyond Jan. 1, 2016, would eventually switch to a different putting method, or lose their Tour cards, or retire.

There would also be tremendous pressure on them to adopt a different method of putting prior to the anchoring ban and, especially, afterward. Most of them would do so, not wanting to subject themselves to that pressure, or, especially, to accusations of cheating.

Grandfathering would be a messy option, but it would, in fact, be an option.

But the fact is that defying the governing bodies on the ban - while almost all other tours and organizations in professional golf were implementing Rule 14-1b - would be very, very messy for the PGA Tour in many ways.

And that is why today, as I conclude this, I am very confident in predicting that the PGA Tour will ultimately decide to go along with the USGA/R&A position and implement a ban on anchoring.

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