Friday, May 25, 2018
Sports

PGA meeting hints at tensions over belly putter

SAN DIEGO — The first PGA Tour meeting on a proposed rule for long putters made only one thing clear to commissioner Tim Finchem: There's still a long way to go to decide what the tour will do, and it figures to be messy.

"It's a very different kind of issue, and it stirs a lot of strong feelings," Finchem said Wednesday. "So consequently, it's a difficult situation. Personally, I view the professional game as being the strongest it's ever been. So I don't like to see distractions, but it's not a perfect world."

Finchem also said there might be a place for two sets of rules for the game in certain areas, but he did not think the long putter issue was one of them.

The U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club announced Nov. 28 a proposed rule that would outlaw players from anchoring the club against their bodies. That's the stroke used for belly putters and broom-handle putters. Three of the past five major champions have used belly putters.

Another month remains in a 90-day comment period before the governing bodies decide to adopt the rule. If they do, it would not be enforced until 2016. The PGA Tour, however, can set its own rules.

Finchem invited USGA executive director Mike Davis to Tuesday night's mandatory players meeting before this week's Farmers Insurance Open to explain the proposed rule and how the USGA and R&A arrived at their decision. Davis did not want to talk about how it went. Players leaving the meeting did not want to comment on what was said.

To be determined is the tour's official position on the proposal, which requires meetings with its Players Advisory Council and policy board. Finchem said the tour's objective always has been to follow the USGA on rules, and he did not suggest the tour was about treat this one differently.

Another decision would be whether to enforce the rule earlier than 2016.

The concern is whether the public would look differently at players who anchor the club during the three-year transition period. Keegan Bradley, the first major champion with a belly putter (2011 PGA Championship), has said a fan called him a cheater at the World Challenge at the end of last year.

"My view would be to move it quicker if it's going to happen because it continues to be a distraction if you don't," Finchem said. "You have players on television, in front of galleries, playing with a method that has been outlawed, even though the enforcement date is later. That's in and of itself the makings of a distraction.

"On the other hand, if you're a player who has grown up using that method … you probably are inclined to not want it to go into effect for a period of time."

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