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For now, at least, there will remain one set of rules for all levels of golf.   After deliberating for a little over a month, the PGA Tour and the PGA of America yesterday announced that they will adopt the ban on anchored strokes which was finalized in May by the USGA and the R&A, golf’s ruling bodies.   The decisions by the Tour and the PGA bring to a close seven months of controversy over whether the anchoring ban is in the best interest of the game of golf.

Players who anchor their putters will have ample time to adapt to a conventional putting stroke.   The Tour decided not to accelerate the effective date of Rule 14-1b, which is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2016.  The USGA and R&A chose that date because it coincides with the next changes to the Rules of Golf, which are made on a 4-year cycle.   Moreover, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem (echoing the comments of the PGA) suggested that the USGA should give consideration to extending the effective date for recreational golfers beyond January 1, 2016.

Last November, the USGA and the R&A issued a proposed rule banning anchoring, on the conviction that the natural golf stroke involves freely swinging the club without bracing it against the abdomen or chest.    Many observers felt that the ruling bodies had waited too long to address the issue, given that long putters appeared on the scene more than 20 years ago.   Anchoring has drawn more attention in recent years with players such as Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, and Ernie Els winning major championships while anchoring their putters.   The PGA of America and the PGA Tour both initially criticized the proposed rule, and the possibility of a “rules bifurcation” emerged – that different rules could apply to different levels of golf.

In his statement yesterday, Finchem explained that the Tour’s policy board “recognized that there are still varying opinions among our membership, but ultimately concluded that while it is an important issue, a ban on anchored strokes would not fundamentally affect a strong presentation of our competitions or the overall success of the PGA Tour.  The Board also was of the opinion that having a single set of rules on acceptable strokes applicable to all professional competitions worldwide was desirable and would avoid confusion.”  Notably, the European Tour had supported the ban on anchoring.

Although the Tour has acquiesced to the anchoring ban, Finchem cautioned that it is not inconceivable that sometime down the road it could diverge from USGA rules.  “Although the Board has elected to follow the USGA in this case at the elite level, it continues to be mindful of its responsibility to review future rules changes that might be adopted by the USGA in order to determine whether they should apply to PGA Tour competitions,” he said.  Finchem specifically alluded to rules changes in the area of equipment.

The PGA of America also announced yesterday that its board of directors had formally agreed to adopt Rule 14-1b.   The organization, whose membership consists of club professionals, had been vociferous in its opposition to the ban on anchoring on the grounds that it would discourage recreational golfers from playing the game and adversely affect players with physical issues who have difficulty putting with a conventional stroke.

PGA of America President Ted Bishop said that, notwithstanding its concerns about the ban, the PGA “ultimately decided to do what is in the best interest of the game of golf – to continue to abide by a single set of Rules that define the sport.”  However, Bishop urged the USGA to extend the effective date of the rule for amateurs to beyond January 1, 2016.   “We continue to feel strongly that the amateur player needs a longer period of adjustment to the rule,” he said.

While Bishop acknowledged the USGA’s preeminent role in establishing the Rules of Golf, like Finchem he suggested that in the future there should be more of a collaborative process for major changes.  “The PGA of America hopes that in the future, the Rules-making process will be more open and transparent, as well as interactive, when it comes to how changes in the Rules of Golf can possibly impact participation in the game,” he said.   On that note, the USGA & R&A set a precedent by entertaining public comments when they proposed the anchoring ban last November.  When they finalized the rule, they issued a lengthy report responding to many of the comments received.

Jack Ross is the editor of Ross’s Rulings and has completed an intensive PGA/USGA rules workshop.    

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