SANDY Jones, chief executive of the Professional Golfers’ Association, has locked horns with his American counterparts by insisting there is “no evidence” for their claims that the proposed ban on anchoring putters will inhibit golf’s growth.
In the final hours of a 90-day consultation period implemented by the R&A and USGA over a joint proposal to stop anchoring from the beginning of 2016, Jones revealed his organisation is at odds with the view of the PGA of America on the matter.
Its president, Ted Bishop, has voiced opposition to the proposed ban from the outset and earlier this week said he was “totally in concert” with the PGA Tour’s decision to take a stance on behalf of its members, including Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson, both of whom have won majors in the last two years using belly putters.
In contrast, the Belfry-based British PGA has sent a letter to the R&A supporting the proposal and Jones said he could see nothing to back up the PGA of America’s claim that it could “impact the overall growth of the game”.
“There is no evidence to support that statement,” Jones told The Scotsman. “If allowing people to use long or belly putters is such an important factor in the game, then why are we struggling with numbers at the present time?”
Tim Finchem, the PGA Tour’s commissioner, claimed he’s seen data that indicates “20 per cent of amateurs” use either long or belly putters but, according to Jones, there has been no rush from club golfers in Britain to either try or buy them.
“On our board and executive we’ve got 15 PGA professionals and, of them, only one had sold a belly putter in the last two years,” added the Scot. “This is an American problem caused by the development and cultivation of high-speed greens.
“Because a lot of players struggle with a conventional putter on those surfaces, they are making up for a weakness in their game by turning to long or belly putters. As suggested by the R&A and USGA, we think the rule should be changed so that anchoring is removed because we don’t believe it is in keeping with the tradition of how a putting stroke should be made. When you lodge a putter in your stomach, it changes the whole structure of the game.”
According to a report on golfweek.com, George O’Grady, chief executive of the European Tour, would not confirm his organisation’s position during an interview at last week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona. It is believed, however, that, unlike the PGA Tour, it will comply to whatever decision the R&A and USGA come to, with an announcement expected in the next few weeks following the conclusion of the comment period tonight.
“It is almost like an implied threat,” said Jones of the PGA Tour listening to player power in opposing the proposed ban. “It is a massive challenge for the R&A and USGA. It is like playing a game of poker with some hard poker players.
“But, whatever decision is made, we all need to live with that, even if that is to allow anchoring to continue in the game. There has to be a set of rules, even though you might not agree with all of them.
“Big leadership is when you live with a decision and don’t run off and make your own rule. That reminds me of the boy running off with his ball in the school playground just because he doesn’t like something.
“If the game ever reaches that stage – and it could if bifurcation comes in and we see all sorts of different rules being made – it will undermine the integrity and honesty that has long been admired in our sport.”
Amateur has ‘never been questioned’
HAVING used a long putter for around 20 years, it’s understandable that Duddingston member Gordon Santana is watching the anchoring debate with a “bit of interest.
But, while prepared to take the final decision by the R&A and USGA on the chin, he reckons the long and belly putter brigade are being unfairly picked on at a time when players are gaining advantages through all sorts of new equipment.
“I don’t really know anything else other than using a long putter, having first started using one around 20 years ago,” said Santana, a long-time single-figure handicapper. “It was through seeing Sam Torrance using one that I first picked one up and I’ve still got an original Sam Torrance Wilson putter in my shed.
“There has always been a lot of curiousity from people about me having a long putter in the bag but in the whole time I’ve used one no-one has come close to questioning me about it in terms of whether or not it should banned.
“It will be disappointing to see it go and it probably will. But is a person using a long or belly putter any worse than players hitting 3-woods further than I do with a driver due to having a trampoline effect in the clubface?”
Two-times Scottish Mid-Amateur champion Allyn Dick is heading into the new season with a long putter in his bag for the first time but accepts it could have a short life. “I’m not fussed either way,” said the Kingsknowe player of the proposed ban.
“The best players in the world are still using a short putter but a simple rule like the putter must be the shortest club in the bag would remove all the ambiguity surrounding the rule.”