Dissension in golf's ranks on anchor ban?
Professional golfers don't always play by rules practiced by everyday golfers, but they have always played by the Rules of Golf -- whether they be written by the United States Golf Association or the R&A.
That is an important distinction as the PGA Tour mulls the idea of perhaps going against the USGA/R&A proposed anchoring ban.
The PGA Tour's policy board was scheduled to meet Monday via conference call, with discussion expected to center around the anchored putting ban and whether the tour should push for the governing bodies not to implement it -- or go against it if they do.
The latter would be unprecedented.
The PGA Tour has never gone against the Rules of Golf.
Sure, there are numerous local rules enacted on the PGA Tour, such as preferred lies (lift, clean and place) or the one-ball rule or playing embedded lies "through the green" -- as opposed to in closely mown areas. But the Rules of Golf accommodate for such.
That wouldn't be the case with the proposed anchoring ban; Rule 14-1b would cover Anchoring the Club. "In making a stroke, the player must not anchor the club, either directly or by use of an anchor point." There are no exceptions as it is written currently.
For the PGA Tour to allow anchoring in such a scenario, it would be enacting its own rules and ignoring the USGA rules book. And while it is certainly within the tour's right to make its own rules -- all sports leagues make their own rules -- it has always followed the governing bodies.
But Brad Faxon, a longtime PGA Tour member who now competes on the Champions Tour, believes the tour and commissioner Tim Finchem might now be ready to force the issue. Faxon, writing a first-person story for golf.com, said there has been considerable pushback on anchoring, which was first proposed Nov. 28. The three-month comment period on the proposal will conclude at the end of this month.
"The most heavy-handed way he could persuade the USGA to drop the proposed ban, and I would normally never describe Tim Finchem as heavy-handed, would be by convincing the Tour Policy Board on Monday that the tour should tell the USGA the following: If the USGA goes through with this ban, the PGA Tour will very likely consider creating our own condition of competition that will allow anchored putting on the PGA Tour, the Web.com Tour and Champions Tour," Faxon wrote. "If that happens, there will be chaos. The USGA could quickly lose its authority as the governing body of American golf."
As Faxon pointed out, there is no consensus among players. Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell are among many who agree with an anchoring ban. Phil Mickelson is against it -- not because he uses an anchored putter, but because he believes it has been allowed for too long.
Ernie Els, who 10 years ago famously chided countryman Trevor Immelman for using an anchored stroke and as recently as 18 months ago spoke against anchoring even while using a bellly putter, has now changed his mind. Tim Clark was said to have made a compelling argument against banning at a player meeting in San Diego several weeks ago.
Els, for one, says there is no compelling evidence to suggest that anchoring is an advantage; the USGA and R&A believe it is more a proper putting stroke. Recent major winners such as Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson are also against the ban.
"Personally, I am in favor of the proposed ban," wrote Faxon, long considered one of the game's best putters. "I believe lodging the butt end of the putter in your navel, or holding it against your chest or chin, does not constitute a traditional golf swing and is not in the inherent nature of what we could call a 'swing.' Yes, there have been many changes in golf over the centuries, but the fundamental nature of how you hold the club and the unencumbered way you make a swing have been remarkably consistent ever since featheries and gutties were rolling down fairways in Scotland."
Many share Faxon's view. Many don't.
And what seemed like a fairly cut-and-dried issue a few months ago -- an anchoring ban had been expected for months -- is far from decided.
Golf in the Olympics
The news last week that the International Olympic Committee would be booting wrestling from the Games starting in 2020 came as a big shock to those who follow such issues closely. Somehow, however, golf and its inclusion became part of the story.
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In several instances, golf was mentioned negatively as among the reasons wrestling is suffering such a cruel fate.
While golf does have its issues as it relates to the Olympics, it is hard to make the leap that it is the reason for wrestling's demise. Golf went through a process of more than two years to get accepted, and officially was awarded a spot in 2009, more than three years ago. Golf will be part of the 2016 games in Brazil. Wrestling also will be part of those Games. So how is golf to blame?
Golf does have to figure some things out if it wants to survive beyond 2020. It doesn't help that construction on the venue for the games in Rio has yet to begin. And the format remains controversial, as there are 60-player stroke-play events for men and women, with no team component.
Another negative is that golf in the Olympics will never be the ultimate event in the sport. Certainly in the short term, it will never surpass winning a major championship. Even in 50 years, it is hard to believe that a gold medal could surpass a green jacket or a Claret Jug.
And yet, the impact of the Olympics for golf goes beyond the professional game. Governments who value medals will spend money to develop players, just as they do now for gymnasts or track athletes. Players from other countries, in theory, will aspire to play golf because it is an Olympic sport.
That is of no consolation to wrestling. But it's hard to see how the two are related.
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2. Lydia Ko. The 15-year-old amateur followed up her victory in New Zealand with a third-place finish in the LPGA opener in Australia.
3. Charlie Beljan. He lost in a playoff at Riviera, but the winner at Disney now has risen to No. 64 in the world.
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2. Brandt Snedeker. The hottest golfer in the world, Snedeker has a rib injury that will keep him out of the Match Play this week.
3. Bill Haas. The defending champion at the Northern Trust Open led by 3 heading into the final round, but shot 73 -- and missed a playoff by 1 stroke.
Match Play Watch
Golf's version of March Madness takes place this week in Arizona with the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. It is the first World Golf Championship event of 2013, the first time most of the big names will be together for the start of a busy stretch. Phil Mickelson (family vacation) and Brandt Snedeker (rib injury) are not playing, but there is plenty of star power.
At the Match Play, the excitement level is typically the opposite of a regular stroke-play event, where the drama builds toward the weekend. At the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Wednesday will be the big day, with 32 matches and the one-and-done pressure that match play provides.
Over the years, there have been calls to change the format in order assure a deeper pool heading into the weekend. One way to do this might be to have a double-elimination format in which a loser's bracket is formed. That would keep all 64 players around for two days -- sort of like at a regular tournament. Or they could require matches to be played off for third, fifth and seven places, assuring more players on the weekend.
Regardless, the Match Play is an excellent tournament that offers up something different from the usual fare of stroke play. And Wednesday is typically one of the best golf days of the year.
Rory McIlroy makes his 2013 PGA Tour debut at the WGC Match Play and only his second start of the year after missing the cut last month in Abu Dhabi. His first-round opponent, Shane Lowry, is making his Match Play debut. Tiger Woods, who has 16 WGC victories, has won the Match Play three times, the last in 2008. Woods' opponent, Charles Howell III, has not played the event since that year. Upsets are far from unusual at the Match Play. Last year, Ernie Els was the No. 64 seed and took out No. 1 Luke Donald. John Merrick got his first PGA Tour victory when he won at Riviera in a playoff to qualify for the Masters. It'll be his third trip to Augusta National, where he finished sixth in 2009. Merrick, who is fourth in FedEx Cup points, needs to stay in the top 10 through the Honda Classic in order to earn an invite to the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Charlie Beljan, who won at Disney last year despite panic attacks, had missed four straight cuts before his runner-up finish at Riviera. He moved to 64th in the world, too late to get into the Match Play, but now has a chance to get into the Masters if he can move into the top 50 by March 31. Charl Schwartzel hasn't won on the PGA Tour since his 2011 Masters victory but he has been on a roll of late playing overseas. He tied for third at Riviera and is on a run of finishing 3-2-1-1-2-3. With a tie for sixth, reigning U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson posted his first top-10 of the year. Jiyai Shin, who won the season-opening LPGA event in Australia, now has 35 professional victories. The South Korean has won 11 times on the LPGA Tour, including two majors and what will become one this year, the Evian. Among Koreans, only Se Ri Pak with 25 has more LPGA victories than Shin. Lydia Ko, the 15-year-old amateur who finished third in Australia, also will play in this week's LPGA event in Thailand.
"Growing up as a kid, coming out here, I just wanted to play this tournament." -- John Merrick, a native of Southern California who got his first PGA Tour victory at Riviera in the Northern Trust Open.