A tough dance for Tim Finchem
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SAN DIEGO -- One of Tim Finchem's main responsibilities as PGA Tour commissioner is to do what is in the best interests of the tour and its players. But as the head of the world's leading pro circuit, he also has to try to be a good steward of the game and it rules as set down by the USGA and the R&A.
In a Tuesday meeting with tour players here at the Farmers Insurance Open, the 65-year-old commissioner was confronted with this cumbersome challenge of serving multiple masters.
The proposed 2016 ban on anchoring in putting was the No. 1 topic on the agenda.
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Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA, gave a presentation on the new legal definition of a putting stroke where players would no longer be allowed to anchor a club to their body in the process of making a swing. Then the floor was opened for questions after the USGA left the packed Hilton Convention Center.
Finchem played the role of diplomat Wednesday after the previous night's collision with the governing body and the players.
"I do think it's important to recognize that the people who want to see anchoring go away firmly believe that they have the best interest of the game at heart," he said. "The people who don't think it's necessary [to ban anchoring], I think, are equally robust in their enthusiasm for what's best for the game."
Most of the players were quiet about what transpired in the Tuesday Q&A period with the commissioner, but what's clear is that there is no real consensus about the direction the tour will take on the anchoring ban.
The tour could go against the new ruling and allow its players to use the anchoring stroke. But that's not Finchem's goal.
"Our objective always has been to try our best to follow the rules as promulgated by the USGA and the R&A," Finchem said. "We believe in the notion of that one body of rules is important, and that's always our intent. We just reserve the option not to, if we have overriding reasons not to do so."
The tour has until March to complete its information gathering and respond to the USGA on the new ruling. Finchem said his office would continue discussions with the Player Advisory Council and the PGA Tour policy board.
Finchem is of the mind that if the tour goes along with the new ruling, it should be implemented as soon as possible.
"You have players on television, in front of galleries, playing with a method that has been outlawed, even though the enforcement date is later," Finchem said. "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, your livelihood depends on it, you probably are inclined to not want it to go into effect for a period of time. Here again, the issue is damned if you do, damned if you don't to some extent..."
The players want more input into the ruling.
"A lot of guys were upset with [the] process of people who aren't [professional] golfers making rules for the best players in the world," said one player who was in the Tuesday meeting and didn't want to be mentioned by name.
Another player said his concern was that the ban on anchoring would exacerbate the already-dwindling number of recreational golfers.
On the issue of the possibility of two different sets of rules for the pros and amateurs, Finchem said that in some situations bifurcation would be OK, but he didn't think bifurcation was important in this particular case.
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The PGA Tour could do away with future distractions like these by writing its own rules that college and amateur golf could follow. It would certainly make Finchem's life much easier.
"I think at its core we all know there are rules in golf that don't make a lot of sense," said Finchem, who believes the players would be willing to play with their own set of rules. "So there is always some level of sentiment for that."
Regardless of what transpires over the next few months on the implementation of the anchoring ban on tour, Finchem will be in the middle of the storm.
In a moment of levity on Wednesday, Finchem was asked if he anchored his putter.
"No," he said, "but I did for a period of time in 2000. I sound like a tour player. Worked for me for a while, but it doesn't work for me."
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