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USGA, R&A take stand on anchoring

5/21/2013 - Golf

FAR HILLS, N.J. -- Since the USGA and R&A first proposed the ban on anchoring in putting in November, critics have cited everything, from the lack of statistical evidence to prove that the method gives players an unfair advantage to the threat that the ban would have on participation in the game to the timing of the ruling.

In a stern 40-page statement, golf's ruling bodies stood by their earlier position and made it clear that they would not buckle to pressure from the PGA Tour, disgruntled players or any public sentiment to change their course.

"We are doing what we think is right for the long-term benefit of the game for all golfers, and we just can't write them for one group of small elite players," said Mike Davis, the USGA's executive director on the PGA Tour's decision to go against the ban.

It was an impressive exercise of power and certainty on an issue that has captivated the game for months. With their clarity and focus, the ruling bodies reminded everyone of their authority in the game and determination to do what they believe is essential to upholding the integrity of the sport.

This was a firm decision at a time when anything but firmness would have been unacceptable.

"We care about the health of the game," Davis said. "We care about golfers. But we're also looking big picture to the future and we realize that for a long time golfers played without anchoring and they stayed in the game.

"There is a transition phase and for some golfers it's going to be more uncomfortable than others. And we have tried to leave enough options out there, but ultimately we want you to make a stroke with your hands and arms."

As much as the elite players may be the faces of golf and the main engines that drive interest in the sport, the ruling bodies are the conscience of the game, the deciders and enforcers of the law, the Supreme Court and criminal justice system for millions of golfers who play by the rules.

This move leaves the PGA Tour little choice but to consent to the ruling. To do otherwise would be an act of mutiny against the foundation of the game.

"It's certainly speculation what the PGA Tour will do, but we hope they play by the rules," Davis said. "Regardless, we have made our decision and we're going to move forward with it.

"The amateur game is going to follow it and the other tours are going to follow it. We knew this was controversial and we're doing it because we believe it's the right thing for the game. The easy thing would have been to do nothing. But when you're in governance and you're afraid of the ramifications, you shouldn't be in governance."

In his first major test as the head of the 119-year-old USGA since taking on the organization's top post in 2011, Davis has been an accessible and poised leader on this issue.

On Tuesday, he echoed what he said last November and tried to buttress the argument for why the ruling should take place now.

It's seldom that any leader, no matter the size of the organization, tries to deal with every grievance, but that's exactly what Davis and this report try to do.

He was genuinely thankful for the feedback that the USGA and R&A had received from players such as Webb Simpson, Adam Scott and Keegan Bradley, who won majors with the anchoring method.

Davis said the USGA and R&A considered the original explanation for the ban good, but they decided to answer every complaint, even when they thought some of the positions were "ludicrous," such as the idea that you needed statistical evidence to discuss the fairness of anchoring.

"We thought we had it right," Davis said. "In November, Peter Dawson of the R&A and I said that we wanted to do the 90-day comment period because we wanted to make sure that there is not something out there that we missed."

Yet Davis says it's a mistake to think he or Dawson was all-powerful through this process.

"This is not an individual Mike Davis thing," he said. "Trust me. There were a lot of people involved from the USGA, the PGA Tour, the LPGA Tour, the NCAA and the R&A. This is not about me or Peter Dawson. We just happen to be the spokesmen."

With the exception of the PGA Tour, the ruling bodies have the support of every other men's and women's tour around the world. Davis said that both Mike Whan from the LPGA Tour and the European Tour's George O'Grady like the 2½-year time frame for anchorers to adjust to a different method of putting.

On Tuesday, Davis stepped outside of his general boundaries of equipment, course setup and rules to talk about the psychological dimension of golf as it relates to the anchoring.

"We do think that nerves and pressure are a part of the game," he said. "Think about those players who have had issues chipping the ball? We believe that there are as many people who have had nerve issues chipping the ball as there are in putting.

"Guess what? Those players have to work through it. There is no crutch for them."

The PGA Tour and the PGA of America could decide to allow their players to use the anchoring method. They have 2½ years to make a decision before the ban goes into effect in January 2016.

But don't anticipate the USGA and the R&A coming off their position. They made that point very clear on Tuesday.