SAN DIEGO (AP) — The first U.S. PGA Tour meeting on a proposed rule for long putters made only one thing clear to commissioner Tim Finchem. There's still a long way to go to decide what the tour will do, and will be messy.
"It's a very different kind of issue, and it stirs a lot of strong feelings," Finchem said on Wednesday. "So consequently, it's a difficult situation. Personally, I view the professional game as being the strongest it's ever been. So I don't like to see distractions, but it's not a perfect world."
Finchem also said there might be a place for bifurcation — two sets of rules for the game — in certain areas of golf, but he did not think the long putter issue was one of them. The U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient Golf Club announced on Nov. 28 a proposed rule that would outlaw players from anchoring the club against their bodies. That's the stroke used for belly putters and broom-handle putters. Three of the last five major champions have used belly putters.
Another month remains in a 90-day comment period before the governing bodies decide to adopt the rule. Then, it would not be enforced until 2016. The U.S. PGA Tour, however, can set its own rules. Still to be determined is the tour's official position on the proposed rule, which will require meetings with its Players Advisory Council and policy board. Finchem said the tour's objective has always been to follow the USGA on rules, and he did not suggest the tour was about to treat this new one differently.
Another decision would be whether to enforce the rule earlier than 2016. The concern is whether the public would look differently at players who anchor the club during the three-year transition period. Keegan Bradley, the first major champion with a belly putter, told of a fan calling him a cheater at the World Challenge in December.
"If you're presenting the sport, my view would be to move it quicker if it's going to happen because it continues to be a distraction if you don't," Finchem said. "You have players on television, in front of galleries, playing with a method that has been outlawed, even though the enforcement date is later. 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. So it needs to be thought through carefully."
Finchem invited USGA executive director Mike Davis to the mandatory player meeting on Tuesday to explain the new rule and how the USGA and R&A arrived at its decision. Davis did not want to talk about how it went.
Players leaving the meeting did not want to comment on what was said, including Tim Clark, a prominent figure in the discussion. Clark is unable to turn his wrists normally, and thus has used a broom-handle putter for his entire career. He is not playing at Torrey Pines this week, instead he came from Arizona to state his case.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were among those who did not attend. The USGA said its research showed the number of players using an anchored stroke has increased in recent years to about 15 percent. A large majority of pros use a conventional putter with a free-swinging stroke, and Woods has been among those outspoken in favor of a ban.