PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem threw a big wrinkle into the plan to outlaw the anchored putting stroke when he said Sunday the tour opposed the ban because there was not enough evidence to suggest players had an advantage by using a long putter.
"We hold the USGA in highest regard as a key part of the game of golf," Finchem said. "We don't attempt to denigrate that position in any way whatsoever. It's just on this issue, we think if they were to move forward they would be making a mistake."
The U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club announced Nov. 28 a proposed rule that would prohibit players from anchoring the club to their body, the method used for belly putters and broom-handled putters that are pressed against the chest.
Three of the last five major champions used a belly putter.
The governing bodies are nearing the end of a 90-day comment period before deciding whether to adopt the rule, which would not take effect until 2016. Finchem has been meeting with his players the last few months, with USGA executive director Mike Davis presenting the rule to a player meeting in San Diego last week. Finchem sent a letter to the USGA and R&A on Friday to state the tour's position.
The PGA of America also opposes the ban.
"I think the essential thread that went through the thinking of the players ... was that in the absence of data or any basis to conclude that there is a competitive advantage to be gained by using anchoring, and given the amount of time that anchoring has been in the game, that there is no overriding reason to go down that road," Finchem said.
The long putter has become a polarizing issue in recent years, even though it has been around for the last four decades.
The USGA and R&A said they wanted to ban the anchored stroke because they felt it took too much skill out of the game. Its goal was to define the golf stroke as the club moving freely through the entire swing. They conceded in November there was no empirical data, only a recent spike in more players using long putters.
Finchem wanted to make clear that the PGA Tour was not in a "donnybrook" with the USGA over who sets the rules. Rather, he was responding to its request for comment. Even so, it puts the USGA in a position of going through with the ban or backing down because the PGA Tour opposes it.
Finchem has said over the last month that while slightly different rules for the PGA Tour are acceptable, he did not think anchoring would be one of them. And he did not indicate which direction the tour would go if the USGA followed through with the ban.
"I haven't spent much time worrying about that," Finchem said. "That would be speculation, and I haven't really thought about it. I've thought more about some areas of bifurcation, whether it would work or not. But I think that the focus here ought to be, if possible, to go down the same road, everybody go down the same road on anchoring, and that's certainly where we are right now.
"We just hope they take our view on it," he said. "We'll see."
The USGA issued a statement that it is listening to "many productive conversations across the golf community" on the proposed rule.
"As we consider the various perspectives on anchoring, it has always been our position that Rule 14-1b aims to clarify and preserve the traditional and essential nature of the golf stroke, which has helped to make golf a unique and enjoyable game of skill and challenge," the statement said.
The USGA said it would decide on the proposed rule in the spring.
The tour's opposition to the anchoring ban was not surprising. Finchem met with his 16-member Player Advisory Council and policy board last week, and several players had indicated that the tour would go against the USGA.
Where it leads is still up in the air.
Finchem said the lack of empirical data was a problem, along with the fact golf's governing bodies have allowed long putters over the last two generations of golf. He suggested that if the USGA had tried to ban the anchored stroke in 1975, not many would have protested.
"I think we could understand it if for some reason or another ... it had negative results for the game of golf," Finchem said. "We have to look at it from the standpoint of is it good, bad or indifferent for the game as a whole — professional level, amateur level — and we conclude that it's not [a bad thing]."