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Stricker says he can see tour ignoring putter ban
MARANA, ARIZ. (AP) - Steve Stricker, once a strong supporter of banning the stroke used for long putters, shed some insight into the PGA Tour’s position Tuesday when he said he would not be surprised to see the tour ignore the USGA if the ban is adopted.
The PGA Tour is drafting a response to the USGA’s proposal to outlaw any stroke that is anchored to the body, which is aimed at belly putters and broom-handle putters. Three of the last five major champions used a belly putter.
Stricker, regarded among the best putters in golf, said he could see the tour adopt a local rule that would allow long putters.
“I don’t know if that’s going to happen; don’t even know if the USGA is going to go ahead with the rule change,” said Stricker, one of the players on the policy board. “But I can see the tour adopting the rule saying that it’s OK for players to use a long putter. And we have probably a couple other rules out here on our hard card that are different from USGA rules, too. And that wouldn’t be any different, I guess.”
A hard card is what sometimes is referred to as “conditions of competition.” For example, the tour often will allow players to lift, clean and replace the golf ball in the fairway during wet conditions. The USGA does not allow for such preferred lies.
Tiger Woods also went from a strong position in favor of the ban to a more balanced view that keeps him out of the debate.
“I understand if we go either way,” Woods said. “We put in local rules every week, and this may or not be a local rule. But we’ll see what happens.”
The USGA and Royal & Ancient Golf Club announced the proposed rule Nov. 28, and then allowed for a 90-day comment period because of the sensitive nature of long putters. The USGA sets the rules for the United States and Mexico, while the R&A is in charge of golf rules for the rest of the world.
The comment period is over after the Match Play Championship. The proposed rule, if adopted, would not be effective until 2016.
For all the chatter, the debate effectively won’t get started until the USGA and R&A announce whether they will adopt the new rule. Then it would be up to the PGA Tour to decide which direction it wants to go. USGA executive director Mike Davis has said he would not comment until the review period is over. One person in touch with Davis said there was no indication the USGA would back down. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the conversations.
For the tour to move away from the USGA on such a matter could lead to chaos at a time when USGA President Glen Nager is among those preaching unification. It could mean that a player would use a belly putter on the PGA Tour, but he would not be able to compete in at least two majors (U.S. Open and British Open) with the same putter.
Also unknown is the response from the European Tour. Ernie Els, who won the British Open last summer using a belly putter, is a member of both tours. If the PGA Tour does not go along with the proposed rule, there could be a case where Els can use a belly putter at the Memorial, but not at the Dubai Desert Classic.
“That is a concern,” Stricker said.
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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