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PGA Tour Takes a Stand in Belly Putter Debate

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COMMENTARY | The debate over the future of the long putter is heating up. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has indicated the tour is opposed to a proposed USGA-R&A rule change rule change that would in essence ban the belly putter beginning in 2016.

Under the proposed rule change, anchoring a club against the body during a stroke would be illegal -- a change that would make a long putter considerably less effective if not useless.

Finchem was speaking for his members of course, but the stage is set for a "polite confrontation" between the PGA Tour and golf's rule-making bodies, one that is certain to leave the tour on the short end of the equation

Here's why:

Assuming the ban on long putters goes through, and we suspect it will, the PGA Tour could adopt a local rule saying such clubs are legal for its events.

The problem with that solution, however, is that some of the biggest events in the sport, including the Masters, the U.S. Open and the Open Championship are not conducted by the PGA Tour and such a local rule would not apply.

It's not uncommon to see players switch drivers as they move to different golf courses or add an extra wedge.

But changing putters is another matter. Could you imagine Keegan Bradley, for instance, using a belly putter for the next three years and then switching to a conventional model for the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont?

Neither can we.

We're not taking a position here on whether the USGA and R&A should ban the long putter; there are good arguments on both sides of the issue. What we're against is the idea of having tour players following one set of rules and everyone else playing by another.

Golf's first formal set of rules was adopted in Scotland some three decades prior to the American Revolution.

After the United States Golf Association was founded there were two sets of rules, one published by the United States Golf Association and the other by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.

There were differences between them, such as the size of the golf ball, but by 1952 the two groups were publishing one set of rules that players at every level, amateur and professional, are expected to abide by and today officials from both groups form a joint rules committee.

One of the game's greatest charms is that all who play it are competing under the same conditions and following the same set of rules.

While other sports have different rulebooks for various levels, golf is unique.

The weekend athlete will never have the opportunity to catch a pass from Tom Brady or strike out Ryan Howard, but theoretically could share the links with Bradley, Hunter Mahan, or some other tour-level player. That's only possible because they're playing by the same set of rules.

That's a standard that must be maintained. It would behoove the PGA Tour to remember that. When it comes to the Rules of Golf the dictum should be "All for One and One for All."

Rick Woelfel has covered golf for more than 25 years. He resides near Philadelphia and is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America.

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