Golf's major tours split over belly putter
The European Tour confirmed its support for a ban on belly putters Monday -- potentially placing it at odds with its rival U.S. PGA Tour -- who are opposed to the new rule change which is due to come into force in 2016.
It was responding to a 90-day consultation, which was launched by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R&A) and the United States Golf Association (USGA) after the sport's governing bodies announced their intention to outlaw the practice of putting with a club anchored to a player's stomach.
At the end of last month, the PGA Tour and the PGA of America went public with their opposition to the proposals in their response to the consultation.
The statement from the European Tour read: "The European Tour has confirmed its support for the R&A and the USGA and their proposal for rule 14-1b - the prohibition of anchoring any club when making a stroke under the Rules of Golf."
But chief executive George O'Grady revealed that there had been opposition to the change among the 15-strong members of its Tournament Committee.
"Our members support the unique role played by the governing bodies in formulating the Rules of Golf." he said.
"Additionally, virtually all of our Tournament Committee and player representatives support the proposed rule even though they are aware, and have taken into account, the fact that some members and especially our senior members use the anchored method."
O'Grady's PGA Tour counterpart Tim Finchem said last week that it was "not in the best interests" of golf for the proposed change to be implemented.
He added: "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 was no overriding reason to go down that road."
While supporting the ban, O'Grady said he respected the PGA Tour's stance. "We understand the points put forward by the PGA Tour and the PGA of America and respect and sympathize with their views, which are based on their experience and the evidence before them, and have been expressed with great concern for the game.
"The whole issue has received far greater focus and comment in the United States than in the rest of the world, perhaps because of the numbers of their golfers using the anchored method, and the set up in general terms of their golf courses and the firmness and speed of their greens."
The issue of the use of long-handled belly putters was drawn into sharp focus by the success of golfers such as American Keegan Bradley, the first to win a major using the technique, and veteran South African Ernie Els, who claimed the British Open last year after switching to the method.
The top two golfers in the world, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, have both spoken in favor of a ban.
If the respective major tours were to go their own way it could lead to a situation where players could use different putters in events on either side of the Atlantic.
It would not be the first time there was a divergence in rules on equipment.
European Tour events, including the British Open, used a smaller diameter ball of 1.62 inches against the bigger 1.68 inches diameter ball adopted in the United States, until it was outlawed by the R&A in 1974, bringing about eventual worldwide standardization.
An added complication in the belly putter row is the support of the USGA for the proposed change, meaning the U.S. Open, which it runs, would join the British Open, promoted by the R&A, in outlawing anchoring.
But the U.S. PGA Championship, which comes under the auspices of the PGA Tour, would allow it.
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