(PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem addressed the media Sunday to talk about the PGA’s stance on the proposed anchor putting ban. Here is his transcript)
LAURA HILL: I’d like to welcome PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem to the interview room. Thanks for spending a couple minutes with us this afternoon. A couple of opening remarks and we’ll open it up for questions.
FINCHEM: Thank you, Laura. Good afternoon, everyone. This is the coldest microphone I’ve ever felt. Thanks for coming over for a few minutes. I hate to take your attention away from the competition, but it seemed like this was the most best opportunity to answer your questions about this anchoring issue that have boiling around for the last several months.
Let me take a couple comments about it and I’ll be happy to try to answer your questions. The USGA and the R&A notified us several months ago about their intention to put forward a proposal to change essentially change the rule as it relates to what a stroke is by further defining it as something where you can’t ground your club and anchor your club. In addition to the historical limitations on what a stroke is of scraping the ball or scooping the ball or pushing the ball.
We then undertook to go through a process to determine our position on that because they had a commentary that ends next week. We brought that to a conclusion last week. You’re all aware of that because of the comments that have been made by folks who were involved in that process. Our Player Advisory Council looked at it twice. We had the USGA come in and make a presentation to a player meeting in San Diego, USGA made a presentation to our Board.
We researched and looked at it and articulated our position at the end of last week to the USGA and shared that thinking also with the R&A.
Essentially where the PGA Tour came down was that they did not think that banning anchoring was in the best interest of golf or the PGA Tour. I would note that the PGA of America came to the same conclusion after consultation with their membership. Golf Course Owners Association came to the same conclusion, as well.
I think there are a number of factors here, a number of details, a number of issues, but I think the essential thread that went through the thinking of the players and our board of directors and others that looked at this 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 was no overriding reason to go down that road.
Recognizing a couple of things: One, that an awful lot of amateurs today use anchoring; and two, that a number of players on the Tour who have grown up with a focus on perfecting the anchoring method, if you will, did so after the USGA on multiple occasions approved the method years ago, and that for us to join in supporting a ban we think as a direction is unfair to both groups of individuals. So those were the overriding reasons.
I’d be happy to answer your questions in just a second, but I would like to add to that because I’ve read some things that would suggest that this is kind of a donnybrook between the PGA of America and the PGA Tour on one side and the USGA on the other, and that’s not really, I think, correct. You know, the USGA did on multiple occasions look at this and come to one conclusion; 25 or 30 years later now they’ve come to another conclusion, at least tentatively. They’ve asked us to give our comments. All we’re doing at this point is saying this is our opinion.
We have worked with the USGA over the last 20 years on a wide range of rules issues. We are represented on their rules committee as an ex officio member by members of our staff. We worked together on the grooves issue, we worked together on capping the ball after it took off in 2000. We have partnered with the USGA on the creation of the World Golf Foundation, the World Rankings Board, the International Federation of PGA Tours to some extent, certainly the international Olympic effort that we have made has been in partnership with the PGA, the PGA Tour, and the USGA.
None of this debate over this particular issue is going to change any of that, so I want to as I said in Hawai’i, I continue to hope that regardless of where this matter ends up that it gets there after a process that is good natured, open, and not contrary or divisive, and that’s certainly our intention.
We hold the USGA in the highest regard as a key part of the game of golf. 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.
I’d be happy to answer your questions.
Q. Where do you anticipate this will go next?
FINCHEM: Well, it’s my understanding that sometime in the next month or two the USGA and the R&A will bring it to some conclusion. I think their comment period ends, I want to say, in another week or so, and they’ve asked for opinion from organizations and whatever. So you’d have to ask them about the details of their process, but we’ll see what develops.
Q. If they institute the ban as they propose, what will the response of the PGA Tour be?
FINCHEM: Well, I don’t know, because we have, I think, carefully and intentionally avoided at this point getting into a discussion about that issue. I think everybody is aware that and coincidentally, when Joe Dye, a longtime executive director of the USGA was the first commissioner of the PGA Tour when it was formed, and since that time, our regulations provide that we will follow the rules as promulgated by the USGA provided, however, we retain the right not to in certain instances if we see fit.
But we have not even begun that discussion. All we’ve done is done what we were asked to do, which is to give them our best input and advice on that particular initiative. That’s a different question, and it would be speculative for me to guess where that might come out.
Q. Question on a little different subject, if I may. How do you think the weather has affected play this week? And if so, do you see that as having any long time ramifications to having the tournament in Tucson?
FINCHEM: The answer to your second part is no. I think the weather has been challenging for the players, but they’ve scored well. I think some of the visuals of PGA Tour players having snowball fights is absolutely terrific, so that’s good news. But they’re out there playing in very difficult conditions today. These are professionals, and they can handle it. I don’t see any long term impact over unusual weather.
Q. We haven’t seen you since Vijay’s admission about using deer antler spray. When do you expect some kind of decision on that?
FINCHEM: Relatively soon. We’re in our process. As you know, I think you’re aware, under our doping rules, unlike our conduct rules, we are required to announce any kind of suspensions that emanate from the use of PEDs or other violations of the doping code. And if that is forthcoming, we will announce it in due course.
Q. Can I ask a follow? With the 2016 Olympics in mind, what are the PGA Tour’s plans for adopting the WADA anti doping policy with the whereabouts program and the blood testing, and out of competition, meaning showing up unannounced at your home to test?
FINCHEM: Right. Well, as is the case in a number of other sports, once the pool of players is identified at a certain date, maybe a year out, 10 months out, when this is the pool of players from which the 120 players will come from, those players at that point in time are subject to all the rules and regulations of the WADA doping approach. That would be consistent with other sports in the Olympic Games. That’s certainly the understanding we have with WADA.
There are a couple of distinctions between that and what we do. But that’s the way it would work. And players would be notified at that point in time that you need to be aware that if you intend to once you’re selected as a player, you will be subject to but even before that since you’re in the pool, you’ll be subject to. Now, a player has the option at that point to say, I’m just going to announce right now, I’m not going to play in the Olympic Games, I suppose, and we don’t anticipate that happening. But that’s the way it works.
In the meantime, we’ll continue down the road with our program, which we think is good. We have the same issue ahead of us that the team sports have been facing, which is HGH testing. The holdup there has been the science of getting to a point where you can test and have a confidence in the test and a test that means something after what currently is the case 24 hours or 48 hours of use. So spending a lot of money to test for that just doesn’t seem to make much sense.
So we are, like the team sports, looking very hard at that, and we’re told by our experts that testing science will be much advanced within a year, and then we have to make those kind of decisions. But right now we’re focused on ’16 and the Olympic Games, and that’s the way it would work.
Q. Do you accept your anchoring stance puts the R&A’s and USGA’s position under threat?
FINCHEM: Well, we’re in favor of the current rule making system, and we’re delighted that that system is open to the kind of input and suggestion that it’s open to right now. I think that’s very healthy. You know, bifurcation is kind of a different issue as to whether you could have different rules in certain areas, and I think that’s still open to discussion. I think in a perfect world, we’d all like to see the rules be exactly the same. They’re not exactly the same functionally now anyway, and in certain cases I could see where bifurcation might be an appropriate way to go. But maybe, and I think we continue to believe that if possible we should keep the rules, the structure of the rules the same, and if possible, without bifurcation. And I think that’s doable.
I do think, however, that, as I said earlier, transparency, openness, discussion, input involving people across the spectrum in terms of rule making, particularly as it relates to equipment rules, is very, very important. Now, this particular rule has been put in a non equipment bucket, but functionally it’s kind of a quasi equipment rule, non equipment rule, just because it’s a method of play, a method of play that’s been endorsed by the governing bodies for a generation. And the struggle here is that after all of that, to be able to come in and say without an overwhelming reason to do so, without a powerful reason to do so, is a struggle for a lot of people. And that’s the struggle we have.
Q. Could you see a day where the USGA and R&A outlaw anchoring and yet it’s allowed on Tour golf?
FINCHEM: You know, I haven’t really I haven’t spent much time worrying about that. 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. We’ll see.
Q. I’m sure this is a distraction having to do this on Sunday, not the best case scenario. Why did you feel compelled to come out and make this announcement?
FINCHEM: Well, only because the elements of where we were have been reported at different levels. That was one reason. But the bigger reason is I’ve seen some stuff on line, some stuff has been said that’s been suggestive of this donnybrook kind of approach, that this is kind of a war developing, and I felt like it was important to speak to that and make sure that we understood that this is part of a process at this point. There’s no reason to assume that everybody is going to go down different paths. I just want to try to calm that sense down. I think that’s we ought to be able to have a discussion about this and come to conclusions without negativity.
Q. Back to the Vijay situation, just wondered if you were at all concerned that since he made his statement he’s played twice on the PGA Tour, that there is a perception out there that the PGA Tour is dragging its feet on the subject?
FINCHEM: Well, I can’t speak to the perception. I think that there is candidly if you just look at it, there’s no time urgency here, because if action is taken it’ll be reported. If no action is taken, it won’t be reported, and that’ll be the end of that. I’m not concerned about that.
Q. When the USGA invited comments, they said they didn’t think there was anything they hadn’t thought about. Do you feel confident that you are putting factors forward that they wouldn’t have thought of?
FINCHEM: Well, I don’t know. I think that we have a variety of reasons why we’re either troubled by the rule itself. We also have reasons why we feel like the reasons put forward to do this are not compelling, and that’s all we can do. We can give them our thoughts.
Honestly, if you think about it, this is a very subjective area. It’s very subjective. Everybody has an opinion about it, and we certainly respect everybody’s opinion. A large number of our players our players are split on this issue in different ways, but I think if there are there are a good number of players that if you had asked them in 1980 or 1975, should we have long putters, should they be anchored, you would have got an answer. And those players today will tell you, if this was then I’d be of the same opinion. But it’s not then. It’s after two times it was reviewed and specifically approved by the USGA; it’s after thousands of people have gravitated to this method; it’s after decades of having the method and no way to determine an inability, even with data, to know whether it provides an advantage.
So the PGA of America has concluded that it will hurt the game with certain numbers of amateurs. You can’t figure out how many. And in our case, we agree with that, but we also think as a matter of fairness, unless you can pinpoint some negative one thing we know for sure on the professional side is the professional game globally is stronger than it’s ever been today, and that on the heels of having anchoring fast part of it for the last 30 or 40 years. It certainly hasn’t been a negative. You can’t point to one negative impact of anchoring.
Now, some people might say I don’t think you should anchor or I don’t think you should do that or I don’t think you should do that, but it hasn’t translated into a negative thing for the sport. And that’s why we’re having trouble with it.
When Joe Dey and P.J. Boatwright and these people at the PGA were asked about it, they said it seemed like it was consistent with the definition of a stroke. I think we could understand it if for some reason or another or a set of reasons it had negative results for the game of golf. But actually more people some more people are playing the game because of it than would be without it, and competitively on the PGA TOUR, we look at this stuff all the time, we just don’t see the negative aspects of it.
So it’s just a personal view. And I respect if a player says I just think you ought to have to swing the club differently when you’re putting, everybody is entitled to their opinion. 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.
Q. What is the purpose of the PGA Tour’s policy on drugs and performance enhancing drugs particularly?
FINCHEM: Well, the doping code is designed to I think it’s two things: One is if you think back when we were bringing our program forward, I said this about 15 times, I could never get anybody to listen to me. Everybody always wants to talk about testing. I view things differently in golf. In golf it’s about the rule. Do you want to have a rule that outlaws PEDs or not? We concluded that we did. Did we conclude that because we felt like we had a problem in the game? No. We concluded that because there was a growing view that all sports were infected with violations of PED rules, and sooner or later, something was going to happen that we were tossed in that bucket. We didn’t want to be in that bucket.
Now, to have a credible program, you also have to have a testing program that’s credible, and we’ve tried to build a testing program that’s credible, also. So I would say that it was largely playing defense that we went to the rule, but also a recognition of where the world is from a fan standpoint, a media standpoint, an expectation standpoint. It was done before we petitioned to go in the Olympic Games, so it was not done because we felt like we had to do it for the Olympics. But it was done because of a growing cynicism about sports.
Now, since that time, the cynicism has only grown more acute. And we have to continue to be aggressive in this area, but thankfully our players have responded in a very positive, affirmative and energetic way so that as a consequence of what they’ve done to protect the sport, we’ve had not too much difficulty. But it doesn’t take a lot of difficulty to change the image of the sport. And so in some areas we have to redouble our efforts, and I’ll speak more about that probably in a few weeks.