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Analysis: "The vast majority of legal precedents say clearly and unequivocally that governing bodies like the USGA enjoy unfettered authority to determine the rules..."

Lester Munson considers the legal case of belly putterers and does not deliver good news for the Keegan's and Carl's of the world contemplating a court fight.

If the golfing authorities were attempting to ban the long putter itself, there may be some relief in the courts for equipment manufacturers, but even that would not be not a sure thing. The change being considered, however, is not a ban on long putters; it's a change in the definition of the golf stroke that would prohibit anchoring the long putter against the chest or the body.

In some circumstances, litigation or the threat of litigation can become leverage in a settlement discussion with the ruling body of a sport. The square-grooves-on-golf-clubs controversy is one example. But the legal basis for any claim on anchoring is so weak that the litigation would end before the players could begin to negotiate for, say, a grandfather clause that would allow them to continue to use their long putters but ban anchoring for new players.

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Reader Comments (9)

No duh, here.

Furthermore, Finchem has the authority to institute "local rules" whenever he wants. I tried to convince him that was the way to go on the Ping wedge controversy of two years ago (remember Phil showing up at Torrey with one in the bag, and the "cheating" allegation from McCarron that ensued?).

Finchem said he wanted to let the USGA lead on rules issues. But he can over-rule, tweak and modify rules as he sees fir from week to week of forevermore. He could have banned the long putters if he wanted. Doesn't want to be the bad guy, I guess.
11.16.2012 | Unregistered Commentersteve elling
you think steve? yeah, if i were Tim Finchem, i'd interfere with the livelihood of my superiors. The USGA is the best thing that ever happened to Tim F where equipment and rules are concerned.
11.16.2012 | Unregistered Commentersmails
@Steve, and remember the whole think with PING came from litigation and settlement from years before where they agreed never to ban those pre-whenever wedges. That issue effected PING specifically because it singled out their wedges, so they had reason to fight. Here, the manufacturers can't possibly care. Further, the PING case really turned on the definition of current engineering terms and adding clarity to the rules using those definitions. This case would be ostensibly creating a rule or issuing a decision regarding the interpretation of the rule. I suppose some player could sue that belly putting isn't "anchoring" in normal parlance, but I'm not sure a judge would hear that case.
11.16.2012 | Unregistered CommenterThe O
A good piece.

Munson writes: “The vast majority of legal precedents say clearly and unequivocally that governing bodies such as the USGA enjoy unfettered authority to determine the rules of the games they oversee. Judges are reluctant to intervene in the governing of a sport or a business, and they don't want to be in the position of second-guessing those who define the game.”

That’s where I disagree. The USGA and R&A govern enjoy the “unfettered authority to determine the rules” because the world’s professional tours and equipment companies allow them to do so. To my knowledge, there’s no charter or statute that grans them power. The USGA and R&A are in their positions by tradition as much as anything else.
11.16.2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Pike
Any chance they institute a local rule to allow the long putter for PGA Tour events (non majors presumably)?
11.16.2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrianS
History says no. The Tour generally goes along with the USGA regarding equipment rules. The interesting thing to watch about the long putter ban (if it happens) is that it won't take effect in USGA competition until at least 2016. The Tour could vote to ban long putters as early as next March.
11.16.2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Pike
One local rule the PGA Tours everywhere seem to invoke is clean and place. They know that viewers will be offended so the TV almost never shows a player cleaning and placing. At the Mines tournament in Kuala Lumpur recently Tiger mentioned it in his post round interview in passing and it was secret till then.
@Steve Pike - I don't see why the Tour would move ahead any earlier than needed - would'nt they want to give them as much lead time as possible to adjust ?
11.17.2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrianS
Key phrase, "vast majority".... That hole is big enough to fly a 747 through it.
11.18.2012 | Unregistered CommenterDTF

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