Finchem On Bifurcation, Anchoring & Taxing The Hell Out Of Smoking

Commissioner Distraction visited the Farmers Insurance Open media center to discuss last night's non-mandatory mandatory players meeting. In very good spirits, using little jargon and offering some surprisingly blunt views on a few topics, a quick look at the transcript is in order.

Following some general comments about the players meeting (oh and RNA in the transcript is actually the R&A, not a transposing of the NRA).

Our objective always has been to try our best to follow the rules as promulgated by the USGA and the RNA.  We believe in the notion that one body of rules is important, and that's always our intent.  We just reserve the option not to, if we have overriding reasons not to do so.  And that's happened a couple of times.

It happened with the "one ball rule" a ways back, it happened with grooves at the end of the 1980s, and early 1990s where we felt a different direction on groove configuration was important.

So, yes.  Technically there is that possibility.  However, it certainly wouldn't be our objective.  Our objective is to follow the rules and keep the rules together.

Now, having said that, the whole question of bifurcation is always out there to be discussed.  Everybody has a different view on bifurcation.  Most other sports have a different, some differences in their rules at the amateur level than the professional level.

Personally, I think in some situations bifurcation is okay.  I'm not so sure bifurcation is important in this particular case, but we're not at a point yet where I am opining on what we think we should do.  I think we're in an information‑gathering process right now, and it would be premature for me to speculate on that.  

The endorsement of bifurcation was just a warm up. Here was my rally killer…a two-parte rally killer no less.

Q.  Can you give us an update on the status of the rules staff contract situation?  Also, you made some comments last week about smoking that were pretty strongly worded, and NASCAR's been banning smoking at some of their venues.  Is that something you would ever considerate PGA TOUR events?

Q.  Yeah, no smoking allowed in grandstands and so on and so forth.

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM:  Well, California bans smoking at events.  I remember at the Presidents Cup in '09, Michael Jordan had to chew his cigar for three days because he couldn't actually light it.  So I'll answer that one first.  That was ‑‑ not off the cuff, but an answer to a question I hadn't expected.  Let's put it that way.

Actually, the idea that you would criminalize smoking is probably not practical.  Because then you have a black market for nicotine, et cetera, et cetera.  However, taxing the hell out of it so people don't use it is another option.  It kills people so I think we should get rid of it.

But as far as TOUR events go, we haven't had a lot [of] complaints about a lot of smoking.  You go around to our tournaments and you don't see all that much smoking. 

Tim needs to get out and walk with "the product" more! #cigars

We're on 250 acres, but I hadn't thought about it.  Maybe we should do that.  I don't think there is any big down side.  We'd probably have to have smoking zones, like we have hot zones for Wifi.

Back to your first question, which was?

Q.  Rules staff.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM:  Rules staff.  Yeah, the rules staff is unionized, as is our agronomy staff.  We're in negotiations with them.  We were unable to reach an agreement by the end of their contract period.  They're work without a contract.
It's our hope and desire to get something done soon, and we're pleased that they're continuing to work without a contract.  We think that's very positive.

That's an understatement!

His Phil answer wasn't very interesting or informed on what Phil actually said about making drastic changes to his lifestyle. I thought it was odd that he wasn't more informed on the quotes, but it would kill any suggestion that he ordered Phil to back down from his comments. Let's fast-forward to the anchoring ban timing and distraction issue.

This is a difficult ‑‑ it's kind of an interesting thing, and it's a difficult thing.  If the governing bodies had said in 1965, like they did after Sam Sneed came out and putted croquet style and a week later they changed the rule or whatever it was, if they had said, you know, this isn't consistent with historically the way you swing a club, so we're not going to allow it, nobody would have blinked an eye.  Nobody would have been affected, except for maybe two players.

But 40 years later, and the amount of play there is with that method, amateur and professional, it does affect a lot of people.  So it's a very different kind of issue, and it stirs a lot of strong feelings.  So consequently, it's a difficult situation.

Personally, I view the professional game as being the strongest it's ever been.  So I don't like to see distractions, but it's not a perfect world.  This is kind of a distraction.

Here he talks about what appears to be an increasingly complicated issue, what happens when the rule on anchoring is changed.

One of which is the timing, and that's certainly a matter of discussion because, here again, on the one hand, if you're presenting the sport, you probably, my view would be to move it quicker, if it's going to happen because it continues to be a distraction if you don't.

You have players on television, in front of galleries, playing with a method that has been outlawed, even though the enforcement date is later.  That's in and of itself the makings of a distraction.

On the other hand, if you're a player who has grown up using that method, your livelihood depends on it, you probably are inclined to not want it to go into effect for a period of time.

Here again, the issue is damned if you do, damned if you don't to some extent, so it needs to be thought through carefully.

This was interesting with regard to the core discussion in play here.

There is certainly not a fairness question here.  That's really not on the table either, because obviously, if it's legal, it's available to everybody.  So you might hit a 5‑iron, I might hit a hybrid, but the hybrid is available to you.  So I don't think it's a fairness question, and I don't think the USGA is arguing it's a competitive question.  It's a the-way-the-game-should-be-played question in their minds.

This was funnier from Commissioner Leno in person than it probably reads in the transcript:

Q.  Just to clear the air, Tim.  Do you anchor your putter?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM:  No, but I did for a period of time in 2000.  I sound like a TOUR player.  Worked for me for a while, but it doesn't work for me (smiling).

Back to bifurcation...

Well, I think there's always, regardless of the issue, there's always some level of sentiment that why don't we be like the NBA?  We'll make our rules and then let college golf follow off of that, and amateur golf follow off of that.  There is always some level of sentiment.  It bubbles up from time to time when people take issue with the actual decisions that are made.

I think at its core we all know there are rules in golf that don't make a lot of sense.  You just read them. 

And this is coming from a man with a law degree who has dropped coterminous in a press conference.

I do think that the USGA and RNA have been talking to us for the last year or two about the possibility of working on simplification of the rules of golf, which is probably a healthy thing.  A set of rules that would be more easily understood by the average player and consequently more adhered to.  So there are some things under discussion.

But with respect to the general enthusiasm for moving to writing our own rules, there is always some level of interest in that.

Bifurcation baby!

Regarding the complicated timing of this and the Champions Tour...

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM:  Well, there are different ways to look at that.  First of all, theoretically there is enough time to do it this year, but that would depend on a lot of factors.  If there was a bifurcation of the rules and everybody changed their mind about that, and there was some sort of bifurcation between amateur and professional, I suspect we'd look hard at bifurcating between the PGA TOUR and the Champions TOUR.

Hard look in Finchemspeak=likely.

But I don't see that developing right now.  But I suppose, again, theoretically, it's possible.  Obviously, we have a high percentage of play with anchoring on the Champions Tour.

It's just one of those things.  It's a pretty good list of things that we're looking at that has issues.

Here comes the fun! Wally, get read to hit copy and paste and email over to the Fairhaven offices of Hazzard, Pfeil and Cequestor:

Q.  Maybe not now, but down the road, do you think it's inevitable that at some point there will be bifurcation?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM:  Well, personally I think that it's good that the basic rules of golf are the same.  The game is played essentially the same at all levels.  I think that should be ‑‑ I think that's a good thing for golf.

However, I also believe that there are certain parts of the rules that could be bifurcated, and it wouldn't hurt anything.  I've always felt that way about the golf ball, for example, going back to the discussions of the ball in '01 and '02.  And I hear people say, it's a bad thing.  Well, the golf ball was, in fact, functionally bifurcated for a good period of time.  Professionally used up a [balata] ball.  Pretty much everybody else used a two‑piece ball.  It was a functional bifurcation.

If you said, if the rule was okay, you're a professional, you have to use a balata ball, and if you're an amateur, it would have been the same effect.  The presentation of the sport ‑‑ when you get into the presentation of the sport though, I think you've got to be careful about bifurcation.  This is one of those areas, I think.

I think fundamentally we should play with the same rules, and make occasional adjustments.  If it were up to me, there would be occasional adjustments where you could bifurcate in certain situations.

Roll it back baby!!