Letter From Saugerties: Tim Finchem & Anchoring Edition

Former USGA Executive Director Frank Hannigan saw PGA Tour Commissioner's appearance on Sunday's WGC Match Play telecast and felt compelled to analyze the tour's surprising decision to not support the proposed ban on anchoring putters. You can read Frank's past letters here.

Letter from Saugerties                                                                                    February 27,2013

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem gets away with murder.

During his endless interviews throwing the USGA under the bus last weekend on the anchoring issue, nobody asked him the right question: when did you first know that the USGA was moving in the direction of a ban on anchoring and what did you say in reaction?

The PGA Tour is represented at USGA Rules of Golf committee meetings by an employee named Tyler Dennis. It is surely his job to tell Finchem where the USGA is heading. My point is this: Finchem last year, long before the USGA made known its position on anchoring, could have stopped the movement cold by telling the USGA and/or the R&A at the British Open that he did not know how his members would react to a ban on anchoring.

The USGA exists to offer a set of rules that it believes make sense, accompanied by an argument that the game is best served if those rules are broadly accepted. Nobody has to buy that argument but virtually everybody does.  As former USGA Executive Director David Fay once said, "We govern by all the power not vested in us."

Albeit unhappily, the USGA recognizes that the influence of the PGA Tour is enormous because golfers think what they see on television is the genuine article. This has been so since the 1960s when the Tour was first invited to participate in the rules making process.  The consequence has been worldwide uniformity, a most unlikely achievement given the money and egos of modern golf.

The USGA would never have moved to ban anchoring had it known the Tour would diverge. The average male golfer has about a 17 handicap and struggles to break 100.  Do you think the USGA cares what method he uses to putt?  Hypothesize that anchoring had somehow caught on in everyday golf but was used by no Tour players. There is no chance the rules would have been changed.

Finchem evidently misread his members - who are his employers. That can happen. He's dealing with 300 relatively young people who have a lot of money and very insular views of the world. Few of them have ever done a lick of work other than hit golf balls. It's a pure recipe for fickleness.

Meanwhile, the USGA is hardly blameless. Given their policy of rules uniformity as the Holy Grail, they should never have gone where they did without an iron-clad agreement from the Tour. Instead, they end up with golf's version of sequestration.

Since the ban was not to take effect until 2016,  along with a 90-day period inviting comments, I figure the USGA was racked with internal dissension. Finchem could have made it easier for them to back off by voicing the opposition of the players quietly - even last week. Instead, he opted to go as public as possible, accompanied with wild specious arguments such as claiming  20% of amateur golfers are anchorers. Evidently he got that number from his new best friends at the PGA of America. Why he chose to play it as he did, whereby there must be a winner and a loser, is beyond my comprehension.

I see much of the USGA clumsiness as a consequence of systemic foolishness. All power is granted to a volunteer executive committee of 15.  Some are golf sophisticates. Some are golf ignorant. The USGA by laws say that the president of the executive committee, who lives nowhere near headquarters and already has a full time job, is the CEO. The same by laws refer to the USGA staff as "clerks."  The executive director of the staff of some 300 has no job description.

But let's suppose that the president happens to be a gem, a genuine prize. (As USGA Executive Director I was lucky enough to have three).  USGA presidents serve two years and then depart. (The USGA has had only one one-year president. That was Prescott Bush, father and grandfather of US presidents, in 1935.  I have no idea why he bailed out early.)

Has anyone ever heard of a viable institution that has a bona fide winner as CEO and then dumps him after two years? Even college presidents hang around for four or five years as their agents search for higher paying jobs.