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R&A chief 'bemused' by Padraig belly call

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Padraig Harrington used a long putter at the Wells Fargo Championship

Padraig Harrington used a long putter at the Wells Fargo Championship

PA Archive/Press Association Images

Padraig Harrington used a long putter at the Wells Fargo Championship

GIVEN the weighty implications of their decision to stand firm in the face of strident opposition, R&A chief executive Peter Dawson seemed happy to be able to inject some levity into proceedings as golf's ruling bodies announced they'll press ahead with their ban on 'anchoring' in January 2016.

Asked if Padraig Harrington, the R&A's first golfing ambassador, had spoken to him before last month's controversial decision to take up the belly putter, Dawson smiled and said: "No, Padraig is not in the habit of consulting with me about very much, to be honest."

Harrington proudly wears the R&A logo on his sleeve and remains an outspoken advocate of the ban, but he still opted to anchor a long putter in his midriff in his past three tournaments in the States.

"I guess I was bemused by it," said Dawson. "Let's see if it improves his game. Padraig perhaps thinks there is a potential advantage to be had in this, which perhaps adds weight to the decision we've taken."

Dawson dismissed any suggestion that Harrington's adoption of the belly putter as the game's legislative bodies, the USGA in North America and the pan-global R&A, strove to ban it, would affect their relationship.

"Not in the slightest," he said emphatically. "Padraig is a good friend."

The greatest opposition to rule 14-1B – which prohibits anchoring, either directly or indirectly, the putter to any part of the body except the hand and forearm – has come from two bastions of the professional game in North America, the PGA Tour and PGA of America, plus a selection of golf's largest equipment manufacturers.

Last February, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem suggested they might implement a local rule to bypass rule 14-1B. This would lead to a massive split in world golf, with other Tours in Europe, Asia and elsewhere supporting the rule-makers.

If the US Tour follows this course, it wouldn't be golf, as determined by the rules, Dawson countered. "The governing bodies have decided what's going to happen with the rules of the game and we think that's what's going to stick."

Should the PGA of America take the same route, the new rule would be invoked at three of the Majors – the Masters, US Open and British Open – but possibly not at the fourth, the US PGA.

Adam Scott's victory at last month's US Masters was the first at Augusta by a player with a long putter and completed a 'Grand Slam' of sorts, following Keegan Bradley's win at the 2011 US PGA and the success last summer of Webb Simpson at the US Open and Ernie Els at the British Open.

DEBATE

Yet Dawson explained: "The Major winners have not really played a part in this debate. It's been the number of players anchoring and the youngsters starting out far more than the actual results of any individuals."

The ban on anchoring was first proposed last November, when the R&A and USGA announced a 90-day comment period, which ended on February 28.

The intention to impose the new rule was confirmed concurrently at Wentworth, venue for the European Tour's BMW PGA Championship, and at the New Jersey HQ of the USGA. A 31-page brochure was also issued explaining every facet of the new rule.

David Rickman, the R&A's executive director of rules and equipment standards, explained that anchoring was in direct breach of one of the most intrinsic principles of golf, saying: "The free-swinging of the entire club is considered to be an essential part of the game."

Though he and Dawson accepted that the decision had potentially serious implications for all golfers beggared by the yips, they insisted the game's integrity was their first priority.

Bradley was chief among several US Tour players who suggested they may take legal action.

Given its potential impact on the game, confirmation that Rule 14-1B would be implemented dwarfed yesterday's announcement by European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley that he would have three captain's picks for Gleneagles, one more than Jose Maria Olazabal at Medinah.

"Having three picks will give me that little bit more wiggle room, which could prove vital," said McGinley.

Irish Independent