Look for a year of change on the PGA Tour
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Let's see if we got this straight.
In a decision just about everyone saw coming, golf's ruling bodies declared their intentions to outlaw putting strokes that are anchored to the body, which Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els used in winning three of the last five major championships.
It would not become a new rule for three years.
A few days earlier, the Royal & Ancient dropped the biggest post-Thanksgiving surprise since that Florida Highway Patrol report on a single-car accident involving Tiger Woods. It proposed alterations to half the holes on the Old Course at St. Andrews, including the front part of the green near the famous Road Hole bunker.
Work began in three days.
No matter your opinion on either subject, there is little disputing that 2012 was filled with significant changes. Perhaps it was only fitting that the PGA of America decided not to let the year end without picking a new Ryder Cup captain. It announced on Tuesday there would be announcement Thursday. On the “Today” show.
So what to expect for 2013?
The PGA Tour will end one season in September and start a new season in October.
The Web.com Tour will get more attention than ever with four tournaments in the fall that, in effect, replace Q-school.
The six rounds of Q-school that Erik Compton not-so-affectionately referred to as “hell week” will be missing this familiar phrase: “If he makes this putt, he's on the PGA Tour.” That's because the new version of the Q-school only awards a ticket to the minor leagues.
Instead of finishing the calendar year outside the Magic Kingdom, players will be going to Mexico. Adios, Disney.
Two of the biggest changes — the wraparound season and Q-school — were only a matter of time.
The demise of Q-school was brought on by the creation in 2007 of the FedEx Cup, and while players might not take time to understand the points, they understand four playoff events worth a total of $67 million in prize money and bonuses. Trouble is, that reduced the tournaments after the FedEx Cup to something called the “Fall Series,” with smaller purses, watered-down fields and minimal world ranking points.
The only way to keep those sponsors happy was to treat them like regular PGA Tour events. The only way to treat them like regular events was to give them FedEx Cup points. And they couldn't give FedEx Cup points without making them part of the regular schedule, thus the wraparound season.
Start in October, end in September. Win/lose the Presidents Cup/Ryder Cup. Repeat process.
And with the new season starting so soon, there was no time to award PGA Tour cards at Q-school. That's a big reason the tour went to the four-tournament series known as “The Finals,” to be played roughly the same time as the FedEx Cup playoffs.
The greater change will be anchored strokes, and the PGA Tour would do well to take a page from the Old Course and get started immediately.
The rule still has go to through a 90-day comment period before the USGA and R&A approved it, and because the Rules of Golf only change every four years, it would not be effective until the next book comes out in 2016.
There was talk that the PGA Tour could create its own rule and allow the putting stroke. What's more likely to happen is for the PGA Tour to create its own rule that bans the anchored stroke well before 2016 — like the start of the 2014 season, which will be in October of 2013.
It puts players like Bradley in a sticky spot. While it's perfectly legal to anchor the club now, everyone knows the end of the belly putter is near. It was difficult not to look at Bradley and Simpson differently after the proposed ban was announced, where before no one would have noticed and even few would have cared. TV can't ignore it, either, and is that really what the PGA Tour wants to hear from the booth for the next three years?
Bradley says a fan called him a cheater during the third round of the World Challenge at Sherwood, and the USGA rushed out a statement that condemned the comment as “deplorable.” It's surprising the USGA has waited this long to take on the fan who screams, “Get in the hole” when players tee off on a par 5 by reminding us there is no evidence of anyone reaching the green with a 575-yard tee shot.
Bradley thrives on this stuff.
He was asked after the round if the debate could actually help him because he was running out of chips to put on his shoulder.
“Absolutely,” he said. “You hear guys like Michael Jordan talk about how he liked to play on the road. The guy called me a cheater on the last hole — that gets me motivated.”
Doug Ferguson is a writer for The Associated Press.
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