Tim Finchem can forget about counting on Rory McIlroy’s support if the PGA Tour decides to go to war with golf’s governing bodies over plans to outlaw the anchored putting stroke.
The PGA Tour Commissioner made what amounted to veiled threat to the R&A and the USGA in Tucson on Sunday when he announced that the American circuit is against the proposed rule change.
While Finchem did not indicate which direction the PGA Tour would go if the USGA and R&A follows through with the ban this spring and makes it a rule of golf in January 2016, McIlroy is not happy to see the spectre of bifurcation hovering over the game.
The 23-year old used Twitter to make position on anchoring clear last November, writing: “Fully agree with the anchoring ban. Better image for the game of golf, skill and nerves are all part of the game. Level playing field in ‘16.”
Yesterday, as he prepared for his title defence at the Honda Classic, the world number one insisted that golf must adhere to the final decision of the governing bodies on the matter and avoid any temptation to introduce one set of rules for amateurs and another for tour players.
“Obviously I saw what Tim Finchem had to say at the end of last week, and it seems like the European Tour is going to go a different way,” McIlroy said.
“[Colin Montgomerie] Monty said this divide isn’t good for golf, and I don’t think it is. I think we all need to be on one side or the other. It’s up to the governing bodies at the end of the day to decide.”
McIlroy did say that the proposed ban was “a bit of a kneejerk reaction to how much success people were having with it” following major wins by belly putter exponents, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els over the past two years.
He’s in favour of “trying to make the game as easy as possible and bringing people to the game” but against any move to introduce one set of rules for tour players and another for amateurs. Bifurcation? No thanks.
“It’s just a bit of a mess,” he said. “It’s just opened a can of worms.
“We’ve trusted this game of golf; we’ve put it in the hands of the R&A and the USGA for I don’t know how many years, and we’ve always abided by the rules that they have set. I don’t think this should be any different.
“If it were up to me, I would just go with whatever decision the R&A and the USGA comes to after this 90-day comment period ends.”
As for the state of his own game, McIlroy revealed that while warmed up for his Honda Classic defence by playing speed golf with Tiger Woods on Sunday, there was no sense of urgency about his preparations for the Masters.
After missing the cut in his first event with his new Nike clubs in Abu Dhabi and then losing to pal Shane Lowry in the first round of last week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play, McIlroy now has just three PGA Tour events before he gets to Augusta.
“I’m confident it will all be fine by Augusta. I’ve got two events, here and next week’s Cadillac Championship and then two weeks off to work on things a bit more and then the Houston Open.
“So I feel like that’s plenty of time. It’s not as if I’m hitting it sideways.”
Still he admitted that he is going through “an adjustment period” with his new equipment.
“It’s going to be a gradual thing,” he said as he headed to the Bear’s Club to practice in peace following a nine hole practice round with Henrik Stenson. “There’s obviously a bit of an overlap there and you have to just try and get your way into it as best you can.
“As I said the last few weeks, it’s more about how I’m swinging the club. It’s not a concern, but I would like to get back to where I was say the middle of last year.
“Because if you put my swing now up the way I was swinging it last year, it’s chalk and cheese. So that’s the real thing that I’m working on.”
The presence of coach Michael Bannon this week is crucial to McIlroy, who’d like to rediscover the swing he used to win the US Open by eight strokes at Congressional in 2011.
“He’s just he keeps things very simple. I don’t like to get too technical. We always talk about feelings and what feeling did you have when you were playing well and what feeling did you have when you won here and what feeling did you have when you felt like you were hitting this type of shot.
“Obviously we go on the video every day, and especially when you’re trying to get out of a bad habit, but it’s just about trying to remember. And he can tell me, he goes, remember a couple years ago when you played so well at this tournament, you said that you were feeling this.
“And I’m like, yeah, that’s actually a good point. Then we can always go back. Because that’s the way to if I feel like I was swinging it I felt like the best I ever swung it was at Congressional in 2011, and he’s like, well, what were you feeling there? Well, just straight arm left, back, turn through, it was pretty simple. And he’s like well let’s try this, let’s try that.
“It’s just nice to have a coach that’s been with you the whole way through because they know your bad habits. They know everything about your swing and it’s just nice to have that long relationship and not be having to try new things all the time and new theories and new philosophies.
“It’s great to have Michael around and it’s great to have him around more, because sometimes I need the work and it’s easier just to have him here to explain things rather than email videos back and forth and try and explain things over the phone.”
Padraig Harrington advised McIlroy to play as many competitive “friendly games” as possible to build his confidence in his new sticks. What could be better than two rounds with 14-time major winner Woods?
“We thought we would play our own matchplay final except it was over 36,” McIlroy said, revealing they’d “whizzed around” Medalist on Sunday.
“He beat me the first time and I beat him in the second, so we’re even. We teed off at about 8:00 and I was home by 1:30. So we played quick. He putts with pin in. It’s speed golf. It was good. It was really enjoyable.”
Asked about his budding friendship with Woods and whether Tiger had warmed to him, he said: “I guess you could say that. I think it was more a case of just getting to know one another.”