Harrington fears pro-anchoring lobby could stymie ball roll-back

Padraig Harrington: “I used the grooves for longer than anybody has used the long putter. t’s cost me a shot a day.” Picture: Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.iePadraig Harrington - man who has never walked off a golf course illness or injury in close to 500 professional appearances - is too diplomatic to comment on Rory McIlroy’s Honda Classic walk-out.

“What I will say is that if there are 3,000 guys officially ranked in the world rankings there are 2,999 who’d love to be in Rory’s position (at No 1).”

Ask him about the proposed ban on anchoring a putter to your body and he’s more forthcoming, especially now that the European Tour has officially made its support for the governing bodies clear.

As an R&A ambassador, Harrington was always going to argue against long putters in general and especially anchoring.

Padraig Harrington putt under a giant American flag at Doral on Monday. His clubs were delayed in transit and he was forced to make do. But given the opposition by the PGA Tour (and the PGA of America) to the proposed addition to Rule 14-1, he fears that “a very small minority of golfers in the world” could wield enough power to effectively render the R&A and the USGA “sterile” and prevent the ruling bodies from implementing plans to rein in the golf ball and hot drivers.

If players such as Tim Clark and Keegan Bradley feel aggrieved by the proposed change in the rule by 2016, Harrington says he has every reason to be just as cheesed off about the 2009 ban on U-grooves.

Why, he wants to know, did the PGA Tour not make a stand for him back in the day?

“The groove rule was sold to everybody for the good of the game,” he said. “I have no idea how you can say there is a difference between this rule and the groove rule. I don’t know why they are taking a stand on this and not on the grooves?”

Harrington did not attend the meeting with the USGA in san Diego earlier this year and he gets animated when asked about the stance that Tim Finchem has taken on behalf of the players.

His view? Tour players shouldn’t be making up their own rules. And if they start, the R&A and USGA are doomed and nothing will ever be done about the distance the ball travels.

“Look, the [PGA] Tour represents a very small minority of golfers in the world but they do have a big influence. They are like a big lobbyist in Washington and they have a big say in the matter but ultimately, if professional golfers were to decide the rules of golf we would get free drops out of divots and we would be able to tap down spike marks.

“We are not there to govern the rules. That is the way it is. It is obvious that this is a controversial issue and if the putter is banned, the controversy will go away. Just like the grooves. I can’t see how it is any different to the groove rule.”

Pádraig Harrington works with his performance coach Dave Alred and caddie Ronan Flood on his putting at Doral.Harrington didn’t kick up a stink when the groove rule was proposed. He knew he was getting an advantage given his ability to generate incredible spin with his square grooves, yet he didn’t complain.

“No, because I knew it was for the betterment of the game. A number of the significant shots that were hit that caused disquiet were hit my me. I was a massive reason why the rule was brought in. I knew it was to my detriment but I also knew that it was for the betterment of the game.”

Should the ban go ahead, there is a chance the PGA Tour will go its own way, leading to bifurcation.

Harrington says that it that happens, he’d like a “separate rule for the grooves” as well, thank you.

“I used the grooves for longer than anybody has used the long putter,” he argued. “It’s cost me a shot a day.”

The Dubliner knows that’s not going to happen but does fear that a breakaway by the PGA Tour on anchoring could sound the death knell for the R&A and the USGA as relevant organisations.

“Can anyone explain to me why they are taking a stand on this and not on the grooves. And if they are taking a stand, and this is the big issue with it, they could make the governing bodies of the game sterile.

“It’s a small group who could influence the governing bodies in such a way that when they want to pare back the golf ball and the driver - and I have seen the testing for that stuff, they have it ready, they have ideas - this basically sterilises them.

“If they are stopped from changing this rule, they have no function going forward or their functionality is extremely hindered going forward. That’s how big a deal it is.

“My attitude towards it is that every time someone uses a long putter, it is controversial because the TV commentators are making a comment on it. Every time they see a long putter, there is a comment. Six months after it is banned, it will all be forgotten. It will be the exact same as the grooves. I was a big deal and now nobody talks about the grooves and yet it was to my advantage.”