ORLANDO, Fla. – Arnold Palmer strongly stated his case Wednesday that golf doesn’t need a “contraption” like the anchored putting stroke and the sport’s success requires everyone to play by the same rules.
In a wide-ranging press conference at Bay Hill, Palmer said he supported the proposed rule that would outlaw attaching the club against the body, which is the method used for long putters and belly putters.
“That’s not part of the game of golf. To attach it to your body in any way is taking a little bit away from the game,” Palmer said. “I’m not going to argue with anybody about it. I’ve stated my position, and that is we do not need a contraption to play the game of golf.
“I would hope that we’d play under one set of rules, and those rules would include a ban on the long putter hooked to the body in some way, shape or form.”
The U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient Golf Club proposed a new rule to ban such a stroke. The PGA Tour and PGA of America have said they oppose the ban, with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem saying there is no data to prove there is a competitive advantage to using the anchored stroke.
Finchem has said he could see a place for different rules in tournament golf and recreational play, though he has suggested the anchored stroke might not be one of them. PGA of America president Ted Bishop has been more forceful, saying in a recent blog that “bifurcation seems destined” if the rule takes effect in 2016.
The USGA and R&A are expected to announce soon whether to approve the new rule.
The possibility of two sets of rules seemed to agitate Palmer, who helped golf become popular with the masses a half-century ago when he won the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open and the British Open.
“I don’t think that golf has a place for two sets of rules,” Palmer said. “I think one of the reasons that the game has progressed in the way that it has over the years is the fact that the amateurs and the pros all play the same game and they play under the same set of rules. I feel like that is very, very important. It may be the key to the future success of the game of golf, just the fact that there will be one set of rules and we’ll all play by them.”
Palmer was less serious when it came to Rory McIlroy, who decided not to play the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Bay Hill has the strongest field of the year so far among regular PGA Tour events, though it is missing the No. 1 player. Palmer had jokingly said that he would break Boy Wonder’s arm if he didn’t play, and then clarified Wednesday it was only a passing comment.
“I sort of threw a casual fun at him,” Palmer said. “It was meant to be funny. I don’t know whether it was or not. I was kind of kidding when somebody said, ‘Is he playing?’ And I said, ‘Well, if he doesn’t I’m going to break his arm.’ But it was meant in jest, and it was strictly a passing remark. Frankly, I thought he was going to play, and I was as surprised as a lot of people when he decided he was not going to play.”
McIlroy, who made a wholesale switch to Nike in the off-season, has completed only eight rounds this year. That includes a missed cut in Abu Dhabi and walking off the course at the Honda Classic at the turn of his second round. He also lost in the first round of the Match Play Championship. But after four rounds at Doral — there is no cut — and a tie for eighth with a closing 65, the 23-year-old said he would not add a tournament.
He plans to play the Houston Open next week and then go to the Masters.
“For some reason, I got it in my mind that he would be playing, but that obviously is wrong,” Palmer said. “What his reason or reasoning is, I don’t know. And I’m not going to worry about it.”
The focus at Bay Hill was on Tiger Woods, who can replace McIlroy at No. 1 with a victory this week. The number most often associated with Woods is whether he can reach the record 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus.
Palmer said he’s been impressed with what he has seen from Woods this year, particularly the wins at Torrey Pines and Doral. It reminds the King of the first time he played golf with Woods during a practice round at Augusta National.
“I give him a chance to do the record,” Palmer said. “I suppose that every year it’s a little more fleeting, however, and he’ll have to really work hard to keep himself up and keep his mental attitude if he’s going to do it.”