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Anchors away for putting in likely Tuesday announcement

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Within the next 24 hours, professional and amateur golfers will likely know whether or not they will be permitted to use long putters anchored to any part of their body from 2016 onwards.

The game's rulemakers are widely expected to announce the controversial proposed ban on the anchoring technique when they hold simultaneous news conferences on Tuesday, at Far Hills in New Jersey and at Virginia Water in Surrey, England.

Should the governing bodies decide to go forward with that proposal in just over two-and-a-half years' time, it is by no means guaranteed that all interested parties will automatically fall in line.

When the ban was proposed last November, the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) and the Royal & Ancient (R&A) said they wanted to outlaw the anchored putting stroke by 2016 in order to preserve the "skill and challenge" of putting.

Players and the golfing community were then given 90 days in which to discuss that proposal. By the end of that period, the European Tour had expressed its support of the idea while both the U.S. PGA Tour and PGA of America voiced opposition.

Golf could become extremely muddled, or messy at the very least, as it remains to be seen whether the PGA Tour and the PGA of America would back the anchoring ban should it come into effect.

During the buildup to the Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass earlier this month, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem was asked about the likely response of the U.S. Tour.

"We haven't even discussed internally in our organization what our response will be to their completion of their process until they complete it," Finchem told a news conference at the Tour's headquarters.

"We were asked our views. We made those views known to the USGA and the R&A, and they have to now complete their process.

"When they complete it, then we'll turn around and have a conversation with our players and our board about the position we should take at that point. Until we get there, we're not going to speculate on it."

November's announcement by the rulemakers came after three of the previous five major champions had used 'belly' putters - Keegan Bradley (2011 PGA Championship), Webb Simpson (2012 U.S. Open) and Ernie Els (2012 British Open).

Australian Adam Scott then followed suit when he won last month's Masters while using a long putter anchored to his chest.

BLAZED TRAIL

Bradley blazed the 'belly putter' trail with his playoff victory over fellow American Jason Dufner at Atlanta Athletic Club and yet he cannot recall any fuss being made over his achievement at the time.

"Wasn't a big deal at all," the 26-year-old recalled. "I was the first one to do it, and after I did my press conference and stuff, I didn't get asked one question about it."

Asked to assess the possible impact on the game if the European and U.S. PGA tours went separate ways on the issue, Bradley replied: "It's going to be a mess, but it's very important to realize that no rule has been made yet.

"There's a lot of speculation ... maybe every tour will go against it, maybe every tour will be for the belly putter. At some point, everyone is going to have to get together. It can't be just one group here and one group here."

The R&A and USGA have said that putters should swing freely and not be anchored to any part of the body, and that swinging a club freely has been the essence of the 600-year-old sport.

Many of the game's leading players, including world number one Tiger Woods and second-ranked Rory McIlroy, have backed the proposed ban by golf's rulemakers.

"I just believe that the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves," 14-times major champion Woods said.

"Having it as a fixed point ... is something that's not in the traditions of the game. We swing all other 13 clubs. I think the putter should be the same."

Bradley, who switched to a belly putter after turning professional in 2008, felt the PGA of America with its huge base best represented the feelings of golfers about the proposed ban.

"The PGA of America has got 27,000 club pros, they are connected into the game more than anybody," he said.

"They have got pros that are at these clubs that have hundreds of members, so when the PGA of America is that against it, that kind of shows something."

Tuesday's trans-Atlantic announcement could well show something else.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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